RoadTrip TipS!
April 5, 2008 10:26 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to Yellowstone in May , traveling from Austin TX via New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming then back through Kansas and Oklhoma. I would really appreciate recomendations for any cool places to stop along the way. Cool museums, cheap flea markets, places to buy cool jewelry, cool parks, places to camp, vegetarian resteraunts etc. And also the best places to stay in Yellowstone as thAT's where we'll be spending most of our time.
posted by madmamasmith to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
May is the season of transition in Yellowstone. It can be in the 70's one day and a blizzard with a foot of fresh snow the next. No big deal but be prepared to roll with the punches -- it's an adventure. You need to check the road reports because some of the entrances likely will be closed that time of year. You could easily be snowed in or out a couple of days that time of year so just stay put. Most of Yellowstone is over 8000 feet.

Definitely plan on driving up through Jackson and spending a day or two in Grand Teton National Park.
posted by JackFlash at 11:31 PM on April 5, 2008

If you are travelling through New Mexico, pick up some nice turquoise jewelry. Stay away from the tourist traps (Santa Fe's plaza, Albuquerque's old town, etc.) and you'll be fine.
posted by slightly ridiculous at 11:39 PM on April 5, 2008

If you pass through Denver, check out WaterCourse Foods.
posted by everybody polka at 11:53 PM on April 5, 2008

Chaco Canyon in New Mexico is probably one of the greatest places I've ever seen.
posted by Large Marge at 12:05 AM on April 6, 2008

In New Mexico, I like the Riverbend Hot Springs Hostel in Truth or Consequences, but that may be a bit farther south than you're going. I actually highly recommend T or C overall, as it's nicely off the beaten path and has some of the best Mexican food I've ever had.
posted by hifiparasol at 12:52 AM on April 6, 2008

I also recommend the town of West Yellowstone, MT -- we were there in early May, and it was just early enough that the crowds hadn't arrived and we sort of had the town to ourselves. We were stuck there for three days while a local mechanic fixed our car, so we ate at about half the restaurants in town and weren't disappointed once. The Geyser had surprisingly good pizza for rural Montana, and a cool, local atmosphere overall. I also loved the Running Bear Pancake House (these and a whole bunch of other restaurants can be found on this page).

The town is, quite literally, just adjacent to the park, so access is incredibly simple. Hotels were relatively cheap (we got a pretty good room with a hot tub in it for something like $65 a night). Overall I highly recommend it. I've done four x-country trips, most of them covering the area you mention, so feel free to MeFi mail me or email me via my profile page if you want to talk more in depth.
posted by hifiparasol at 1:02 AM on April 6, 2008

Yellowstone is about a 3 hour drive from me, and May is an awesome time to visit. You will see more wildlife than later in the season, as the crowds haven't yet scared them away. Visiting the thermal features in the cool of the morning is an incredible site, as the water vapor is much more intense in the cool air.

May isn't as busy as later months, so you might still get something in the park. If not, as mentioned above, West Yellowstone is your next best bet. It a cute little town with tourist trappings such as an Imax theater (the only one in Montana and Wyoming) that shows Yellowstone-specific films, as well as others.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 5:36 AM on April 6, 2008

I am jealous.

If it fits within your plans, the Beartooth Highway is worth the drive. What a beautiful drive. If you fish, the rivers in Yellowstone provide some of the finest trout fishing in the World.
posted by caddis at 6:13 AM on April 6, 2008

Durango Co is right near the 4 corners and a charming place to stop along the way. And Interstate 550 towards Silverton and Ouray was an amazing (maybe a little scary) road and really beautiful drive.
posted by dog food sugar at 7:26 AM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Before you go, check out the open/closed road schedule and make sure it fits in within your plans. Note the words "if snow and plow conditions allow." That means there may be half a foot of snow on the ground but plow conditions are ok so they are opening the park.

If I were traveling from CO, I would stay off the interstate. Although not the most efficient route, enter the Rockies west of Denver and cross the Wyoming border near Walton, CO and plan a trip through Encampment, WY, then head north to Saratoga or NW over the mountains toward Laramie. Plan a hotel stop at the lovely Virginian in Medicine Bow, WY, then head north through the dramatic Shirley Basin to Casper. From Casper, head west through the Granite Mountains to Lander. Make sure you stop at Independence Rock! In Lander, eat pizza and drink Snake River beer at the Lander Bar. From Lander, head northwest to Dubois and Jackson, entering Teton Nat'l Park.

