2018 Yellowstone Trip advice needed

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lastmohican
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2018 Yellowstone Trip advice needed

Post by lastmohican » Wed May 16, 2018 2:17 pm

We're (family of 2 adults and a 14-yr old) planning a 2018 Labor Day Grand Teton + Yellowstone NP, round trip from the Midwest to Salt Lake City(SLC). Would appreciate any comments/suggestions on our trip route.

Our itinerary currently –
Day 1 – From SLC, drive to Grand Teton, Reach late afternoon/early evening. Stay in Grand Teton NP.
Day 2 – Grand Teton Sightseeing. Stay in same place.
Day 3 – Drive into Yellowstone NP. Staying 3 nights in Canyon Lodge.
Day 6 – Staying in West Yellowstone. This is so that I could save some time on my return drive to SLC.

Yellowstone sightseeing Itinerary is open as of now for days 3,4,5,6.

Day 7 - Drive from West Yellowstone to SLC. Depart from SLC late afternoon.

Questions –
1. I haven't booked the flight tickets yet, but as of 5/15 I see a 350$(total for 3 passengers) difference (almost 40% increase) between a round-trip from SLC versus a multi-city itinerary i.e. fly into SLC, depart from Bozeman. In case of a round trip from SLC, my return flight from SLC is late afternoon on Day 7. I plan to leave early morning from West Yellowstone to SLC airport. Is that practical? Or is the extra premium to return from Bozeman worth it? Or stay Day 7 night in SLC to be safe and return the next day, Day 8?

2. For Day 1 and 2, I’m staying in Moran,WY, around two hours from Old Faithful(OF), but I’ve Grant Village accommodation availability also on Day 2. Considering the relatively short distance to OF from Moran and no need to check out, should I ignore Grant Village for Day 2? Or will traffic be bad that I’d be better off staying in Grant Village on Day 2? Part of the appeal is that the accommodation option is better in Moran compared to Grant.

3. In general, will traffic be that bad during the week after Labor Day? The bulk of our Yellowstone itinerary happens after Labor Day and the park is huge. So I'm hoping that there wouldn't be too much time spent in traffic jams. Since I haven't booked the flight tickets, these dates have some flexibility still. I can push it out a week later.

Any suggestions will be appreciated.
Thanks.

livesoft
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Re: 2018 Yellowstone Trip advice needed

Post by livesoft » Wed May 16, 2018 2:25 pm

it is not clear that you have confirmed bookings at Canyon Lodge.

Also note that road closures can happen due to fires, so you may wish to have some contingency plans. For instance in 2016, the road north from Moran into Yellowstone was closed for a week or so.

We flew in/out of Jackson using Frequent Flyer miles.

I think traffic will be stop-and-go around Canyon Lodge the entire time you are there.
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bubbadog
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Re: 2018 Yellowstone Trip advice needed

Post by bubbadog » Wed May 16, 2018 2:31 pm

The traffic will be busy at the normal tourist spots (old faithful, grand prismatic, etc.). The park is big enough that if you get away from these places at peak times, you will have a much more enjoyable trip. My advice would be to hit these high traffic spots really early in the day and explore the more remote parts of the park later. Don't expect to roll up to Old Faithful at lunch time and park right out front.

SmallSaver
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Re: 2018 Yellowstone Trip advice needed

Post by SmallSaver » Wed May 16, 2018 2:44 pm

I'm not overly familiar with those parks, but my advice for national parks in general is that while the NPS does a great job making them accessible to everyone, if you can get even 1/4 mile away from pavement it is well worth it. Yellowstone can for sure feel crowded and hectic, especially around holidays, and even a short hike will be a refreshing change. Interpretive rangers are generally very good at suggesting places to go.

