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  1. Default Summer trip from Dallas, TX to Charlotte, NC...via Yellowstone!

    Hi all,

    We're in the early stages of planning this trip. We are going to be moving from Dallas to NC next summer (beginning of July), and have a little over a month off. While our house is in transit, we would like to take a long road trip to visit some of the parks out west. We have three kids, ages 2, 4, and 6. We are a very active family, and would be able to handle several mile hikes with a combination of carriers and bribes with good snacks. We'll be traveling in a minivan with a rooftop carrier, and would like the trip to be about three weeks.

    In terms of general itinerary, we would travel northwest through Texas, and the first NP we'll come to would be Great Sand Dunes. We would then probably spend a day or so with family in Denver, drive through Rocky Mountain NP, and head to Yellowstone. This would likely be our longest stop. Does anyone have Yellowstone experience with kids of a similar age? Thoughts on lodging? We would be open to camping, but may be a challenge with kids as young as ours, and will likely be in hotels the majority of the nights.

    From Yellowstone, we plan to drive to Badlands/Rushmore, then back east via Chicago, Indianapolis, and Columbus to visit some family and friends.

    We're excited, but also a little apprehensive to make such a long trip with young kids. Looks like ~3,500 miles or so all told. Must-see sites,
    tips for long road trips with little kids, and general wisdom would be much appreciated.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tucson, AZ

    Default Not as Long as It Seems

    Welcome aboard the RoadTrip America Forums!

    Three weeks can seem like an eternity to the adults planning this trip, but it will seem like a rushed "If it's Tuesday, this must be Belgium" kind of trip to the kids. The one major/general bit of advice I'd give you is to cut back a fair bit on what you have planned. As it is you'll need to be on the road for at least seven solid days. Toss in the visits to relatives in the Midwest and you only have something like a week to ten days "visit some of the parks out west". Given the number of worthwhile parks along your route, that's only on the order of a park per day. So, while it's possible to do what you want, You will be 'on the go' pretty much constantly for the full three weeks. That's not really a recipe for a relaxed and rewarding RoadTrip.

    So, where would I suggest that you cut back? Well firstly I'd probably drop Yellowstone as a destination. It's just too far in the wrong direction. July is also essentially the peak of a very short tourist season in that park, so it will be crowded. With the larger animals (particularly the bison) on the move, you can also count on a few traffic jams as you try to drive through the park. Whether you camp in the park (Make reservations NOW if you plan to do so) or stay in a motel in a nearby town, getting settled in for the night and up and going the next morning will also eat into what little time you have available.

    Instead, I'd probably look for around three places where I could settle down for three to five days, let the kids return to the same bed for a few nights running, and explore a number of national and state parks, forests and wildlife refuges. Such places that might work for you include the Denver area (Great Sand Dunes (National Park (NP), Rocky Mountain NP, Golden Gate Canyon State Park (SP), Pikes Peak, Garden of the Gods, Pawnee National Grassland, etc); Rapid City SD (Mount Rushmore NP, Devils Monument National Monument (NM), Wind Cave NP and Jewel Cave NM, the Crazy Horse Memorial, Badlands NP, Deadwood, etc); and central Kentucky and the Appalachians (multiple Lincoln sites, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, Great Smoky Mountains NP, the Cherokee Nation, etc).

    In between those major stops, I'd probably only count on covering about 400 miles per day, but such a pace lets you take a few short hiking and fresh air breaks each day to keep the young ones engaged and interested. For the same reason, be sure to inquire at each national park or monument that you come to about their Junior Ranger Program, which will give the kids a set of age-appropriate activities to perform and let them earn free souvenirs such as certificates and badges.

    The key to making a several week long RoadTrip with children work is to view it from their level and realize that they don't have your stamina, ability to delay gratification, or appreciation for the 'big picture'. It's up to you to set a pace that you can maintain and still get to Charlotte on time. To that end, less is definitely more. It might also help if, after you've worked out a broad outline for the trip, you turn over a few particulars to the younger set. Have those who are old enough do some research on some of your stops and they can act as guides there. The same with possible short roadside stops. Let the younger set choose from what's available. Giving the kids a vested interest in the trip will make it more 'theirs' and less something that they're just being dragged along on.

    Last edited by AZBuck; 12-18-2017 at 12:20 PM.

  3. Default

    Remember anything from the vacations when you were 2 and 4? Neither will they. Even 6 is doubtful.

    A week touring the National Parks, or a week at a county park ten mikes from home will be all the same to them. Nothing wrong with that if YOU really want to see Yellowstone, but realize that any lasting memories will be yours alone. So keep this in mind when deciding your trip.

    I speak from experience. On our families second trip to Disney World, I was astonished when my kids said they had never been there before! Wish I had saved all that money!

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


    While I agree with the above that you need to be careful not to try and squeeze too much into this trip, and that you should go where you want to go as adults because the kids are not likely to remember much if anything, Yellowstone is an amazing place and if it's a place you really want to go, I think it's certainly within reach.

    At 3500 miles, you are looking at a minimum of 7 days of driving - I would strongly recommend limiting your drives to 500 miles a day max, and make sure every day you've got at least one or two stops designed for the kids, be it something as simple as stopping at a playground or perhaps running around in one of the childrens museums you can find in many small and mid-sized cities these days.

    If you are going to do Yellowstone, then I would probably skip Sand Dunes (or Denver), as Sand Dunes really is quite a significant detour west, when you're planning to then head back towards Denver. Sand Dunes is a fine park but it would be better served on a trip where you are focusing on Colorado, and perhaps Utah, than trying to squeeze it in here.

    Within Yellowstone, if you can get reservations in the park, that would be easiest, Yellowstone is a very large park, and even if you are staying just outside the park can mean rather long drives in and out each day. You might even consider staying at two different locations in the park - at the very least you should spend a night or two around Grand Teton, and then head up into Yellowstone, as the parks are so close that it would be a shame not to do both, but they are still far enough apart that you don't want to commute between them. If you are going to stay outside the park, West Yellowstone is the most central location. I believe the Evergreen Motel has gotten good reviews with reasonable (relatively speaking) prices from other RTA Members- I've camped on my visits there, so I can't offer any personal advice in regards to motels.

    I would recommend checking out the Junior Ranger program at every National Park you do visit. It should be perfect for the 6 year old, and I suspect the 4 year old could get some enjoyment out of it too.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    The lodging cost at Yellowstone in July is also quite high. I doubt you can find a room in West Yellowstone for under $200 a night, and you will have a problem with more than 4 people.

    The Evergreen does have a room for $180, but 2 nights are required, and 4 people max.

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