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  1. Default Summer (2017) family road trip western national parks

    Hi, this is our first post to this site. I have read over a few posts, nothing I've found completely fits what we are potentially planning. We are a somewhat adventurous (like short hikes, off the beaten path sights, amazing beauty, wildlife) east coast (dc) family of five. Our 3 children will be 11/14/17 when we have our trip. We have been to Yellowstone and Acadia as a family, as well as Shenandoah, Smoky Mountains, and Everglades without the kids. We are working on planning this trip as a last major family trip before our oldest goes off to college. We camp sometimes closer to home, but prefer lodging when we are farther from home. We have created a REALLY ROUGH possible itinerary. Our kids don't mind being in the car for extended periods of time, we have been on some east coast road trips that have included 10-12 hours as part of the trip. (although...the youngest is ADHD and can sometimes drive us crazy, so maybe not TOO many 10-12 hour stints in the car)

    We have about 3 weeks in July 2017 to take this trip. We are thinking about this:

    Fly into Denver (4-5 hour flight), rent a minivan, drive to Alamosa, Co, sleep.
    Day 1:wake up early, visit Great Sand Dunes, drive on to Durango/Mesa Verde--depending on arrival, sleep or visit MVNP.
    Day 2:Visit MVNP in the morning if not the afternoon before. Drive to Grand Canyon North Rim (we are actually only including this bc we are close) stay at north rim lodge
    Day 3:See North Rim, drive to Bryce canyon or Zion National park, stay nearby
    Day 4: see Zion or Bryce?, stay same place
    Day 5: Drive to Seqouia NP, (or somewhere nearish for lodging) sleep (we'd LOVE to break this drive up, but not necessarily thrilled about Las vegas)
    Day 6: visit Seqouia NP (sleep in same place)
    Day 7: Drive to Yosemite (visit a little, then sleep)
    Day 8: visit Yosemite (sleep in same place)
    Day 9: Either: visit Yosemite for 1/2 more day or drive to Big Sur in the morning (sleep at Big Sur)
    Day 10: visit Big Sur, drive Pacific Coast Highway to San Francisco, sleep somewhere north of San francisco
    Day 11: Maybe drive to Redding and see Mt shasta? or go straight Crater Lake National park, sleep there
    Day 12: Visit or drive to Crater Lake, sleep near Crater Lake
    Day 13: Drive to Mt. St. Helens, sleep near there
    Day 14: visit Mt St Helens, sleep in same place
    Day 15: Drive to Mt Ranier, visit, then sleep there
    Day 16: LONG drive to Glacier NP Sleep there
    Day 17: Visit Glacier, sleep in same place
    Day 18: GNP, sleep in same place
    Day 19: GNP, sleep in same place
    Day 20: GNP, sleep in same place
    Day 21: drive to kalispell or missoula, drop off rental car and fly home

    We know it's a little rushed, our purpose is really to give the kids (and ourselves) a taste of the variety of the scenery in the western half of the country. I know it would be a way better trip with more days in each park! But we are going for variety...that being said, if it seems completely undoable, or if you see something we may just as well leave out, please let us know. Or if there is something we should add, or something we should do instead. Also, Denver was kind of random--plane tickets were affordable, and seemed as good a place as any to start.

    Our must sees are: Glacier, Redwoods/yosemite, some coastline--the rest are places we want to see, but are somewhat negotiable.

    Thanks in advance for any advice!!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default Could less mean more ?

    Hello and welcome to the RTA forums !

    You seem to realise what you are letting yourselves in for and that is quite a rushed trip. Mesa Verde NP is a place that is difficult to rush through as the highlights, the remains, are by guided tour only. Returning your rental and flying home from a smaller airport will be quite costly as there will be a one way drop off charge on the vehicle and flights are likely to be more expensive. Sometimes it's a case of 'less' is 'more' and in my opinion you are straying into that territory. Personally speaking I would consider dropping Colorado from your plans altogether given your 'must see' places and look to fly into Las Vegas or SLC and do a complete loop trip. These are amazing National parks and I am sure that you would have more enjoyment by getting out of the car and 'smelling the roses' than you will driving through them.

  3. #3


    Greetings Travelbugs,

    Your ambitious itinerary is mind bending. The vehicle/driving to boots-on-the-ground ratio is way out of whack for an enjoyable road trip is my view. To be fair, much of my trip planning has started out and then is trimmed back quite a bit, region by region.

    Given your priorities--Glacier, Redwoods/yosemite, some coastline--an alternative focused on that extended region would make sense. Candidate airports to fly in/out of on a circle trip include Salt Lake City, Seattle and Portland. Glacier NP is a long way from Seattle or Portland. Hell, it is a long way from Salt Lake City! I remember several years ago when we visited Glacier and Yellowstone (and Grand Tetons) during a two-week trip we spent a lot of time on the road. Glacier is a great place to visit but really shortchanges the trip.

