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  1. #1

    Default Drive or Train? OH to Yellowstone and back

    I have browsed through many sites but I have joined this one because you guys seem to know the road in and out and are blunt.

    I am a single mom of two girls, 19 and 11. I wanted to take my girls from Dayton, OH to Yellowstone this late summer. I was going to take train there for the experience and then rent vehicle and drive back from Yellowstone to Dayton, Oh. My plans got rocky when I saw Al Roker driving his daughter to a national park and I saw some of the drop offs! I have been driving for decades. I have drove from OH to New York, Chicago, and TN. BUT, once we got to Gatlinburg my male friend had to drive to the cabin every night because I was scared of the incline that was on this narrow pebble road. BUT once we got close to the Canadian border my brother had to drive across very long bridge.

    Before I start making detailed plans, I want to get advice from people that have driven the roads to see if they are "scary." I know they are major interstates that millions drive on, BUT I hate narrow inclines, drop offs on narrow roads with out guard rails, long bridges, and unpaved steep roads. I am not opposed to dragging out the road trip to stay on "scary mom friendly roads" or train or greyhound on the way back until we get to friendlier roads. My 19 year old drives but would rather ride, unless its straight and flat. (Guess she is a chip off the old block, lol). I do know that the train does not go all the way to Yellowstone.

    I'm not sensitive, I would rather you be brutally honest than to be all packed and excited for road trip that I can not navigate through, and have to find another way home for me and my girls. Thanks!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
    Posts
    12,987

    Default

    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    It's always hard to say exactly what people will consider "scary," even with the good description you gave. Some of it depends upon how long a bridge has to be before it's too long for you, or how narrow a road has to be before it's too narrow for you, etc.

    I will say, the getting too and from Yellowstone would be the relatively easy part. For that portion of the trip, you could take Interstates nearly the whole way, and since all of those roads are wide, paved, and have limited curves and grades, I wouldn't think you would have much difficulty.

    If you're going to have a difficult time, I would think it would likely be getting in, out, and around Yellowstone itself. For example, I'd guess you probably wouldn't enjoy the extremely scenic Beartooth Pass, and I would certainly make sure you don't enter/exit the park via US-14 or US-14Alt (through Cody) as there are some very steep and curvy sections of those roads. If you are looking to access I-90, then I'd make sure you go via the North Entrance (Gardiner MT).

    Within the park, all of the main roads are paved and I don't think you should have too many problems, but you are talking about a park that is in the mountains, and you may find some roads or sections of roads to be uncomfortable, against depending upon your personal tolerance. Dunrave Pass, between Canyon and Tower, is probably the area most likely to give you issues, and there are some driveways to parking lots that might be narrower and steeper than you'd like.

    As far as the Train, if that's something you want to do, that's fine, but I believe Amtrak's closest stop is in Salt Lake City - a good half day drive away from Grand Teton (which you should also try to include in your trip.) - and since the biggest issues are going to be getting in/out/around Yellowstone, I don't think that will do much to deal with your concerns. It's also likely going to make your costs skyrocket, as I would expect a one way car rental from SLC (or anywhere in the west) back to Ohio to be extremely expensive. How much time do you have for this trip? If you have the time to drive both ways, that might be in your best interest - especially since you could be in your car, which might make you a little more comfortable if you do find yourself on an uncomfortable road.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Tucson, AZ
    Posts
    9,321

    Default Done Both

    Welcome aboard the RoadTrip America Forums!

    I've taken a few long train trips in my life. The first was a bit similar to what you have in mind for your daughters. As an eleven-year-old I went from Wilmington DE to Pueblo CO, spent a couple of weeks camped out in the foothills of the Rockies, and then returned by train. I've also seen central Alaska by train and gone, overnight, from Moscow to St. Petersburg.

    All of those trips were enjoyable and certainly far less stressful than driving, but they lacked the essential element that makes the American RoadTrip the subject of song and story, namely the ability to go where you want to go, to spend as much time as you want there, and to change those parameters on the fly. If you want to explore any of the many scenic, historic, or just plain interesting sites in between Ohio and Wyoming - then you really should be going by car.

    It's also true that pretty much everything between Dayton and the general Yellowstone area is perfectly flat Great Plains. There are a couple of possible main routes so that you can explore different places westbound and eastbound. One basically follows the Ohio/Mississippi/Missouri River Valleys the entire way. The main entrance to Yellowstone from the north, from Livingston through Gardiner, also follows a broad river valley (the Yellowstone) so, again, it should not be a problem. The other follows the Ohio and Platte Rivers then cuts across the Great Basin in Wyoming with views of the Medicine Bow and Wind River Mountain Ranges off (well off) to your west and then enters the park from the south via Grand Tetons National Park. N.B.!! You should NOT consider using US-212 between Laurel MT and the northeast entrance to the park. That, the Beartooth Highway, is just the type of road you would dread. US-14 out the east side of the park is another road you should probably avoid.

    The downside of the RoadTrip is, of course, the amount of time needed for the drive(s). You would need an absolute minimum of three days each way, plus any time that you'd like to spend visiting attractions, exploring historical or scenic venues, or just plain relaxing. So you'd need at least two weeks to make such an effort worthwhile and enjoyable. Whichever way you decide to go, car or train, let us know and we'll do our best to help you make the most of it.