Rupert
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Re: 2018 Yellowstone Trip advice needed

Post by Rupert » Wed May 16, 2018 2:47 pm

I would keep those accommodations at Grant Village if I were you. That two hours can easily turn into 4 on a bad traffic day. Definitely do the geyser basins early in the mornings and search for less popular (but equally gorgeous) sites for later in the day. If you can hike, it's best to view the Grand Prismatic Spring from the trail that goes above it. Parking anywhere near the spring itself, unless you go very early in the morning, is a complete nightmare. Note that roads (even the figure 8 road inside Yellowstone) can close without warning, so always have a Plan B. My favorite section of the park, the northeast corner, is often the least crowded. It's a great place to hide from the busloads of tourists. The drive between Mammoth and Canyon via the northern loop is spectacular. When I go back to Yellowstone, I won't even visit the Old Faithful area. It's a place that has to be visited once, for sure, but it's just too crowded to justify a return visit.

giantyankz
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Re: 2018 Yellowstone Trip advice needed

Post by giantyankz » Wed May 16, 2018 3:31 pm

We took this trip at the same time as you are planning to go last September. We flew into Jackson Hole on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend and spent 3 days in the Tetons and then 3 in Yellowstone. The last night we stayed at the north end of the park in Gardiner MT and flew out of Bozeman. We found plenty of hiking to do in the Tetons but you needed to start early in the morning to avoid all the cars trying to get into the parking area around Jenny Lake. As long as you are parked by 10 or so there were no issues. We would leave early in the morning for a hike and come back mid afternoon to a massive traffic jam of cars just trying to find a place to park.

We left for Yellowstone on Tuesday and we found it much quieter in Yellowstone then it had been in the Tetons since it was no longer Labor Day weekend. We followed the same protocol, getting out early ahead of the crowds and did not have any issue with traffic. We stayed at Old Faithful Inn 2 nights which did make it very easy and convenient to get out and see the highlights before many people were even on the road. The only time we ran into any traffic was when there were bison crossing the road at various points but even there you could easily get around the cars if you wanted to.

We had planned to continue onto to Glacier NP but that was the week portions of the park were closed due to fires. We were able to change our plane reservations from flying out of Kalispel to Bozeman without any charge. (Thanks United :D)

My advice, don’t worry too much about the crowds. Make a list of the highlights you want to see each day and hit those as early as you can. We split Yellowstone into grids and did a portion each day. We never felt rushed and saw everything we wanted to. Just make sure to stop in Mammoth Hot Springs to see the Elk that seem to have the run of the town.

euroswiss
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Re: 2018 Yellowstone Trip advice needed

Post by euroswiss » Wed May 16, 2018 6:32 pm

Rupert wrote:
Wed May 16, 2018 2:47 pm
I would keep those accommodations at Grant Village if I were you. That two hours can easily turn into 4 on a bad traffic day. Definitely do the geyser basins early in the mornings and search for less popular (but equally gorgeous) sites for later in the day. If you can hike, it's best to view the Grand Prismatic Spring from the trail that goes above it. Parking anywhere near the spring itself, unless you go very early in the morning, is a complete nightmare. Note that roads (even the figure 8 road inside Yellowstone) can close without warning, so always have a Plan B. My favorite section of the park, the northeast corner, is often the least crowded. It's a great place to hide from the busloads of tourists. The drive between Mammoth and Canyon via the northern loop is spectacular. When I go back to Yellowstone, I won't even visit the Old Faithful area. It's a place that has to be visited once, for sure, but it's just too crowded to justify a return visit.
Agree with most of this! Particularly the comment about Grand Prismatic. Try to make that hike (not very long) at all cost - the view from "above" is jaw dropping!

adamthesmythe
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Re: 2018 Yellowstone Trip advice needed

Post by adamthesmythe » Wed May 16, 2018 6:54 pm

Just got back. The lodge you are at was not open so I can't speak specifically. I WILL say that the newer lodges are a bit cheaper and a lot nicer. I stayed in both Old Faithful Inn and the neighboring Snow Lodge. The rooms in the Snow Lodge were larger and nicer and newer. So visit the old lodges but stay elsewhere.

