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  1. Default Madison to Seattle I-90 National Park trip -10 day, one-way. Advice?

    Hello! Great forum. loads of information and it is really helpful to plan our upcoming trip. Huge thanks to all who has put their work here.

    Mid June, our family (two kids) is moving from WI to Seattle. We are planning to spend 9-10 days on the road, hit national parks and other scenery sites along the way. By looking at maps, I collected places that I'd like to take my family along the way.

    First day we are going to stay with our friends' family at Rochester MN, and following is my planned route (mostly follow I-90) so far:

    Day 1: Madison -> Rochester [3hr]
    Day 2: Rochester -> Badlands NP [6.5 hr]
    from Day 3 to Day 9 morning:
    Badlands /Black Hills
    Mountain Rushmore NP
    Devils Tower
    Bighorn NF
    Yellowstone NP / Grand Teton NP
    Glacier NP
    Day 9 afternoon: drive toward Seattle
    Day 10: drive to Seattle

    It is our first road trip, so a lot of questions. Let me start with basic ones.

    1> schedule
    - does it look OK that we can enjoy as much as we could in the time frame and do not stress out?
    - How much time you'd recommend to spend at each place.

    I guess I need at least two days at Yellowstone, one day at glacier, probably only a couple of hours at Devils Tower, but not sure how to assign time slots to each of other sites.

    2> sites
    - If you want to drop one or two sites, which you'd like to drop? If there is a not listed place you have to go to what would it be?
    - for each park, what are list of spots you'd want to be (within allocated time frame)?
    - Before reach Badlands from the east, where would you recommend to be the mid stop point to break up the day? I see Pipestone National monument is not far away from I-90. Is it good for a 2 hour lunch picnic, or it is going to take too much time?
    - Yellowstone and Grand Teton, we have been there in one of those bus tours. It was short, too short. We really want to spent more time there, especially the Yellowstone. Grand Teton being on the other direction opposites our next park, Glacier, I worry that we might spend valuable time driving back and forth. Is there good route travel through Yellowstone and Grand Teton, if we come from east, Mt Rushmore in general direction, exit north toward glacier? We need to consider lodging too (see our question in the next section)
    - between Yellowstone and Glacier, what is a good mid point to spend a couple of hours?

    3> Lodging
    - camping: we have basic gears, only camped at well developed camping grounds before. what are consideration for and against camping along the way? what are camping grounds you would definitely spend night at, and what are camping grounds you wouldn't recommend for casual camping? Do we must have really good (expensive) sleep bags (what we have are down sleep bags vary from 0 to 32 degree, mostly new)
    - hotels: not sure what to ask. Any advice is appreciated
    - lodging near Yellowstone: We didn't know exactly when the trip would happen. Of course all rooms in the park have been booked, and so were camping ground. are there first-come-first-serve camping sites in two parks? are they hard to get hold of?

    Wow! so many questions. I probably should break it down to a couple of posts.

    Thank you all for help in advance!
    Last edited by 18wheeler; 05-16-2016 at 11:52 PM. Reason: clarify title

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
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    13,063

    Default ticking clock

    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    I think your trip is a classic case where 10 days seems like a lot of time for this trip, until you start to break things down and realize just how quickly your time can disappear.

    I will also note that I suspect your drive times are going to take a lot longer than you're planning for. You listed Rochester to Badlands as 6.5 hours - but that's a 500 mile drive, and in reality, that's a solid 8-9 hours on the road. In regards to that specific leg, I don't think Pipestone NM would work well, as you're adding a solid hour of driving just to get there/back from I-90. If you're looking for a break from the road, Falls Park in Sioux Falls or the Corn Palace in Mitchell could be better options, as could some state parks closer to I-90 - like Blue Mounds (MN) or Palisades (SD).

    For the rest of your trip, I suppose day 3 would be Badlands/Mt. Rushmore, day 4 would take you to Devils Tower and Little Bighorn Battlefield (is that what you were thinking when you said Bighorn NF?) maybe ending around Red Lodge, MT. Day 5 would go over the Beartooth and into Yellowstone. Day 6 and 7 would be at Yellowstone - and then here's where you can start running out of time. Day 8 would mostly be driving to Glacier. Day 9 exploring Glacier, but then you'd have a pretty long day of driving on Day 10 to get to Seattle. You might be able to trim out a little time here or there, but that's a rough idea of what you've got to work with for a timeline. I don't think Grand Teton really fits - unless you were to trim out something else, probably Glacier.

    Yellowstone does have some first come campsites, but they do fill up early in the day. I'd really look to make reservations if you can - even if there aren't sites available now, there could be cancellations later. If you already have good sleeping bags, you shouldn't need much extra in the way of gear in Yellowstone. However, keep in mind, camping takes time, so if you plan to do a lot of it on your trip, you'll need to factor that time into your planning.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Southern California
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    Default

    Welcome to RTA!

