What I'll Do on my Summer Vacation
March 24, 2008 7:41 AM   Subscribe

Help me plan my Wild West Vacation this summer - flying to Las Vegas, then driving to Yellowstone, then ?

So, it's not quite the cross-country road trip I've always dreamed about, but I'm planning a month-long vacation in June that will begin with my 3 kids and me flying into Las Vegas (chosen for cheap flights) and then driving (in no particular hurry) up to Yellowstone. We're planning to spend a week in Yellowstone and then drive back to eventually fly home from Vegas. I'd love suggestions on places to see/things to do that will fit in with this trip, and things to do in Yellowstone as well.

Pointers to resources for planning this would also be much appreciated.

posted by katyjack to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Hoover Dam, Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Glacier National Park/Going-the-Sun Road
posted by nitsuj at 7:46 AM on March 24, 2008

What path are you taking to drive from Vegas to Yellowstone?

My recommendation (apparently along with nitsuj), would be to definitely make sure you go through Utah and hit things like Zion , Canyonlands, Moab, Arches National Park. The pure rugged natural beauty of those desert areas is breathtaking. Arches National Park is car accessible and many short family friendly hikes along with many beautiful arches. Canyonlands,etc is more rugged and desolate (depending on how far out you go) if your interested in more adventurous stuff.

Make sure you take plenty of water.

Make sure you take plenty of water (repeated because it IS that important :P
posted by jmnugent at 7:52 AM on March 24, 2008

Drive the gorgeous Beartooth Pass and spend a day in Red Lodge, Montana. There's lots of hiking/rafting/horseback riding in the area, or you can poke around in the shops and art galleries.

You can do great hiking in the area out of East Rosebud Lake: http://www.visitmt.com/categories/moreinfo.asp?IDRRecordId=2389&SiteId=1. My husband and I just did a fantastic backpacking trip in September in this area.

We also did our honeymoon trip driving through South Dakota and Montana to Red Lodge, so I'm biased :)

Have fun!
posted by handful of rain at 7:58 AM on March 24, 2008

Jackson (just south of Grand Teton National Park) is a nice little place to stop. Kinda touristy though.
posted by aheckler at 8:02 AM on March 24, 2008

If your main goal is Yellowstone, then I'd look for flights into SLC. Delta has a hub there, SW competes, and Jet Blue has flights. Tickets to vegas in the summertime may still be cheaper, but itwould put you almost a days driving closer.

Of course, Vegas is just fine if you want to check out the desert. As people have mentioned, the national parks and monuments in Southern Utah are a must. Also check out Great Basin National Park. I've not been but it looks cool. Closer to Yellostone, check out the Tetons, and also some of the high plains.
posted by Good Brain at 8:14 AM on March 24, 2008

I found that most of the big National Parks (Yellowstone included) have some kind of central Loop Road that takes you past the major highlights of environments and natural features. Even though you obviously want to get off the roads and into the park, I recommend the Loop Road exploration as a first step no matter where you're going. In most cases, the road is studded with pull-offs where there may be an overlook, an interpretive station, or a short hike of a quarter to a mile will take you to something interesting to see. The interpretive panels on the Loop Roads give you a 101-style overview of the park's geography, wildlife, and history, and sometimes the featured landmarks are really spectacular. In Yellowstone there are 2 central loops. We drove them both in one day, and it took most of the day because we did almost all the stops.

Everybody goes to Old Faithful, and don't miss it, because it's really cool. Also take a wander through the Old Faithful Inn's lobby with Prairie stylefurnishings. But there are some equally cool geysers in the Mammoth Hot Springs and Norris Geyser Basin areas. You'll have to walk a trail out to those. Ask the rangers for good ones to see and what time they are likely to be active. They don't overly publicize these so do ask specifically.

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone has a great day-hikeable trail with a lot of stunning views and a good sense of adventure.

Definitely go on at least one or two ranger-led programs. You can pick up a listing of programs at the park vistors' centers. They are almost always excellent, and rangers have a way of opening up the environment that is just amazing - finding wild edibles and traces of wildlife, telling great stories that bring the place to life. They have both daytime hikes/walks and evening campfire-style programs or slide talks.

You don't say how old your kids are, but the NPS has a great Junior Ranger program for kids under 12 that they really seem to love and enjoy. Check in with a ranger at a visitor's center, and they'll give the kids a sort of workbook that they can use as a guide while in the park. Once they have it filled in, they can see a ranger who will go over the answers with the kids (I love seeing this - they take a long time doing it and make it a very serious business) and the kids earn a patch.
posted by Miko at 8:15 AM on March 24, 2008

Hit Bryce Canyon somewhere on the trip, if you can? (I have a terrible sense of geography, so no idea if you can manage it.) I still remember sunrise at Bryce from my family's summer vacation drive to Grand Canyon/Yellowstone/Grand Teton when I was nine or so.

Make sure to take along a good birding guide, and lots of water!
posted by bettafish at 8:15 AM on March 24, 2008

Check this thread for a ton of Utah advice. I'd suggest the South Rim of the grand canyon - more overlooks for the kids, although it's a much longer drive.

You might consider haul-assing up to Yellowstone, and get the long drive out of the way (it's literally a dawn-to-dusk proposition, even on the long days of summer), and then trickling back down. Plan on five days in Yellowstone, two in Tetons, and then drift on down to Dinosaur National Monument (tho, the rockface-of-fossils visitor center is indefinitely closed) down to Arches. Arches is very family accessible, and Canyonlands is nearby with lots of cool overlooks. Pop back up to I70, and then down to capitol Reef, (which is only *ok* by comparison). The drive from Capitol Reef to Brice, which I'd suggest two days' budget, is fucking KILLER awesome. After Brice, Zion, and from there maybe head east again and around to the Grand Canyon.

You don't list your kids' ages, but consider a daily schedule that includes sunrise *and* sunset,with a nap (you'll need one, too) 'round two. That way you can put in a good hike both before and after the nap, and really, the times around the cusps of day in the desert West are both magical.
posted by notsnot at 8:18 AM on March 24, 2008

Looking over the thread, I'd have to disagree with nitsuj on making for Glacier. I've done the drive from the North Rim straight to Glacier, and I was talking to my coffee cup by the end of it. Even Yellowstone is pretty far afield of LV, even *if* you're making a couple days' trip of it. Nothing against Glacier, mind you - it's one of my faves - but it should perhaps be left for something of a northern/northwest trip.
posted by notsnot at 8:27 AM on March 24, 2008

Antelope Island, in the Great Salt Lake is a nice way to spend a couple hours.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 8:50 AM on March 24, 2008

Neon Museum in Vegas.
posted by tiburon at 9:18 AM on March 24, 2008

Oh, you are going to have such a fantastic trip. There are so many amazing sights to see.

But beware of national park fatigue. Make sure to occasionally schedule a relaxing day or two where you hang around a hotel, see a movie, go to a nice restaurant. You will be craving this if you're on the road for a month.
posted by PercussivePaul at 9:25 AM on March 24, 2008

Boiling River is a fantastic hot springs area in Yellowstone you can bathe/swim around in, and it's just a few miles north of Mammoth Hot Springs.
posted by cog_nate at 10:02 AM on March 24, 2008

Nthing Grand Tetons and Glacier.
posted by charlesv at 10:25 AM on March 24, 2008

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