A couple other thoughts- there was one lane traffic between Norris and Mammoth Hot Springs. Do not expect much from the dining in the park. Get basic food in the park and have good meals elsewhere.

folkher0
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Re: 2018 Yellowstone Trip advice needed

Post by folkher0 » Wed May 16, 2018 8:33 pm

Distances are longer than they appear. Speed limits are low, traffic is common, and wildlife can shut down a road at any time. My advice: stay within the park any night you can. You are already doing a ton of driving to salt lake and back. You don’t want to spend the whole week in the car.

ofckrupke
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Re: 2018 Yellowstone Trip advice needed

Post by ofckrupke » Wed May 16, 2018 11:54 pm

folkher0 wrote:
Wed May 16, 2018 8:33 pm
My advice: stay within the park any night you can. You are already doing a ton of driving to salt lake and back. You don’t want to spend the whole week in the car.
+1. Also, dawn is the closest you will get to having some of the most popular sights to yourselves, after a quick snack/breakfast in the room. Arriving back at the road after 90+ minutes of practically owning [fill in the blank, natural wonder of the americas], just as the human flood begins to pour from the first-arrived giant tour bus: Priceless. And impossible from outside lodging. Then you can spend the middle part of the day on destinations less subject to overcrowding.
Last edited by ofckrupke on Thu May 17, 2018 1:00 am, edited 1 time in total.

denovo
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Re: 2018 Yellowstone Trip advice needed

Post by denovo » Thu May 17, 2018 12:44 am

livesoft wrote:
Wed May 16, 2018 2:25 pm
it is not clear that you have confirmed bookings at Canyon Lodge.

Also note that road closures can happen due to fires, so you may wish to have some contingency plans. For instance in 2016, the road north from Moran into Yellowstone was closed for a week or so.

We flew in/out of Jackson using Frequent Flyer miles.

I think traffic will be stop-and-go around Canyon Lodge the entire time you are there.
Which lodges do you prefer in the summer for a first-time traveler who wants to go to Teton and Glacier Park?
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livesoft
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Re: 2018 Yellowstone Trip advice needed

Post by livesoft » Thu May 17, 2018 6:37 am

denovo wrote:
Thu May 17, 2018 12:44 am
Which lodges do you prefer in the summer for a first-time traveler who wants to go to Teton and Glacier Park?
I am not one to state a preference because I don't have the experiences.

While visiting Grand Teton, we stayed In Jackson itself at Huff House for two nights, then a few nights in a cabin in Colter Bay Village on Lake Jackson which is north of Jackson Lake Lodge (which we visited). In Grand Teton, we hiked mostly in the Jenny Lake and Colter Bay areas as well as did a Snake River float trip. Meals were good at the Colter Bay Village restaurant.

I imagine folks would enjoy Jackson Lake Lodge and the lodge in the Jenny Lake area. If you arrive at the airport in the evening, then stay that night in Jackson would be good.

We did not visit Glacier NP, but in Yellowstone NP, we stayed in ranger housing 5 nights near Lake which is pretty centrally located in the park, so early morning drives let us arrive at places before anybody in the various lodges had breakfast such as Geyser Basin / Old Faithful and Yellowstone Canyon. Also made animal watching / photography more pleasant since sunrise is a great time before too many others are out stopping. We also drove east to Cody WY to buy groceries and have lunch one day. We never ate meals at any of the food establishments in Yellowstone Park.

I think in Yellowstone, staying at least one night near Old Faithful would be worth it because of all the geysers in that area that are more spectacular than Old Faithful and do not gush on the same kind of schedule. An actively spouting geyser is a different character than a pool of hot, smelly water. If one is staying in the area, then one can see more of them because one can get out before breakfast for a 6 a.m. event and after dinner for something else in the evening. The tour buses are not unloading people that early in the morning nor that late in the evening. If one drives there from afar, then one only will see what happens in the several hours that one is there. When I go back to Yellowstone, I will try to stay a couple of nights at Old Faithful because of al the wonderful geysers in that area.

