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  1. #31
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Central Missouri


    5-Sep Day in Badlands NP
    6-Sep 2 hr drive to Wind Cave NP. Spend day.
    7-Sep 1 hr drive to Mt Rushmore.
    8-Sep Get early start! 3 hr drive to Devil's Tower. 3 hr drive to Bighorn Natl Forrest.
    I'd love to comment on these, as we were just there very recently. (See my trip report.)

    You can easily spend a full day at Badlands if you want to hike around. Hopefully they will have finished the construction at both the Visitor Center parking lot and on the main road. There are several good hikes from the viewpoints that will take you to further observation points. The bighorn sheep were mostly down on the western end of the park during the month of July, according to the rangers, and that's where we found them.

    Badlands to Wind Cave is easily a two hour drive, if you are taking SR-36 and US-16A. Those are mighty slow going roads. We didn't realize when we used those to go into Custer after Badlands, that they would be so slow. Wind Cave below ground is a matter of taking the tours. We took the 9:40 am Fairgrounds Tour. Another in our group also opted to take the Wild Cave tour in the afternoon, which involves crawling around on your belly and means no cameras, phones, or other electronics. That wasn't for us. There are some places to hike on top of Wind Cave, too. You could also drive along Custer State Park's Wildlife Loop, too.

    It's about an hour's drive to Mt Rushmore. We arrived early in the morning and really appreciated that, because there were less crowds. That shouldn't be as big a deal in September, but you never know! I'd recommend the Presidential Trail, which takes you underneath the monument. Depending on what you want to do, you may or may not need the full day. If not, go take the Iron Mountain Road or the Needles Highway drives through Custer State Park -- they are very worthwhile.

    Your drive times are about right for Black Hills to Devil's Tower, depending on which route you take and where you were staying. We were in Custer City, went out through Deadwood, Lead and Spearfish, and it took us about 2-3/4 hours to get to Devil's Tower. If you take US-212, you may have the same -- especially if they haven't finished that construction! Three hours to Little Bighorn National Forest sounds about right, maybe more though. It really depends on whether you're talking about the Forest itself, or the National Battlefield.

    What route are you using to get to Yellowstone? If going the Beartooth -- from Little Bighorn Natl Battlefield to Billings is an hour. Then it's another hour from Billings to Red Lodge. The Beartooth is going to be a 3-hour drive AT LEAST. We took 9-1/2 hours to go from Billings to West Yellowstone, MT via the Beartooth and stopping at the viewpoints in Yellowstone's northeast corner. (Unfortunately, it rained on us between Cooke City and the Lamar Valley, so we didn't stop between those.)


  2. #32
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default Northeast or East entry?

    If you're going to drive the Beartooth Hwy / Pass, I'd make a point of getting much closer than Bighorn NF. Ir you're entering via the east entrance through Cody, you'll be fine.

    As already mentioned, the Beartooth takes time, and if you are going to fully appreciate it, it takes a LOT of time. You'll want to make a stop at the Top of the World Store, as well as all the other scenic view points... and of course, at the top of the pass.


  3. Default

    This is a weak point in my plan that I haven't given enough attention to; thanks for reminding me to flesh it out better!

    I'd like to spend a full day in Badlands, but I want to see the Minuteman missile site too. I have a full day planned for Mt Rushmore, so I can always eat into that. As a photographer I'm obsessed with light, so I'm trying to be at Rushmore for sunset, night lights, and sunrise.

    I read that Wind Cave above ground was interesting too because it's one of few remaining prairie habitats. Custer State Park was my plan if I get bored at Mt. Rushmore.

    As for Bighorn NF, I had just put a pin in the middle and hoped for the best! Doing a bit more research, it looks like there's bunch of campgrounds in the park. Bald Mountain is close to the Western boundary, so that might be a good one. That mean I have a 4 hour drive to Devil's Tower, then another 4 hours to Bald Mountain. Seems like a long day. Maybe I should shoot for a campground on the Eastern edge and drive more the next day?

    Going into Yellowstone my first night is booked at Canyon, but I haven't though about my specific route there yet. I thought I would just drive in via Cody. But I could spend my first day driving in via Beartooth. I'm not in a hurry since I'm booked in Canyon.

