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  1. Default Some specific questions about Yellowstone Lodging (and Glacier NP, and Black Hills)

    First, thanks to all who contribute here. I've been lurking and learning here the past few weeks as I plan our big family adventure this summer. We're moving (two kids ages 4 and 2, my wife, and me) from the Southeast to the Pacific Northwest this summer. We're planning to take about 2 1/2 weeks to get there. After a stop in Kansas to visit friends, we plan to spend a few days in the Black Hills/Badlands of SD, then on to Yellowstone/Grand Teton for a few days, then Glacier NP. I've already gotten lots of great info on things to see and places to visit from this forum.

    We're making the trip in early to mid June.

    A few specific questions:
    -Right now we have reservations at Yellowstone's Mammoth Hot Springs Budget Cabins. That is the only thing available in Yellowstone for June. However, looking at the map, it looks like those cabins are a good ways from many of the sites in Yellowstone and too far from Grand Tetons to serve as a base. I looked at cabins outside the national parks south of YNP and closer to GTNP, but those go for hundreds of dollars per night, and money is an object for us. :) Am I right that we'll be too far away? Should I just splurge and get some expensive cabins farther south, or should I stay a couple of days on the southside (first) and then keep our Mammoth Hot Springs reservations for the last couple of days, planning to head north next to Glacier NP?

    And now, availability of hotels in other places. My wife is very type-A and worried that we won't be able to find hotels when we travel. I tell her that early-to-mid June is still before the high season and we shouldn't have problems. I don't want to make reservations at all of our destinations because I don't want to run a Clark Griswold by-the-schedule vacation -- I want some flexibility to spend an extra day or two somewhere or skip something else. Still, there is a real risk of two tired, hungry, grumpy kids, and nowhere to stay (and thus a grumpy wife). That being said, are we safe traveling to the following places without reservations in advance?

    -Black Hills

    -Cody, WY (a day or so there before heading into the parks)

    -Glacier NP area

    Thanks for any advice you can provide!

    Last edited by Midwest Michael; 03-01-2010 at 07:27 PM. Reason: added map

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tucson, AZ

    Default Booking vs Winging

    Welcome aboard the RoadTrip America Forums!

    As you're finding out, while June is not the height of high season, accommodations in and around the most popular destinations like Yellowstone, Grand Tetons and Glacier sell out early and completely. The last time I was at Yellowstone (in October) I had great luck getting a motel room in West Yellowstone, MT. This is just outside the park boundary to the west and offers reasonable access to Old Faithful, Yellowstone Lake and the Grand Tetons to the south. The later are only about 100 miles away, but at mid-day during high season that drive can take several hours each way. I would certainly keep your reservations until/unless you get something else. Note that if you are leaving from West Yellowstone, you can also head directly north without entering the park by using US-287. For the same reasons that you're having trouble in and around Yellowstone, I would make sure that you have reservations near or in Glacier National Park booked, if that is what you want. Otherwise, I think you'll be fairly safe just winging it the rest of the way.


  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default A bit of each

    I would have to agree with AZBuck, that for the more popular places, and especially with young children, you will want to know that you have accommodation. But for the rest, don't necessarily wait until the day. You will know 48 hours ahead where you will be, and get on the phone then, and book. If you have your computer with you, get on the net and source accommodation. Otherwise, make sure you have all your options printed out, for the areas where you will be. It has never failed me.

    Lifey who prefers to wing it

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default On a different note.

    Just in case you are taking your times from a mapping program and the map displayed shows your stopping points I though I would point out that day 1 is a lot to cover for a multi day trip and that is without considering the kids. At 770 miles it will most likely take 14 to 15 hours with stops for the children and I think it will be too much for them especially with a long drive the following days so if that is the case it might be better to cut back on the miles a little at the start of your trip.

  5. Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Southwest Dave View Post
    Just in case you are taking your times from a mapping program and the map displayed shows your stopping points I though I would point out that day 1 is a lot to cover for a multi day trip and that is without considering the kids. At 770 miles it will most likely take 14 to 15 hours with stops for the children and I think it will be too much for them especially with a long drive the following days so if that is the case it might be better to cut back on the miles a little at the start of your trip.
    Thanks, but the points marked are mostly things we want to see or places we WANT to stop. I figure that we'll take some unplanned stops along the way. I expect the first leg of the trip -- to visit friends in KS -- will take two solid days of driving, then we'll visit friends for a few days and give the kids a break.

  6. Default GNP and Yellowstone

    I did this trip last Summer coming from the East coast.
    My daughter was 6 and handled the traveling quite well.
    We booked our cabins in mid march for June.
    We arrived in the Badlands the 3rd week of June and it was nice weather.
    But at Yellowstone I didn't realize we were going to be 8ooo ft up and
    we had crazy weather between 30 degrees and 72 degrees! :-)
    We didn't have enough time planned for the Tetons.....unless
    we cut out GNP.
    If you can hit Thermopolis,WY (look it up) make an effort- it is worth it!

    Glacier National Park was the fourth week and it was even colder,
    we rented a heated Cabin (make sure you get the ones with bathrooms)
    and it is a very ungroomed and wild park but so spectacular!
    In between those 3000 miles we rarely had trouble getting a room
    except once we stopped at a small town during a softball competition and they
    were sold out-- almost...........and we still found a room.
    Here is a traveling tip- in Montana and ND there were many times when gas
    stations are sparse, in our jeep we were cutting it close between some towns.
    And when locals told you something was an hour away and the map said 90 miles away..........
    that is how fast they are driving out there! :-)

  7. Default

    We were in this area last July, and we had such a good time! I'd love to go again. But that wasn't your question . . .