So one can see on the map that Lake, Canyon, and Old Faithful areas with their lodging are in the interior of the park. Lake was about 40 miles from Old Faithful, so about an hour drive with no traffic. But Lake doesn't have any "features" in the immediate vicinity like Canyon and Old Faithful areas. The reality is that lodging in the park is not always easy to get, so stay where you can.
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mak1277
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Re: 2018 Yellowstone Trip advice needed

Post by mak1277 » Thu May 17, 2018 7:35 am

My advice would be to fly into Jackson or Idaho Falls, Idaho...that six hour plus drive from SLC sounds miserable to me.

adamthesmythe
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Re: 2018 Yellowstone Trip advice needed

Post by adamthesmythe » Thu May 17, 2018 11:21 am

mak1277 wrote:
Thu May 17, 2018 7:35 am
My advice would be to fly into Jackson or Idaho Falls, Idaho...that six hour plus drive from SLC sounds miserable to me.
Idaho Falls is a good bit closer and does have an airport.

You would miss your opportunity to visit Mormon country (not without interest).

Random Poster
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Re: 2018 Yellowstone Trip advice needed

Post by Random Poster » Thu May 17, 2018 11:27 am

livesoft wrote:
Thu May 17, 2018 6:37 am
denovo wrote:
Thu May 17, 2018 12:44 am
Which lodges do you prefer in the summer for a first-time traveler who wants to go to Teton and Glacier Park?
I imagine folks would enjoy Jackson Lake Lodge and the lodge in the Jenny Lake area.
The Jenny Lake Lodge is wonderful if you enjoy a somewhat upscale take on a summer camp experience. It can be hard to find availability, and it probably isn't worth the price at all if you can't stay at least three nights---and even if you can stay for three or more nights, I'm not convinced that the price is worth it.

The rooms are decent enough, but came with a ton of spiders (particularly in the morning) and they are just clean enough to make it look nice at first glance, but there is a lot of dust and spiderwebs.

Note that the room rate includes all-you-can-eat breakfast (you order off a menu, but no one is going to say anything if you order several items) and a 5 course dinner that, I have to admit, was pretty good. I think that the head chef left at the end of the year, so I don't know what this year's menu will be like. Also included in the room rate is horseback riding (first come, first served) and use of a coaster bicycle.

The clientele at the Lodge is mostly 50+ couples, most of whom are there on a bucket-list type trip or who appeared to have money to burn.

Rupert
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Re: 2018 Yellowstone Trip advice needed

Post by Rupert » Thu May 17, 2018 11:45 am

mak1277 wrote:
Thu May 17, 2018 7:35 am
My advice would be to fly into Jackson or Idaho Falls, Idaho...that six hour plus drive from SLC sounds miserable to me.
I actually highly recommend that drive between Salt Lake and Yellowstone if you take the scenic route through the Bear Lake area. (That's the route that many locals would recommend to you). Stop for raspberry shakes at one of the little towns on Bear Lake. An alternate scenic route through Wyoming is also okay but was less spectacular than the Bear Lake route. Do the quicker, interstate route on the way back when you're tired and less impressed by scenery.

I can recommend the Colter Bay cabins in Teton and the Belton Chalet at the west entrance to Glacier.

grandmacassie
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Re: 2018 Yellowstone Trip advice needed

Post by grandmacassie » Thu May 17, 2018 11:49 am

Oops, I mentioned the wrong McPhee books. Rising from the Plain is the one... but all are wonderful!

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Doom&Gloom
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Re: 2018 Yellowstone Trip advice needed

Post by Doom&Gloom » Thu May 17, 2018 12:35 pm

OP, if you have not read previous threads re: Yellowston NP on this page, please search for them. There is quite a bit of general information in those that may not be repeated for your specific questions. We did a similar trip a few years ago with DS at a similar age. Enjoy!

wandering_aimlessly
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Re: 2018 Yellowstone Trip advice needed

Post by wandering_aimlessly » Thu May 17, 2018 12:49 pm

As with others, most of us can only comment on what we have done before and hope something in it is helpful...

