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  1. Default National parks VS cities

    Hi everyone - first time on here so apologies if this query has come up before.

    We are planning a 4 week trip next summer over the summer hols as we have a wedding to go to in Montana at the end of July. However I have never been to America and my boyfriend has only been there once but did very little. Therefore we have a lot of high expectations about the sorts of things we wish to do. We plan to camp for the majority of the trip.

    Obviously in 4 weeks we can't do everything but we have come up with a couple of itineraries and as yet cannot make a decision about the best one to go for. Perhaps someone has done similar trips before and could give us a bit of advice of how to plan it :)

    Option 1 - National Parks only
    Fly into Calgary (I know its Canada but with direct flights from Manchester....) and then head onto Glacier. After Glacier we make our way to Helena for the wedding. 4-5 days in Montana in and around Helena. Next stop Yellowstone for 4-5 days - sightseeing and hiking maybe even backcountry camping. After this we can head onto Grand Tetons and then a quick visit to Craters of the Moon on our way to Sawtooth and Hells Canyon and back into Montana. We would then head back up to Calgary for flight home.

    Option 2 - National Parks and San Francisco
    Fly into Salt Lake City and go direct to Yellowstone via Grand Tetons for shorter stay in the parks before wedding. 3-4 days in Montana with a trip up to Glacier afterwards. After Glacier we would head west to Crater Lake and Redwood NP to get on Highway 1 down to San Fran. Looking to spend a few days exploring and then fly out of San.

    Option 3 - San Francisco and NPs
    Similar to option 2 but instead we do San Fran first for longer and then get an internal flight over to Montana for the wedding. This leaves us with approx 2 1/2 wks to explore Grand Tetons, Yellowstone and Glacier.

    Sorry this has turned into a bit of an epic but we really do want to cram a lot of stuff into what is increasingly a short space of time!!

    Thanks for reading and hopefully you can help us out a little :)

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin

    Default your choice

    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    All of your options look pretty good, but here's my take.

    Personally, I like option 1 the best. Its probably going to be the cheapest, since you are flying and renting a car in and out of the same city. It also is the most concentrated, where you'll have the largest percentage of exploration time compared to travel time. One thing I would consider is adding some more time in Canada, as there are also some fantastic national parks in the Southern Canadian Rockies, particularly Banff and Jasper that I wouldn't miss if you are traveling through Calgary anyway. If you wanted more city time, you could also look at looping this out a bit farther too, and fit in Seattle and Vancouver.

    Option 2 is ok, although you'll be paying a little more for the one way rental car and the different airports. You still get to see a lot, however, and if seeing California/San Francisco is a priority, then there's nothing wrong with this choice.

    Option 3 would be my least favorite, as it just seems like you are tacking on San Francisco to a trip. There's really nothing wrong with it either, but option 2 fits more with my travel style here. Of course, my travel style might not be the same as yours, so take your own preferences into account.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default No wrong choice.

    Hello and welcome to the RTA forum's !

    We can certainly help you get the best from the trip you decide upon, but there is simply no one best trip, all have there own merits and you wouldn't be disappointed with any one of them. You have obviously done some research so now I would have a good look around the forums using key words and the search button with a good map at hand to see what other things on your chosen routes appeal to you, and will make the best all round "package".
    The National parks site is a great tool for planning help as well. Once you have decided we should be able to offer suggestions/alternatives to get the most from your addventure.

    Enjoy the planning !

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2009
    SF Bay Area

    Default I can't believe I'm going to say this...

    ... as a native San Franciscan, I should stop right now; but I have to toss this in:

    If you're looking for a big city fix this trip, what about Seattle? It's a lot closer to the other areas you're hitting, and while it's no SanFran, it has it's own charm.

    Just a thought.

    Olympic Mountains seen from Seattle:

    Photo: Don Casey

  5. Default Great advice

    Love that photo from Seattle it makes me want to pack my bags right now!!

    Seriously though thanks for the suggestions so far...they have confirmed some of the things we were deliberating such as San Fran as a tag on at the start of the hols etc. Also they have opened up the can of worms that is Canada....only in terms of adding another dimension to the trip!!!

    The other half visited Canada(Banff specifically) a couple of years ago to do some climbing and hiking but ended up not doing as much as he would have liked and agrees that it would be worth adding this into the trip. I agree too as have heard some lovely things about the national parks over there.

    However we only have 4 wks for this road trip and being a teacher it is not easy to make these sorts of trips....I think we need to do a little more thinking :)

    Thanks again for your advice so far - really appreciate it!

  6. Default Rethink...what do you reckon?

    Hi again...
    After the advice from previous posters me and the other half have gone back to our books and maps and come up with an almost settled itinerary but still need to ask a few questions.

    We will fly into Seattle and then head over to the wedding in Helena. After wedding we will hit the NPs of Yellowstone and Grand Tetons and then swoop past Salt Lake City (if there is time) and Craters of the moon and trundle on back up through Idaho to get back to Seattle for some city time and a look at the coast.

    Does that sound like we have enough time to spend some quality time in the national parks as well as giving ourselves enough time for the driving??

    Also can anyone recommend any places to stop off and visit on the Idaho leg of the trip...we have spotted a few forests but with no knowledge of the area and little info in the guide books, we are lost at the mo :)

    Thanks again for your help!!

    P.S. Unfortunately we have had to knock San Fran on the head for this trip due to lack of time to get down there and do everything we want to do...if all goes well with this road trip we will head back and do a California specific one :O)

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia


    If you can get hold of a copy of Highways and Byways of Central Idaho, it will give you a huge number of sights. I left my copy with friend in Idaho, so am not able to quote from it, but have used it extensively... mostly around the Sawtooth Mountains. (That title could be Hi-ways....) Scenic highways which come to mind are 55 from Boise to McCall and the Ponderos Highway (21) between Stanley and Lowman. As well as 93 north of Challis and 75 north of Hailey. But then, Idaho is a lovely State.

    Shoshone Falls in Twin Falls is worth visiting, though the falls are more spectacular earlier in Spring. Just down the Snake river from there is the canyon where Evil Kenevil tried to jump across the river, and the bridge on 93 over the river (north of the town) affords some fantastic views.

    In Seattle, as well as the more popular attractions, such as Pike Street Market (not to be missed) and the Melbourne Tram which runs along the waterfront (Melbourne being a sister city to Seattle), make sure you visit the library. This is a magnificent building which is built on the plan of a parking garage. When it first opened in 2004 they ran tours explaining why the building was built the way it is. Perhaps they still do.

    And of course, you have Boeing.

    Lifey who has a lot of feeling for the North West

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tucson, AZ

    Default On the Way But Off the Beaten Path

    You will be driving very near to two of my favorite (and least known) wonders of southern Idaho: Bruneau Sand Dunes and Bruneau Canyon. The later is particularly spectacular as is the dirt road into it through an Air Force Bombing Range (perfectly safe despite the signs warning you about 'objects falling from planes'.) Also be sure to make time for some stops along I-84 in the Snake River Valley to view the Thousand Springs and the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway in northeastern Oregon.


  9. #9
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia


    AZBuck, since these folk will be in a rental car, the dirt road could be a problem.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tucson, AZ

    Default "Roads"

    Actually when I visited Bruneau Canyon, it was in a rental and I had no problems. I just checked a couple of car rental websites and the key seems to be in what they allow. Hertz seems to be pretty typical, restricting vehicle usage to "regularly maintained roads" with no mention of road surface. Only "Off-road use is a violation of the rental agreement". The dirt road into the canyon is a road and it is regularly maintained.


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