    I strongly suggest focusing on the Pacific Northwest plus northern California (including Yosemite) or the Rocky Mountain/Utah national parks region. Each has so much diversity but nothing like the Wyoming/Colorado/Utah sector (alas, no coast). Denver becomes a candidate flight city in that event and the Bay Area airports for the Upper West Coast/NorCal option.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin


    I really like Dave's idea of chopping the Colorado portion of this trip off. The first few days of your trip right now are impossibly hard.

    Your first day alone is going to wear everyone out. Figure at least 3 hours to get to the airport and through security. 5 hours on the plane, another hour to get the bags and rental car, and then 4 more hours to Alamosa. That's a minimum of a 13 hour day, assuming your flights are all on schedule, and I'm guessing you'll have at least a little jet lag on top of all of that.

    As Dave mentioned, Mesa Verde is not a park that you can easily visit in just a couple of hours. You're also really rushing through Grand Canyon, Zion/Bryce, before a long drive onto Sequoia.

    I will also note that right now you don't have a stop at Redwoods National Parks worked into your plan, despite saying that seeing Redwoods are a priority of this trip. The Coastal Redwoods are a completely different kind of tree than the Giant Sequoias you'll find in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

    Seeing a lot of different things can be good, but if you try to do too much, it can lead to a trip where you are more focused on staying on schedule than you are on having fun.

  5. Default

    Thank you so much for the feedback! We checked rental cars right before going to bed last night and were shocked :-0! I think your advice is so helpful...we are now pondering just splitting the trip over two summers :). First we were going to add a few extra flights, but think we are on a better track now. Here is our updated itinerary for this coming summer, then we will do glacier/mt Rainer/ and maybe add in Olympic np for a trip in summer 2017.

    This summer:
    Fly to Las Vegas, rent van, drive same day as flight to Bryce. Stay two nights.
    Day 3: drive to Mesa verde, Sleep
    Day 4: visit Mesa verde, sleep same place
    Day 5: drive to Grand Canyon, see it, sleep (gcnp is a side trip for us, not a highlight--just think we are close so should at least take a look :)
    Day 6: drive to Zion, visit it, sleep
    Day 7: visit Zion, sleep same place
    Day 8: drive to sequoia np, sleep
    Day 9: visit sequoia, sleep in same place
    Day 10: drive to Yosemite, visit, sleep
    Day 11: visit Yosemite, sleep in same place
    Day 12: drive to big sur, visit, sleep
    Day 13: visit big sur, sleep
    Day14: drive pacific coast highway to San Francisco, visit, sleep
    Day 15: visit San Francisco, return car, fly home

    Does this seem manageable? We priced the rental already, not too bad I guess since it was not as far of a one way. All feedback is welcome, I also have a few specific questions--
    Is two nights in Zion and 2 nights in Bryce more than necessary? How about sequoia? Do you think we'd be better off with one more night closer to Yosemite?

    Thank you so much all your help!!

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default No, yes and yes.

    Quote Originally Posted by travelbugs920 View Post
    Is two nights in Zion and 2 nights in Bryce more than necessary? How about sequoia? Do you think we'd be better off with one more night closer to Yosemite?
    Unless you are into serious hiking, Bryce is a park which can be seen in less than a full day. Zion a full day will see you do some of the more leisurely walks, but essential to enjoy it. And I would devote all the time you have to Yosemite. A large park with so much to see.

    Be sure to book all the national park accommodation as soon as the window opens. These need to be booked months ahead.

    As Dave mentioned Mesa Verde is a park you see by guided tour. The tickets need to be booked before hand, especially if you want to do both tours in the one day, and have a little time to see the rest of the park.

    The Grand Canyon North Rim is no where near as busy as the South Rim. Easier to park and get around. Be sure to catch a sunset/sunrise over the canyon, and see the rock change colour.

    Last edited by Lifemagician; 01-10-2016 at 12:37 PM. Reason: correction

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    I'd rearrange this trip as follows:

    Go to Zion first, then Bryce. Take UT-12 to UT-24 to UT-95 to get to Mesa Verde. Go through Monument Valley on the way from Mesa Verde to the GC. Then go into Yosemite via Tioga Pass, then Sequoia, on to Cambria and up the coast to SF. This is a lot more efficient.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.


    I agree, head to Zion first as it's on the way to Bryce and spend 2 nights and then head to Bryce for one night. From the GC you can drive through Death valley NP to Yosemite with an overnight stop.

  9. Default

    Thanks so much to everyone again for the tips!
    We will take your advice and go to zion then bryce (one night in bryce) mesa verde to GC. Any suggestions for one night stay between GC and Yosemite? we were considering Pahrump, NV just to sleep, then drive through death valley and up 395. Is it a safe/okay town for an overnight? or does anyone recommend a better or more convenient place along the way?
    thank you!

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    Pahrump is okay. There are 4 hotels in town - a Best Western, a Holiday Inn Express, and 2 casinos. That would be a good choice because you should try to get through Death Valley early in the morning before the daytime heat. There's a "shortcut" to DV from Pahrump - go about 2 miles north of town on 160 and turn left on Bell Vista Ave, that will take you to CA-127, turn right then an immediate left on CA-190.

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