    AZBuck

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Melbourne, Australia
    Posts
    6,922

    Default It's slow going through the parks.l

    Quote Originally Posted by Midwest Michael View Post
    Within the park, all of the main roads are paved and I don't think you should have too many problems, but you are talking about a park that is in the mountains, and you may find some roads or sections of roads to be uncomfortable, against depending upon your personal tolerance. Dunrave Pass, between Canyon and Tower, is probably the area most likely to give you issues, and there are some driveways to parking lots that might be narrower and steeper than you'd like.
    To add to Michael's comments: the speed within the park is quite slow by speed limit, and even slower with the traffic and animals on the roads. So that should make the roads within your comfort range. It is finding parking spots when and where there is something of great interest to be seen, that can be hair raising, when people park all over the road and leave very little room for those who want to continue.

    I'd also agree that you should look at driving all the way. As it is you are planning to take the train when you could be driving I-90 the whole way - a relatively flat and straight multi lane highway, and possibly stop at some of the great attractions along the way. At least that part of the route you could share driving with your daughter.

    Lifey

  5. #5

    Default

    Yay! I was hoping that the interstates were as you described, thank you. You do bring up a good point about being comfortable in my own car. With that in mind I will get one smaller than mine (Mazda Tribute). I am hoping they have a Enterprise where the whole week, one way, unlimited mileage is affordable, as I have rented from them in the past.
    I have a week for this trip I was thinking...
    Day 1 & 2 Dayton to Chicago- Board Amtrak 30 hours to Salt Lake City.
    Day 3 Rent car from Salt Lake, Drive to Hotel outside of the Yellowstone.
    Day 4 & 5 Pay for tour of Yellowstone
    Day 6,7 & 8 Drive back to Dayton, OH

  6. #6
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
    Posts
    12,987

    Default

    To be honest with you, I don't really like your plan.

    At the heart of the matter, 2 days is barely enough time to see the highlights of Yellowstone, meanwhile, you're spending 6 days traveling to get to/from there. That's not exactly an ideal ratio. Typically, a 50/50 mix of traveling vs. exploring days works a lot better, especially with kids.

    As mentioned, 2 days isn't much time for yellowstone as it is (and you're forced to cut out Grand Teton completely, which is a shame), but if you're then going to try and see the park as a guided tour, you're going to that much more limited on what you can see and do. You'll be forced to follow the tour companies itinerary, which means you won't be able to see that many places because of the time needed to unload and reload everyone at each stop, but on the flip side, you're probably not going to then be able to wander off at your own pace to some of the less visited, and quieter, yet still very accessible wonders of Yellowstone.

    I'm sure you'll find a car rental company that will let you rent a car one way with unlimited milage, I would just expect the cost to be around $1000 for a week - probably even more if you want an SUV.

    And then there is the travel itself. 3 days to Drive home from Yellowstone is pretty much the bare minimum amount of time you'll need to cover the miles. Even that is going to be 10-12 hours a day and doesn't leave any time at all for seeing things along the way - like a detour to Mt. Rushmore for example.

    Also, from the looks of it, the train from Chicago gets into SLC around 11pm - it's a 34 hour trip, but that's assuming there are no delays - so you're not really going to be able to drive onto Yellowstone until the day after you arrive in SLC - so that part of your itinerary might need some work too.

    Have you considered flying out? It actually might be cheaper, and would give you a lot more time to explore Yellowstone and the surrounding area. Even if flying isn't an option, then I might consider taking the train both ways, just so you aren't spending 80% of your trip trying to get to/from Yellowstone.

  7. #7

    Default

    So it sounds like you all agree I can drive it, and should so I can explore as I choose. It sounds as if I will need at least two weeks to make this trip a true trip and not just rushing. After I look at my schedule I will let you guys know dates. Thank you all I knew this was the right site to come for real answers and help. My daughters thank you all as well!

  8. #8
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
    Posts
    12,987

    Default

    Yeah, 2 weeks would be about what you'd need to make this worthwhile as a roadtrip. If you can't take that long, then you either have to look at other transportation options, like a fly and drive or maybe the train both ways. The nice this is that if you do take a full 2 weeks, you've got a lot more options to really explore both Yellowstone and some things between Yellowstone and Ohio.

  9. #9

    Default

    The train from Chicago to Salt Lake City is a good ride (my son and I did that fifteen years ago all the way to Los Angeles) with the segment between Denver and SLC simply beautiful. U.S. Park Rangers boarded in Denver (around 9am) and narrated the journey all day. We secured a basic room (basically a bunk bed) which was great for sleeping (we didn't sleep as well on the overnight train from D.C. to Chicago). All meals are included with the room, you pay if riding coach. Rooms aren't cheap but worth it going long distance.

    The Salt Lake City disembarking (11pm) and embarking (3:30am) times are not great. Denver or Grand Junction, CO, would provide better times but more driving. The stretch between Denver and Grand Junction is very scenic.

    If you drive from Dayton you will have to cross the Mississippi River at some point: this qualifies as a long bridge.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
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    Tucson, AZ
    Posts
    9,321

    Default A Minor Point

    Quote Originally Posted by landmariner
    If you drive from Dayton you will have to cross the Mississippi River at some point.
    Yes, but... One of things I look for on a RoadTrip (generally) is ways to break it up and (specifically) to take ferries when reasonably convenient. The Mississippi still has many operating ferries including at Cassville WI, and the Golden Eagle Ferry just north of St. Louis. Those would fall roughly on the two routes I outlined in my initial response. And of course, the bridges get shorter as you progress northward and the river gets narrower.

    AZBuck

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