    Looking over your trip ideas, and MWMichael's suggestions, I would keep this in mind: You're going to be living in Seattle. Both Yellowstone and Glacier are going to be within a day and a half drive from Seattle.

    Badlands -- well, my hubby and I took 2 or 3 hours for a drive-through and to do one short hike. Mt Rushmore -- one morning, and that included the Presidential Trail which takes you closer to the mountain and to Borglum's artists building. Also in the area are Wind Cave, Jewel Cave, and Custer State Park. On our '14 trip, my husband and I did Badlands as we came into the Black Hills area, then spent two full days seeing what we could - Mt Rushmore, three of the scenic drives in Custer State Park, and Wind Cave.

    Devil's Tower is 30 miles off the freeway, you can't see it from the freeway, but we took the extra hour to drive and then were there a couple of hours, hiking all the way around the Tower. If you just want to drive up (30 min), look around for a little bit (an hour) and drive back to the freeway, allow 2 hours.

    Little Bighorn National Battlefield Monument -- well, we stopped there, too. It's right next to the freeway. We did the 5 mile drive, stopped at most of the points and the visitors center, and spent a couple of hours.

    I would pick either Yellowstone (suggested 3 days, at least) or Glacier (2 days) and save the other one for a time when you have a week off in the summer. (Both parks are open year-round, but the roads are not.)

    If you want to go to a campsite in either park, stay outside the park one night and then be in line no later than 9 am for one of the first-come, first-served campsites.


    Donna

  4. Default

    Thank you! MWMichael and Donna.

    It is absolutely right that Yellowstone and Glacier each needs more time on its own. It happened like "Glacier is so close to the route on the map, let's add it". We will either add two days to the trip, or save Glacier for later.

    I mis read the map. From Rochester to Badlands does take at least 7 1/2 hr without stopping. need to do homework on where to make short stops.

    Any advice on how to make best out of Yellowstone? I understand the park is big, and the road, parking can be crowded at times.

  5. #5
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    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by 18wheeler View Post

    I mis read the map. From Rochester to Badlands does take at least 7 1/2 hr without stopping. need to do homework on where to make short stops.
    I can't stress this enough, do not trust the travel time estimates of online mapping programs. They assume you never have to slow down, much less stop. Even in a best case, with minimal stops just for gas, a 500 mile interstate drive will typically take about 9 hours.

    If you're going to camp in Yellowstone, I'd try to find a campground in a central location. The park road is laid out in a nice figure 8, and it generally works pretty well to give each loop a full day - and that's easier if you're someplace in the middle. Have patience, as the drives will be slow - often delayed by both traffic and animals, and know that just walking a short distance away from some of the most popular spots can provide a big relief from crowds.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Tucson, AZ
    Posts
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    Default Making the Best of It

    For short stops along the way, take a look at these suggestions. While they may not be exactly what you want exactly where you'll need a break, they'll give you a good idea of the sort of quick stops that are available to you just off the highway and what to look for as you plan your own trip. And as for Yellowstone, I'd treat this visit as a 'sampler'. You're not going to see everything, nor even see the places you do get to in as much depth as you'd like, so this time through should be spent just getting a feel for the place and checking out what it has to offer for a later, longer visit. Use the park map to plot an itinerary in the park that tries to do the following: Goes through the park with no backtracking; Hits as many different types of places as possible (wildlife, the lake, geysers, hot springs, ranger stations/talks/movies); Makes as few left turns as possible, including into and out of stops. For sheer scenery, you would be hard pressed to find a better entrance route from the east than US-212 from Laurel MT over the Beartooth Highway, or a better exit to the 'west' than US-191 north out of West Yellowstone ID.

    AZBuck
    Last edited by AZBuck; 05-17-2016 at 12:02 PM. Reason: Typo

  7. #7
    Join Date
    May 2011
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    Southern California
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    Default

    To add to what has been said regarding travel times and electronic mapping programs: Use the mileage that the mapping program (Google Maps, Mapquest, etc) gives you. If driving on interstates, divide by 55 to get the number of hours this will probably take you. If driving on US 2-lane highways, divide by 50 to get your "driving time". These will allow for the fuel, food, and pit stops that mapping programs do not include. But this still does not allow for construction and traffic slow-downs. Driving through a national park? Usually the speed limits are either 25 or 30 -- anything higher is a rarity and possibly dangerous. While you may get to drive that fast for a bit, you will be stopping -- at a scenic pull-out to take a picture or a short stroll out to a viewpoint, for an "animal jam" when an animal is taking right-of-way to the road (and you won't get by until s/he moves), to take a short hike, or because the entrance to the scenic spot parking lot is blocked or jammed, or there is heavy traffic (very possible in Yellowstone!).