My family and I (2 adults, 2 kids) did a north to south trip through Yellowstone a couple of years ago - my biggest learnings:
For us it was worth a small premium to connect beyond Salt Lake - we just didn't have the time to do the drive up.
Reservations in the park are a challenge in the summer - making them the first day of availability would have been good - we lucked out but it took a lot of work to put the pieces together.
An animal on the side of the road can create a considerable backup - even the more common ones - especially in the areas that are most traveled (i.e. West entrance to Old Faithful area) - leave time, and leave more of it when you are in the congested areas.
The animals live on their own schedule - count on them showing up at inconvenient times - enjoy the inconvenience. Besides the traditional road crossings we found ourselves rounding the corner in a parking lot and suddenly standing about 3 feet from the back end of a resting bison, and another one parked itself directly outside our cabin...both encounters weren't in our schedule...and yes in both cases we increased the distance between the animal and us as quickly and efficiently as possible and waited for them to decide to relocate. But those encounters were some of the best of the trip.
The other tourists also run on their own schedule and their cluelessness is astounding- leave them lots of room too. Treating the animals you accidentally encounter with respect is expected - running after the Bison who emerges from the brush is stupid...seems to happen most often near the crowded areas.
The hikes are astounding - take a few less traveled - they can be great.
The areas off the beaten path can look "boring" when planning activities - but they are some of the most worthwhile for scenery and animals
We didn't spend enough time in Grand Teton - sounds like you are doing better with this but it was too much of a "pass through" for us.

One last thought given the timing now - I would certainly leave some time to see and learn about Steamboat Geyser - the unusual activity there over the past several weeks is a once in several decades event.

Just a few thoughts

lastmohican
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Re: 2018 Yellowstone Trip advice needed

Post by lastmohican » Thu May 17, 2018 2:48 pm

OP here -

Thanks everyone for the valuable advice. Much appreciated !

@livesoft - Sorry, I wasn't clear. I've confirmed bookings for Day 2 in Grant Village and Days 3,4,5 in Canyon Lodge. Day 6 confirmed booking in West Yellowstone.

@Doom&Gloom - Yes, I did a search for "Yellowstone" titles and they were insightful. I was/am specifically concerned about my choice of Labor Day and hence decided on a separate post.

@Rupert - the scenic drive to Jackson, via Bear Lake and Afton was one of the reasons for our SLC selection. And we're thinking of doing the (hopefully quicker)I-15 interstate return to SLC. Also, am keeping the Grant Village accommodation. Thx.

@mak1277 & @adamthesmythe - I checked Idaho Falls but it was more expensive than SLC/Bozeman itinerary. I'll keep checking though, Thx. Canyon Lodge is supposed to have been renovated 2016, I think. Also, thanks for the tip on park dining.

@ofckrupe & @folkher0 - Yes, this was the most frequently recommended suggestion - to stay in the park. Considering my trip dates, I focused more on trying to get park lodging first.

@giantyankz - Thanks for the recent trip report. That's very helpful.

@wandering_aimlessly - LOL on the tourist running after the Bison. Thanks.

Thanks again, all.

RobertD
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Re: 2018 Yellowstone Trip advice needed

Post by RobertD » Thu May 17, 2018 11:13 pm

During a September visit a couple of years ago, we were surprised how large the daytime tourist crowds were versus prior visits. e.g. so busy you could not make your way around boardwalks and get past people.
We switched our schedule to get out much earlier than usual for us and had some of our best experiences. We were camping so it was a little easier to just get out early before the morning routine. Schedule became start super early, go see something and sunrise, then great some breakfast and relax / rest until late afternoon. Evenings are also quieter at the attractions and on hikes.
e.g. 6am at the Norris Geyser Basin got us the place to ourselves walking the whole area except one photographer. Got some photos of an amazing sunrise over the fog from the geyser pools and just a completely different experience than seeing geysers with crowds. We got back to the parking area at 8am and there were already loads of tour buses unloading people. This ended up one of our best experiences of the trip.

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