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  1. Default Planning last minute solo road trip from Chicago to Yellowstone

    Hey everyone! This is my first post on the forum and I am very excited to be part of this community!

    I am a 24 year old female Chicago native. Long story short, my September vacation plans fell through.
    I am now trying to plan a last minute solo road trip from Chicago to Yellowstone from September 8 to September 17 (10 days). I would like to possibly stop in Denver. I went on a 4 day solo road trip to Smoky Mountain National Park in July and I have been on a few solo weekend getaways, so this is not my first time traveling on my own.
    I am totally fine with staying at hostels or airbnbs. I just really don't know where to start with the planning!

    I just have a few questions about the trip:

    1) Is it possible to plan a road trip that is only a week away?
    2) Where should I stay the night each night? Do you recommend any hostels or motels?
    3) What route would you recommend?
    4) What attractions should I see along the way?

    Thank you in advance!

    EDIT: I am totally fine with skipping Denver. I would much rather have more time in Yellowstone!

    Sylvia
    Last edited by sgoczol; 09-02-2017 at 10:40 AM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
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    Welcome to RTA!

    1. Of course!

    Please note that it's a 3 day drive from Chicago to Yellowstone each way, and if you are going to be going through Denver the 3rd day will be a very long day.

    2. On the way out, I'd stay in the Lincoln NE area and Denver. The 3rd night would probably be best to stay in Jackson WY. On the way back, I'd stay in Sheridan WY and Sioux Falls SD.

    3. On the way out - I-80 to I-76 to Denver. Then I-25 to I-80 to US-287 to US-26 to US-191. The next day head back through the Tetons into Yellowstone, stay the night in West Yellowstone, make that your base of operations till you leave.

    On the way back, leave the park via the northeast entrance and take US-212 over the Beartooth to I-90, take that all the way back home.

    Note that lodging in Jackson and anywhere near Yellowstone will be costly. The rates don't go down till October and then go back up again for ski season. In West Yellowstone, I recommend the Evergreen Motel. It's as cheap as anything and is a very nice little old style roadside motel. I believe they have a 2 night minimum.

    4. If you want to spend a day in Denver, 10 days will only give you 3 days in Yellowstone, I don't think you would have much time for seeing other attractions.

  3. Default

    Thank you so much for your quick response!!

    I am perfectly fine with skipping Denver. I would like to just focus on Yellowstone. With that said, what other national parks should I visit along the way? Is there any way to see Mount Rushmore?

    I am also okay with staying 30 minutes to an hour away from Yellowstone if that would be cheaper.

  4. #4
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    Sure - Mount Rushmore is only about 45 minutes off I-90, and you could also visit Wall Drug and drive through the Badlands.

    If you don't want to go to Denver, you could get to Yellowstone quicker by taking I-90 all the way to Ranchester WY, then US-14 and US-14A to Cody, spend a night there instead of going via Jackson. A good place to stay for Rushmore, etc. would be Rapid City. I would still take the Beartooth on your way home, that's a drive not to be missed.

    There is NOTHING cheap within a couple hours of Yellowstone. The park is so large just about anywhere you stay except West Yellowstone, Cooke City, or Gardiner will involve considerable commuting time. You could check to see if there is any place to stay inside the park.

    https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/lodging.htm

  5. #5

    Default

    In SW South Dakota you also have the beautiful Custer State Park (with lodges), the town of Custer and Wind Cave National Park and nearby Jewel Cave National Monument. Wall Drug is Wall Drug... some people have to visit to get it out of their system ;)

  6. #6
    Join Date
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    Green County, Wisconsin
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    Quote Originally Posted by sgoczol View Post
    I am also okay with staying 30 minutes to an hour away from Yellowstone if that would be cheaper.
    As GLC mentioned, there really isn't any place that meets those criteria, but you also need to keep in mind just how gigantic Yellowstone is. It can easily take 3 hours just to drive from one end of the park to the other. From West Yellowstone, which is about the most central location to stay outside of the park, you're still 45 minutes to an hour to places like Old Faithful and Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, with even longer drives to places like Mammoth Hot Springs and Yellowstone Lake.

    With the limited lodging around Yellowstone, I'd try to make reservations ASAP, even September can be a busy time.

    As far as other National Parks, I'd certainly look at making some time to visit Grand Teton, just south of Yellowstone. Others have mentioned the Badlands, Rushmore, Jewel and Wind Caves, and Custer State Park - also near I-90 is Devils Tower and Little Bighorn Battlefield (which would be along your way if you head to the Beartooth Highway.)

    I would encourage you to take a different route there and a different route back. I-90 would make sense one direction. If you end up going to Grand Teton, you might consider heading back along I-80. You could also considering taking I-94 one direction, which takes you near Teddy Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.

    BTW, if you are thinking of visiting Yellowstone, Grand Teton and another National Park or two, it is worth considering buying the Annual National Parks pass. The pass is $80 for every National Park. It's $50 alone to visit both Yellowstone and Grand Teton (or $30 to visit just Yellowstone). However, I will note that the Annual Pass does not provide any benefit at Mount Rushmore, which technically has free admission, but you have to pay for parking.

  7. Default

    Quote Originally Posted by glc View Post
    If you don't want to go to Denver, you could get to Yellowstone quicker by taking I-90 all the way to Ranchester WY, then US-14 and US-14A to Cody, spend a night there instead of going via Jackson. A good place to stay for Rushmore, etc. would be Rapid City. I would still take the Beartooth on your way home, that's a drive not to be missed.

    https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/lodging.htm
    If I were to drive around 500-600 miles in one day, where should I stay each night of my three day trip to Yellowstone? I'm just not sure how many miles/hours I should drive in one day.

  8. #8
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    If you just want to get to Yellowstone the fastest way, that will take you 2.5 days via I-90 and US-14 and/or 14A, overnights in Sioux Falls and Buffalo or Sheridan WY. If you want to take 3 full days, you can drive through the Badlands, see Mount Rushmore, and spend the night in Rapid City, Sturgis, or Spearfish. If you do that, I think I'd spend the 3rd night in Cody and drive on into the park the next day.

  9. Default

    Quote Originally Posted by glc View Post
    If you want to take 3 full days, you can drive through the Badlands, see Mount Rushmore, and spend the night in Rapid City, Sturgis, or Spearfish. If you do that, I think I'd spend the 3rd night in Cody and drive on into the park the next day.
    Thank you! That was very helpful.

    I am planning on taking around 3 days to drive back as well. I would like to see Theodore Roosevelt National Park on my way back.

    Where would you suggest for me to stay for 2 nights? What other attractions are along that route?

  10. #10
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    Leave via the Beartooth, spend your nights in Miles City and Fargo. You won't have much time to spend anywhere.

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