Rocky Road Trip Advice
June 29, 2009 7:47 AM   Subscribe

I need some help planning and plotting and figuring what happens between Denver and Portland. I think it might include The Tetons, Yellowstone, Glacier, Banff, Seattle and Vancouver, but I'm worried I'm trying to cram too much.

jpcody, cncody and Barkley the English Pointer are headed out to Portland, and we need to figure out a portion of our road trip that is being quite a pain for me to figure out.

On 7/31, we're leaving our city of origin, which is Atlanta, and we'll spend 5 days getting to Denver.
On 8/7, we're leaving Denver.
By 8/24, we need to be in a city with a large airport where we can leave our car, board Barkley the dog and fly back to Atlanta for a wedding for a few days.
Our final destination is Portland, OR.

So in that 8/7-8/24 range, I'd love to hit the following:
• Grand Tetons
• Yellowstone
• Glacier National Park
• Banff
• Vancouver
• Seattle

Judging by distances, it looks possible. But I don't know how much time I should devote to the parks, any unexpected plans I should make, if it's *really* practical to drive from Calgary to Vancouver in a day, etc.

I've been to Yosemite, and I felt like two days there was enough to get a good grasp of the entire park. Is it the same way with these other big parks?

Should I cut off Banff and Vancouver? Can I make it?

Any tips for general dog travel, particularly in that part of the country? He's a champion in the car and can sleep in the car for the entire night if the weather allows. He's also 45 pounds of pure energy, sow we'll need to keep him moving.

I guess all in all, I'm looking for advice for me, wife and dog hitting those 6 locations in our 17 day time frame.

Thanks so much.
posted by jpcody to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Getting across the border may be a pain, esp. with a dog. That said, you can definitely do it. I've done solo road trips of nine days (friday night, to the next sunday night, starting out of St. Louis) that spent two days in each of the parks listed.
Couple fun things, should you have the time:
1) on the west side of Glacier is a mercantile store, Polebridge, that has yummy savory breads and such. Stock up and head up to Kintla Lake for a day or two.
2) definitely drive out the Beartooth Highway, from the NE exit of Yellowstone. Or in, if your directions permit.

If your'e going to be in Denver, no reason to skip Rocky Mountain national park. It'll be busy that time of year, but no biggie.

Biggest thing to consider at national parks: they get busy during the day. But Americans are too lazy to get up before nine and get going before ten; so you have from sunrise (6am) to ten without the crowds. Things thin out at sunset, too; consider planning to either travel middays or sleep.
posted by notsnot at 7:55 AM on June 29, 2009

(BTW, 17 days' road trip sounds wonderful...)
posted by notsnot at 7:56 AM on June 29, 2009

I've been to the Tetons and Yellowstone, but only in winter. (We stayed in Jackson.) It's my guess that there would be less to do in the Tetons when you can't ski. (Not that it isn't gorgeous anyway!) We took a day tour of Yellowstone, saw Old Faithful, a small herd of bison, some geysers and pools, and pretty much hit all the highlights. So it's possible to see the Tetons and visit Yellowstone (an overnight stay in Jackson?) within a two-day span. I would recommend such a short stay only if you plan to go back and really see it another time. :-) But I can say "I was there", fwiw.

(Can you bring a dog into a national park? I don't know.)
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:58 AM on June 29, 2009

Banff is beautiful, especially in the summer, but it is pretty isolated. I flew when I went, so I can't speak as to driving times, but I'd suggest that you consider whether you're up for another few days of sitting in the car after such a long trip. Maybe cutting out just Banff and spending a couple extra days in either Denver or Vancouver would be more feasible. I know I'd be dying for some low-key city life after driving cross-country.
posted by oinopaponton at 8:03 AM on June 29, 2009

There was a similar thread posted not to long ago, but from Kansas instead of Georgia. You might find it interesting, especially re:traveling in the mountains and how that will impact your time estimates.
posted by foooooogasm at 8:16 AM on June 29, 2009

Driving from Calgary to Vancouver is *possible* but it takes MUCH longer than google will tell you because the mountains limit your speed. Mr.Saradarlin and I camped near at Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo Jump (2-3 hours south of Calgary) got up at 6 am, drove through the souther mountain pass, stopped for about 3-4 hours in Kelowna for a Winery Tour (Mission Hill Winery) and made it back to downtown Vancouver at about 11 pm. So, factoring in leaving from Calgary it is about a 13 - 16 hour drive (depending on the route, stops, who needs to pee etc...)

I'd suggest hitting Banff and the Winery scene in Kelowna, worth the visit and time!
posted by saradarlin at 8:20 AM on June 29, 2009

You WILL require a passport to cross the border into Canada. Don't even try if you don't have one up to date.

Yellowstone can be done in 2 days or 3 weeks, depending on how much you want to dig into the highlights. I spent three days there with friends a few years ago and while we "saw the park", we never felt like we were more than scratching the surface.

My best advice is to sit down with Google Maps and divide up your trip into "driving days" so you have a more clear picture on how many days you have to "goof around." I live near Spokane WA, and can tell you, you may THINK you want to drive from Missoula to Seattle in a day (for example), but I promise you that you'll be completely exhausted by the time that day is done, and you might want to make that into two days with some wineries or other stops on the way and such. Remember -- mountain driving, even on an interstate, saps your strength at about 2x the rate of flat driving.