  4. Default

    I've been busy buying camping and photography gear, but now I want to refine my itinerary. I still don't feel good about getting from Mt. Rushmore almost to Yellowstone in one day. Is my latest plan good?

    Sunrise at Mt. Rushmore. Get on the road by 7 and drive 3 hr to Devi's Tower. 2 hours there. 5.5 hr drive to Red Lodge, MT. Find camping near Red Lodge.

    I could just cut out Devil's Tower since this is such a long day, but it's on the way and would be nice to see.

  5. #35
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Central Missouri


    At about 460 miles, Mt Rushmore to Red Lodge is a long day, especially adding Devil's Tower. However, we did something similar, and depends on your outlook. We cut our day shorter, at Billings.

    I found about 7 NF campgrounds on a brief search, nearby to Red Lodge: Check this link.


  6. Default

    Hi, I'm working on refining my itinerary into Yellowstone. The information you've all provided here has been invaluable. I'm starting to feel better about this trip.

    This is my latest plan. I don't think it's necessary to book any sleeping for these places in advance. I'm considering canceling my reservation for my first night in Yellowstone.

    Sept-5: Badlands NP and Minuteman missile site. Spend night in Badlands campground.

    Sept-6: 2 hr drive to Wind Cave NP. Do cave tour. I could leave right after that, but it's possible to do backcountry camping. I'd like to spend a night alone in the woods as practice for my upcoming solo backcountry trips.

    Sept-7: A few hours in the morning hiking out, then a 1 hr drive to Mt. Rushmore. See this and Custer State Park. Come back to Mt. Rushmore for the sunset. Camp near here.

    Sept-8: The long day. Catch the sunrise on Mt. Rushmore. Be on road by 7 am. 3 hr drive to Devil's Tower. A couple hours there. 5 hr drive to Billings, MT. Get into Billings around 6 pm. Camp nearby.

    Sept-9: I currently have a reservation in Yellowstone Canyon Campground. But since I'm now using the Northeast entrance, I don't think that makes sense. I'm thinking of canceling it. If I get on the road by 6 or 7 am, I have a 3 hr drive to the NE entrance. Ideally I would get a place in Pebble Creek, then spend the day exploring Lamar Valley. If that fails I believe I could get to Slough Creek, Tower Falls, Mammoth, Indian Creek, and Noris before noon.

    Sept-10 though Sept-11: These are Yellowstone exploration days. How thoroughly do people plan this? I'm reading Yellowstone Treasures, and the park is a big loop. I figure I can just see how far I get every day. I'm OK with not seeing every last geyser.

    So, given that my first night in Yellowstone is a Tuesday in September, and I can be there before noon, is it safe to show up with no reservation? I like the flexibility this would provide.

  7. #37
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    That may be wishful thinking - only 3 hours from Billings to the NE entrance? The Beartooth is VERY slow going. I'd keep that reservation and use it.

  8. Default

    Thanks, that's good to know. I'll stick to my original plan then. Since I have the reservation, I can go slow and see sites on the way. The times Google Maps give cannot be blindly trusted!

  9. #39
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Central Missouri


    Billings to Cooke City was more like 4 hours, including the Beartooth but not including the stop that we made for breakfast. We went to West Yellowstone that same day. Keep the reservation and use it.


  10. #40
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default Know your options but don't over plan.

    These are Yellowstone exploration days. How thoroughly do people plan this?
    As much, or as little as you want. Using the NP webpage and doing a little research will help educate you as to your options and you will be given leaflets and maps on arrival, but sticking to a plan in Yellowstone is probably counter-productive and in may ways, futile. There is just so much to amaze and surprise you that you could stay in a place you hadn't planned for [heard of] for longer than one you had planned to visit, getting held up in a wildlife jam or just pulling over to watch a Buffalo herd go by eats away at the time, but it's all part of a fantastic experience.

    What I would suggest is that you do the research and are aware of your options and then just 'go with the flow'. One thing that did seem to work for us, was to go to some of the lesser visited areas during the day when the crowds were coming in and heading for the BIG attractions [Old Faithful, Mammoth hot springs etc] and then head to them ourselves in late afternoon/early evening after the peak. You might get a few Yellowstone ides by scrolling through part of this trip report.

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