Please help a family of four with an outdoorsy but non-camping trip to the Grand Tetons and Salt Lake City!
January 16, 2012 2:46 PM   Subscribe

Our family of four (Mom, Dad, 2 boys ages 8 & 12) wants to enjoy Yellowstone Park, the Grand Tetons, and possibly shoot down to the Salt Lake City area for about a week in late July 2012. We love the outdoors, but can't bring camping gear. Will we be able to find spontaneous lodging in cheap hotels or cabins for under $100 per night - or do we need to book everything waaay in advance?

We would also love some suggestions for what's beautiful and to see/do/hike between Jackson Hole and Salt Lake City. I haven't been to this entire area since I was 12, but I LOVED it.

Oh yeah - and do we need to bump up our price range for tolerable/clean lodgings?
posted by chr1sb0y to Travel & Transportation around Teton Range, WY (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Yellowstone and the Tetons? Yeah, you need to bump up your price expectations. Or plan to buy equipment; might be cheaper. I'm pretty sure the lodges in the parks are already booked up for the summer.
posted by notsnot at 3:05 PM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is more hotel/motel oriented than cabin oriented, but if you want to stay in the parks, you absolutely must book way in advance. Two years ago, I tried booking a room in Yellowstone in early July for a room for early August, and there were literally two rooms free in the whole entire park. We also booked ahead in Jackson (at what's probably the country's most expensive Motel 6) and were glad we did. They were turning people away at the door when we were checking in. Idaho Falls was a bit better; we were able to get a cheap room on Priceline a week prior to staying there, but once again as we were checking in, the staff was turning people away at the front desk because they were booked solid.
posted by zsazsa at 3:06 PM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

For the Yellowstone area, I'd start booking rooms NOW for July 2012. We went last August, and my MIL had trouble finding rooms last February; she made it work but we didn't end up getting to stay in one place or get as many room as we wanted.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:09 PM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, you're going to need to figure at least $150 a night, probably more like $200, for decent quadruple-occupancy rooms, and that's outside the parks.

Definitely consider staying in Jackson a couple of nights; it's pretty touristy and upscale now, but there are also authentic cowboys living there still. You can explore the town, nearby areas like the Gros Ventre range and Slide Lake, the Tetons of course, and even the south end of Yellowstone from there. The National Museum of Wildlife Art is there as well; very much worth a visit.

There is also a lot of lodging in Gardiner, MT, which would be good for exploring the north end of the park, if you can't afford lodging in the park itself.

My wife and I did a loop of Yellowstone in a single day from Jackson, but there were tons of places we didn't stop (such as Old Faithful) and we returned well after dark. Three days would be more like the minimum, and I really would recommend trying to spend at least one night in the park.

Do book WELL in advance.
posted by kindall at 3:17 PM on January 16, 2012

I live in Ogden, 45 minutes North of SLC. Definitely stop here! We've got great outdoors stuff to do.
posted by TooFewShoes at 3:52 PM on January 16, 2012

Will we be able to find spontaneous lodging in cheap hotels or cabins for under $100 per night - or do we need to book everything waaay in advance?

Maybe in Bozeman, 90 miles north of Yellowstone, but in or near the park? Yeah, not happening. I would not be surprised if it's entirely booked up now. Assuming you're driving from the east (the location in your profile), I'd take I-90 to Bozeman and it's straight south from there to the park and on to Jackson. US 191 is gorgeous.

Out West, I would never not know for sure where you're going to sleep that night, especially with kids. There are just waaaay too many stretches of absolute nothingness on the road, and you're likely to have to drive very far or sleep in the car. Don't rely on your cell phone to find the next place down the road, service is spotty. Take paper maps and guidebooks.

Specific Bozeman cheap-but-nice recommendations:

Royal 7 Inn
Lewis and Clark Motel

And while you're there, take the kids to the Museum of the Rockies, which has one of the largest dinosaur collections in the world. I have never seen a bored 8 year old there.

Have fun! I'm really jealous!
posted by desjardins at 4:56 PM on January 16, 2012

I'm from Bozeman... we've got plenty of places to stay that should fit your budget! Bozeman is about a 90 minute drive from the West Yellowstone entrance.