What will really matter is, are you trying to chalk up "been there, done that" experiences on this tour, or do you really want to see and explore? I'd be more likely to cut out Glacier National Park and Canada altogether to spend more time in Tetons, Yellowstone, and other locations more obviously "on the way". But if you're hoping to just grab a bunch of souvenir shot glasses, then by all means, drive drive drive!
posted by hippybear at 8:32 AM on June 29, 2009

From Banff to Vancouver is a loooong one day drive, and you'll pass so much stuff that you'll regret not having set aside a few days.

I suggeset driving from Glacier to Banff and then spending two nights in Banff. On your full day you can do Lake Louise, Moraine Lake and Johnston Canyon all in a day and get those classic photos and understand why I moved to Banff. If you want to stay longer I can suggest plenty more, but if you're in a rush then the next day, drive from Banff to past Lake Louise and just before you hit Field in BC make a stop at Takakkaw Falls, some crazy switchbacks on the way up and it's the second tallest falls in Canada. Then pass through Golden and make your way westward. I don't know BC much so I can't help you there, but if you have questions about Banff, Lake Louise, Jasper, or Kananaskis let me know.
posted by furtive at 10:45 AM on June 29, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks so much for the responses so far.

@notsnot - thanks for the tips! We'll definitely try those two spots. Good call on the early tip as well.

@supersquirrel - eek, good call on the dog. Looks like he'll have to stay near the roads and parking lots. He's good for 3 or 4 hours alone in the car with a toy, so long as it's not too hot. So he'll probably hang out in there while wife and I do some more in-depth exploring. And I'm sure we'll figure something out about sleeping.

@oinopaponton - we've got 2.5 days in Denver before we make the park trek, so I think we'll be all right as long as we slow down through Vancouver, Seattle, Portland.

@foogasm - doh. I wish I would have seen this thread.

@saradarlin - Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo Jump is the coolest name in the world.

@hippybear - Very true. I'd consider this a sort of taste-test. We want to visit the parks, say we've been there, and get a feel for them so we can go back and get more in depth.

@furtive - thanks a ton for this tip; it's great!

Keep it coming guys, y'all are an incredible help!
posted by jpcody at 11:36 AM on June 29, 2009

BTW, everyone goes to Lake Louise, but what everyone should do when they get there (rather than canoeing) is hike the Plain of Six Glaciers trail. It's a half day round trip, very accessible (first half is flat as you walk around the lake, second half is a steady climb that anyone with a pair of shoes can do). and takes you to some of the most stunning views you'll ever see in your life. Best of all: near the top of the hike is a log and stone tea house, built in 1921, and you can get a tasty snack or drink there while you rest your feet.
posted by furtive at 11:51 AM on June 29, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks @furtive. Do you, or does anyone else know of the pet policy at Banff? Their site doesn't have too much information about it.
posted by jpcody at 12:13 PM on June 29, 2009

Pets just need to be kept on leash in park areas.

I do kind of wonder if you are trying to cram in too much into this trip. The drive between Vancouver and Banff is at least 12 *hard* hours - Hwy 1 is not an Interstate. I guess you could do your itinerary, but it just seems like a lot of driving, punctuated with brief stops.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:48 PM on June 29, 2009

I would recommend Jasper over Banff. It's a little less hectic than Banff but it is spectacular. And it's a little less of a drive. Just a suggestion, but I lived there for four years, so I'm totally biased.

If you are set on Banff, please take the time to check out Lake Louise. Why not? It's on your way from Vancouver.
posted by futureisunwritten at 2:09 PM on June 29, 2009

@KokuRyu: Pets do not "just need to be on a leash in park areas". There are very few places in national parks that dogs are allowed. Usually the roads, campgrounds and maybe a paved path or two allow dogs (on leash of course). From the Yellowstone website: "Pets may accompany you in the front country areas of the park.
This includes any areas within 100 feet of roads, parking areas, and campgrounds. Pets must be kept under physical control at all times - caged, crated, or on a leash not to exceed six feet in length." and "3. It is prohibited to leave a pet unattended and tied to an object.
If necessary, pets may remain in your vehicle while you are viewing attractions near roads and parking areas. However, we care about your pet's well being. Be sure to provide sufficient ventilation for its comfort and survival.

Pets running at large may be impounded and the owner charged for the care and feeding of the animal. By law, any domestic animal observed by authorities to be molesting or killing wildlife may be destroyed if necessary for public safety or the protection of wildlife."

The trip sounds awesome but don't bring your dog since you won't be able to hike with it and leaving it in a sunny parking lot (I can't imagine that you'll be able to find shade everywhere you go during peak visitation if ever) in August will be sweltering for your dog for 3-4 hours unattended.
posted by fieldtrip at 6:36 PM on June 29, 2009

I don't own a dog but you can bring a dog just about anywhere in Canadian national parks. They need to be on a leash at all times, and that's about the only rule, well that and picking up after them. In fact they provide baggies all over the place for that, I use them to pick up other people's trash!
posted by furtive at 9:27 PM on June 29, 2009

And yes, Jasper (shhh, it's a secret) is quieter than Banff. It's got a slightly different charm and the drive from Banff to Jasper (4 hours, add some extra time for the Columbia ice field) is pretty much the best drive in Canada, if not North America, and an easy top 10 in the world.
posted by furtive at 9:29 PM on June 29, 2009

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