    Here is a place where we had to sit waiting on an animal
    Mandan & Rushmore & Custer SP 221 - Copy

    When I get to this point in travel planning, I start sketching the trip out on a day-to-day basis. I use the above math formulas to figure travel time. Too many times, especially back when I was first starting to plan trips, I found myself overplanning. At some point, you may have to sit back and say, "Well, there's always another trip."


    Donna
    Last edited by DonnaR57; 05-17-2016 at 06:04 PM. Reason: added photo

  8. Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Midwest Michael View Post
    know that just walking a short distance away from some of the most popular spots can provide a big relief from crowds.
    Exactly what I'm thinking! unfortunately all the maps, guides, signs will point people to the same spots, unless you already know around the area. We probably can only learn some tricks after a couple of visits.

    Quote Originally Posted by AZBuck View Post
    ... as for Yellowstone, I'd treat this visit as a 'sampler'. You're not going to see everything, nor even see the places you do get to in as much depth as you'd like, so this time through should be spent just getting a feel for the place and checking out what it has to offer for a later, longer visit.
    Good points. Maybe we should spend more time on a fewer spots and tour some others / prep for the trip next round.

    Use the park map to plot an itinerary in the park that tries to do the following: Goes through the park with no backtracking; Hits as many different types of places as possible (wildlife, the lake, geysers, hot springs, ranger stations/talks/movies); Makes as few left turns as possible, including into and out of stops.
    Thanks for the map link! and tips! Those 'little' things do make differences.

    For sheer scenery, you would be hard pressed to find a better entrance route from the east than US-212 from Laurel MT over the Beartooth Highway, or a better exit to the 'west' than US-191 north out of West Yellowstone ID.

    AZBuck
    Thanks for the recommendation! We went to little bighorn battlefield a few years back, and want to see if Bighorn National Forest is a good substitute for this trip. How do you think US 16 from Buffalo WY and/or US 14? it seems to cut through bighorn NF. would it offer nice view on the road?

    By the way, do you guys use good old reliable paper maps in the park? do you buy / print maps before go on trip? or the tourist center supplies good ones. Any recommendation on mobile apps on ubiquitous smartphones / tablets? I know the cellular coverage is spotty in the park, so offline use would be important.

    Thank you!

  9. #9
    Join Date
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    Location
    Southern California
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    Default

    If you're going to use electronics for a national park map, the freebie Chimani apps are probably the most detailed out there and they do NOT rely on any sort of cell coverage. That's a good thing, as there's no coverage in Yellowstone except by the big lodges. (I know. I tried to call my bank to pay my mortgage payment. No service.) We had troubles with service in the Badlands, too, though I think we were okay at Mt Rushmore.

    Otherwise, I use the maps that are handed to you free when you enter the park and either show your annual pass or fork out some dough. I had a Yellowstone map from AAA, a couple of years ago, but it didn't include Grand Teton. I much prefer a paper map!!!!! More reliable!!!!


    Donna

  10. Default

    Quote Originally Posted by DonnaR57 View Post
    ... Use the mileage... divide by 55 to get the number of hours this will probably take you. If driving on US 2-lane highways, divide by 50 ... These will allow for the fuel, food, and pit stops that mapping programs do not include
    ... through a national park? Usually the speed limits are either 25 or 30 -- anything higher is a rarity and possibly dangerous. While you may get to drive that fast for a bit, you will be stopping -- at a scenic pull-out to take a picture or a short stroll out to a viewpoint, for an "animal jam" when an animal is taking right-of-way to the road (and you won't get by until s/he moves), to take a short hike, or because the entrance to the scenic spot parking lot is blocked or jammed, or there is heavy traffic (very possible in Yellowstone!).
    Donna
    Thank you for real world example. very helpful!

    Quote Originally Posted by DonnaR57 View Post
    If you're going to use electronics for a national park map, the freebie Chimani apps are probably the most detailed out there and they do NOT rely on any sort of cell coverage. That's a good thing, as there's no coverage in Yellowstone except by the big lodges. (I know. I tried to call my bank to pay my mortgage payment. No service.) We had troubles with service in the Badlands, too, though I think we were okay at Mt Rushmore.

    Otherwise, I use the maps that are handed to you free when you enter the park and either show your annual pass or fork out some dough. I had a Yellowstone map from AAA, a couple of years ago, but it didn't include Grand Teton. I much prefer a paper map!!!!! More reliable!!!!
    Donna
    I will check out Chimani apps. Thank you!

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