If you think you want to camp at Yellowstone be advised - hard top camping (think RV's and such) is the only thing allowed. No tents. Why? Because people get eaten by bears. Not kidding.
posted by matty at 5:24 PM on January 16, 2012

Another warning - plan for cold weather, even in July. When I was a teenager we camped (pop up camper) in Yellowstone over July 4th weekend. It snowed. That was the night we learned that gage on propane bottle was broken, and it wasn't actually full. It was empty. So we didn't have heat, and didn't have cold weather gear.
posted by COD at 6:06 PM on January 16, 2012

If you enjoy camping, have you considered renting an RV? Your family would probably fit comfortably into a class B van conversion. From what I see on a quick google, they rent for around $200 a day. One of the big benefits of these is their practicality, if you can't take your camping gear.
posted by SteveInMaine at 3:21 AM on January 17, 2012

Plan everything now. I was in Yellowstone and Grand Tetons for a few nights in June 2010, and I was booked by February 2010 for those stays because I wanted to stay in the park.

Please note that Yellowstone National Park is the size of Connecticut. If you want to spend a good deal of time in the park, you should stay in the park. Otherwise, you will spend a lot of time driving to and from the park, with possibly a lot of traffic on narrow roads and bottlenecking at the entrance gates. Grand Tetons National Park is very long and narrow. I would not try to stay in the same place and see everything from that home base. You should move around, as I did, to see some of the sights.

In Yellowstone, I stayed one night at Mammoth Hot Springs, in a budget cabin without bath, which cost $83 (total). I stayed two nights at Canyon Lodge in a frontier cabin with bath, which cost $83 per night. I stayed one night at the Old Faithful Lodge in an Old House room without bath for $109. In Grand Tetons, I stayed two nights at Colter Bay in a cabin with bath for $137 per night. All the rooms were very basic- no TVs, no wi-fi, no cellular service (for AT&T anyway), no telephones. These prices include all fees & taxes as of June 2010.
The rooms without bath had sinks in the rooms, and the baths were not far away. I like the rooms without bath- they were a great way to save some cash when I was going to be staying grotty anyway due to dusty trails. But I like old vintage motels. YMMV!

I really liked staying at Canyon Lodge and Colter Bay. Old Faithful was very crowded, but the east side of the park (where Canyon is) was very quiet and still plenty to do. Colter Bay in the Grand Tetons was also very nice and my cabin was very large. Please note that the pictures for all of these places make them look like you'll get an isolated cabin in the woods, but generally you will be one in the middle of many rows of cabins. Both Canyon and Colter Bay had gas stations, convenience marts, and facilities like laundry. If I was returning (and I wish I was!), I would stay at Canyon or Roosevelt (which was not open when I was there).

I also stayed at the Jim Bridger Motor Court in Gardiner, Montana, right outside the northwest entrance. I paid $95.23 for one night, which I didn't book ahead (I was mostly spontaneous other than my carefully planned park nights). It was really rustic, barely upgraded past 1950s standards, so I assume it was one of the cheaper options in the town.

Good luck! Book soon! (And yes, it will be cold. Snow and ice in June, and reports of snowstorms in July! Be prepared!)
posted by aabbbiee at 9:00 AM on January 17, 2012

You can stay reasonably cheaply in Cody, 50 miles to the east of Yellowstone (and much more cheaply in Meeteetse, where I used to live, 30 miles to the south of that!), but I'll echo what everyone else has said: book in advance.
posted by newrambler at 12:54 PM on January 17, 2012

Maybe I've been freakishly lucky, but three summers running I've been able to find spur of the moment motel accommodation under $100 just outside the park gates, twice in Gardiner, and once in West Yellowstone. My standards were: must have wifi, must have a parking spot in front of the main-floor room, must have two queen beds, must not be next to a saloon or dance hall or firing range. The rooms were clean and comfortable, but there weren't any game consoles or velour robes, so you know.

I called a day in advance to a few places to get the West Yellowstone reservation, but my Gardiner stays were walk-in bookings. Both of these places are immediately adjacent to the park, and if you book one night in Gardiner and your next in West Yellowstone, you have the advantage of two bases of operations for your explorations. I would not enjoy driving an RV in the park -- it's a little too twisty and fascinating. You won't be able to pull over to the side easily to look at creatures; you'll be restricted to viewpoints with parking lots.
posted by Sallyfur at 12:34 PM on January 18, 2012

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