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  1. Default Fly/Drive or All Drive from East Coast to Western National Parks

    We are planning a trip in May 2011 from Pennyslvania to Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons and several parks in Utah.

    Is it generally cheaper to (1) drive the whole trip, staying in motels, (2) drive and pull my own camper, camping along the way or (3) fly and rent a car or camper to drive and stay in motels or campgrounds?

    How far in advance do reservations need to be made for stays near the national parks? Or can we just take our chances on finding lodging, whether we camp or stay in motels?

    How much time should we allow for a trip like this, if driving the whole way vs fly/drive? We have 2-3 weeks available.

    Thanks for a great site and hope to hear some good advice.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tucson, AZ

    Default It All Depends

    Welcome aboard the RoadTrip America Forums!

    The relative costs of flying vs. driving depend on a number of factors, so there is no single correct answer. Generally, the more people going, the more advantageous it is to drive rather than buy multiple plane tickets. Conversely, the farther your vacation spot is from home, the more advantageous it is to fly. So those two basic factors work at cross purposes. Other considerations include the mileage your current vehicle gets, the cost of renting a car or SUV adequate to your purposes, the distance to your destination, the number of motel room-nights that you'll need to there, meals, etc. etc.

    Even in today's economy, with fewer people traveling, Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons have relatively short seasons and are among the most popular destinations in the National Park system. You should make reservations in/near them as well as Arches, Bryce Canyon, and Zion in Utah. And I would make those reservations as soon as you have firm dates for your journey, or as soon thereafter as reservations can be made.


  3. #3

    Default Been there, doing that.........


    Within 12 hours I depart on a drive to southwestern Montana. I'm taking my venerable Ford pickup truck and will do some quick overnight bivouacs on a cot in the (covered) back of the truck, some cheap motels, and some nicer accomodations while out there. Here are some thoughts about your plans:

    Renting an SUV out there is expensive. If you have any notion about taking one off-road, forget it. The rental agreements prohibit off-road use. That alone removes me from the customer pool. In winter in the Utah ski country out of Salt Lake City, fullsize SUVs go for > $1,000/week. The last time I rented one in Montana in the summer of 2000 I paid just under $1,350 for two weeks in a Dodge Durango (midsize in my book). So, fly-n-drive gets expensive in a hurry.

    It's tough to generalize about costs since each of us travels differently. I've got a cooler packed with sandwich stuff, bottled water, fruit, and beers for evening wind-down time. I don't expect to eat more than one quick sit-down meal a day on the way out. On my passenger seat is a Woodall's campground directory and a Super 8 Motel directory, so again, my type of drive out and back might be cheaper than yours.

    I'd have to guess that the cost of commercial campgrounds added to the extra fuel costs for your tow vehicle would pretty closely approximate the cost of motels, at least for the out-and-back part. But, getting to bring your own stuff has plenty of value, as exactly that factor played into my decision to drive out tomorrow. I've really, really had it with the hassles, uncertainties, and expense of flying.

    As was mentioned, the big parks get crowded, but you going in May could mean you'd miss the peak of it. I'd still figure on reservations well in advance, whether they be for campgrounds or motels.

    Have fun planning and taking your RoadTrip!


  4. Default

    Hey, thanks for the input. It looks like a definite fly to Salt Lake City and rent a car. Go to Yellowstone, and Grand Tetons first. Then possibly add Yosemite. Otherwise, stick with the Utah parks. If we go to Yosemite and then the Utah parks, we could possibly fly out of Las Vegas. Does that sound feasible? Thanks.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin


    Your trip is certainly possible within 2-3 weeks, however, I will remind you that if you chose to fly back from Vegas your costs will likely go up quite significantly. You'll be adding on a one way fee for your car rental, which could be a few hundred dollars, plus your airline costs are also likely to increase.

  6. #6


    We are leaving the end of this month from Southeast Georgia and going to Yosemite National Park. That is our main destination. From there it will depend on the time left. We will be camping all the way in our 26' motor home. With the gas prices going up I am not sure how much extra traveling we will be able to do. We have 2 weeks so we hope to get to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. We will see. We had talked about flying and then renting a car but that can be expensive. Also, by driving we will be able to take my Jazzy power chair along. Usually planning and taking a trip is dependent on a persons resources and goals. We are looking forward to getting out there and seeing parts of this country we have, or at least, I have never seen before, except in pictures and videos. Have fun.

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