    Your wife is right about making reservations. You're traveling in summer to very popular destinations, and -- especially with children -- you don't want to risk being without lodging. Here's where we stayed:

    Yellowstone -- we stayed in the Canyon cabins. We were in the newer rooms, which were called Western cabins. Honestly, they weren't much to brag about. Our room was decent-sized and had two queen beds. The view wasn't anything special. It had all the allure of a Motel 6: a rod by the door instead of a closet, sink out in the hallway. It was clean and decent, but for what we paid . . . it was a rip-off. The positive, of course, was that it was centrally located in the park, and that's worth a good bit. The cafeteria was good, as was the diner in the giftshop -- but both were rather expensive. Service was lacking too; our room wasn't ready on time; in fact, we waited a long time for it.

    Perhaps if we went again I'd opt to stay in the small town of West Yellowstone. It offers all the usual moderately-priced hotels like Best Western. I had flirted with the idea of staying at a place called Wolf Lodge or Wolf Inn, which was right across the street from the Grizzly & Wolf Center (very worth seeing, especially with children). I'm not sure whether West Yellowstone would've been better or not. It did offer a greater variety of eating spots, but it's a very long distance from everything inside Yellowstone, and the lines of traffic pouring in from West Yellowstone every morning were daunting.

    Honestly, as much as we liked Yellowstone, we didn't see a really stand-out place to stay. I don't know where we'd stay if we went again -- no, WHEN we go again. The place is incredible.

    Did you ask about the Grand Tetons? There we stayed at Signal Mountain Lodge. We had a two-room Rustic cabin, which was wonderful. It was a super-cute little cabin nestled in the woods, and although it was expensive, it was worth the cost. We had a tiny front porch, two bedrooms with pretty quilts, and an old but functional bathroom. The small fridge was nice. The rooms were quite spacious, and my teenagers love having their own beds. If I had it to do again, I might pop for the (even more expensive) rooms with a view of the Tetons. We did an incredible rafting trip on the Snake River and enjoyed The Trapper Grill (at Signal Mountain Lodge). The lodge itself has a game room -- think board games, not arcade.

    And finally, the Badlands. Originally we'd planned to stay in Custer State Park -- a place NOT to be missed! But we couldn't splurge on those great cabins everywhere, and we ended up in the Holiday Inns & Suites in Custer, SD, just outside Mt. Rushmore and Custer State Park. The town is small and has several other moderate-hotels, but I do recommend the Holiday Inn. It's quite new, and our two-room suite was spacious and comfortable. This hotel provides breakfast (eggs and sausage - not just cereal), and the kids enjoyed the indoor pool. I paid ZERO for this place -- I used reward points. Gotta love that. The downside of Custer is that there's really not much good food here. Avoid the old-bank-turned-restaurant like the plague. They quite obviously serve frozen foods. I wish we'd had dinner out of the cooler that night; it woudl've tasted just as good and would've been so much cheaper.

    Definitely plan to do the Buffalo Safari inside Custer State Park. It was one of the highlights of our three-week trip. Our guide took us out in a modified Jeep, and with him we were able to go into parts of the park where regular cars can't go. He showed us all kinds of animals, and he taught us all kinds of interesting things about buffalo. Worth every penny.

    In this general area, we also enjoyed the Mamouth Site. It's a working archeological dig. Very interesting.

    Can't forget Mt. Rushmore, of course. It was nice, but honestly not the highlight I remembered from my trip as a teenager.

  8. Default

    Thanks for all the info. Based on everyone's recommendations, I'm making reservations near all of the parks.

    What are people's thoughts on this rough itinerary:

    ARR 3 JUN
    Black Hills (2 full days, plus time on arrival day)
    DEP 6 JUN
    391 miles, 6:34
    ARR 6 JUN
    Cody, WY
    DEP 7 JUN
    149 miles, 3 HOURS***** (through YNP to TNP)
    ARR 7 JUN
    Teton National Park (2 days plus day of drive in)
    DEP 10 JUN
    ARR 10 JUN
    Mammoth Hot Springs Cabins – Yellowstone (two full days, plus a couple of half days driving Cody-TNP and TNP-Mammoth)
    DEP 13 JUN
    600 miles – 10:47
    ARR 14 JUN
    1 full day, plus nowhere to be after leaving so we can spend the next full day there, plus the day we get there)
    DEP 16 JUN

    I know we're short-changing some things, but that's all the time we really have. Am I balancing my time well between the different parks? I can probably add a day or so to the trip, but that's about it. I think I need to add a day to the Badlands-Cody-Teton section to see more of Cody and maybe some more of the park on the day we drive in.
    Last edited by TTC; 03-12-2010 at 04:05 PM.

  9. Default

    So much depends on your family's preferences. I've been to Black Hills a couple times and Grand Teton once. Wanted to go to Yellowstone, but the logistics and traffic scared me off. I want to relax on road trips, not compete. But that's why it depends on what your family wants to do.

    Personally, I would cut back to two places to visit and spend more time. You can easily find things to do in Black Hills for 3 days. Where you stay will matter, as park travel can be slow. But try to see it all, or most, and that probably needs at least 3 days.

    Tetons are nice, and the elk herd is amazing, but if the gang is hell bent on Yellowstone, I would consider bypassing the Tetons and going to Yellowstone for longer. Maybe drive through Jackson Hole and stop for lunch. It's a nice town. But definitely drive the Baertooth highway at the east side of Yellowstone.

    That's what I would do - narrow it down. But so much is up to your family's preferences.

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