Remember that speed limits in the Park are 45 mph, so plan all your travel time accordingly. I would suggest staying at Canyon or West Thumb- you're close to the center of the park and can go anywhere. If you're more keen on backpacking, e-mail me, and I'll give you some good overnight routes, but again remember - there may be snow on the ground. MOst of WY has gotten between 99-100%+ of its annual snowfall this year.
posted by barchan at 7:30 AM on April 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

I forgot to mention the Mining Town Museum in Encampment, which hosts an actual two-story outhouse, and the Buffalo Bill Cody Museum in Cody, Wyoming, which hosts one of the best collections of western art I've ever seen. There's some very nice dinosaur/western history museums in Casper, Thermopolis, and Laramie.

And it's Walden, CO, not Walton. Sorry.
posted by barchan at 10:07 AM on April 6, 2008

Seconding caddis on the Beartooth Hwy. Our path was across SD, partway through WY, then up to Billings, MT. If you're going to drive that far you might as well head up to MT and do the Yellowstone arrival right (the east entrance was all construction and ugly two years ago). It was a really nice drive from Billings along the Hwy and then to Cooke City for lunch before we entered the park. There are several funky cafes/dives in Cooke City. It was a great way to start our week in Yellowstone.

Anecdotally, we booked rooms in the Old Faithful Snow Lodge & Cabins in June for our trip in July (the week after 4th of July, so somewhat slower than the usual summer traffic). Just call and see what they have at this point. The booking agents were able to look at all rooms in Yellowstone and tell us what was available. I don't know how ritzy you were hoping to go (I'm admittedly a pansy, so no tents for me), but I really enjoyed the Snow Lodge both for creature comforts and its Teddy-Roosevelt's-hunting-lodge charm.
posted by parkerjackson at 2:16 PM on April 6, 2008

Response by poster: We are taking a truck with a camper shell. We plan to sleep in the back and camp out where possible. Are there places to pull over and sleep in the park and do we also need to reserve our campsites or are the reservations refering to the lodges and rooms?
posted by madmamasmith at 3:25 PM on April 6, 2008

You'll need to reserve both. There is nothing more terrible in the world than arriving there and finding out the nearest open campground is 3 hours away. There are no places to pull over and sleep in the park unless you want a park ranger knocking on your window with his flashlight. For sheer safety this is not a good idea anyway.

One of my favorite campgrounds is at Coulter Bay in the Tetons - it's usually pretty solitary - but the campgrounds near Canyon are very nice. Old Faithful is an absolute zoo and kind of closed in. If you want a beautiful view of the lake and the mountains stay at Grant's Village.

The east entrance (through Cody) is still pretty messy. Also, Chief Joseph Highway (Hwy 296) is closed due to mudslides.
posted by barchan at 4:22 PM on April 6, 2008

I highly recommend renting a high quality spotting scope, really it is amazing, you can watch wild life that is up to a mile and more away. It is amazing to be observing bears, wolf, elk. bison, prong horn etc in detail with out having to be disturbing them or their environment.

The Lamar Valley is just amazing, this northeastern part of the park is the best for viewing wildlife and wolf in particular.

There is a guy in Cooke City who is from Atlanta and runs a general store and has some cabins, (the last business on the right on 212 heading west into the park, sorry can't remember the name, but if you called pretty much any of the businesses in Cooke City some one will know, it is a small place) who rents top of the line spotting scopes and tripods. If you can't get in touch with this guy see about renting a scope in your area and bringing it with you. There are also tours that are run out of Gardiner MT that will take you on wildlife spotting trips.

Wild life spotting and photographing is a big deal in the Valley and you will see folks pulled over on the side of the road set up. Most everyone is real friendly and will help put you on to the best stuff to see.

There is also a resident wildlife biologist who studies and observes the resident wolf population. Last I knew he drove a yellow and black pathfinder. Once you get to know his vehicle if you spot it on the road pull over to see what he is checking out, everyone does this and he is good about answering questions and educating the public.

You can watch wolf groups traveling up drainages and along ridges for miles feeding, playing, scavenging bear kills, it is pretty cool.

Slough Creek and Pebble Creek are in the Northeast corner of the park and the Lamar Valley both are primitive and nice.

Here is the official park site it has a good map
posted by flummox at 5:05 PM on April 6, 2008

A most scenic path starts in Alamosa Co. San Juan Mnts. to the west, Sangre De Christo Mnts to the east backdrops Great Sand Dunes,Lithium bearing hot springs at valley view. The upper Arkansas valley has the Collegiate range. Fairplay Co. is in the middle of South Park Hwy 9 is how you get to North Park and Walden Co. Saratoga Wy. has a large free hot pool adjacent to the North Platte River.
posted by hortense at 6:03 PM on April 6, 2008

Beartooth Pass into Yellowstone is generally not open until at least the last week of May. Snowpack so far this year is running about 110% of average.
posted by JackFlash at 7:41 PM on April 6, 2008

Fort Washakie has a trading post, and a historic blockhouse located at the courtesy
campground where you can park your rig for free.
posted by hortense at 11:22 PM on April 6, 2008

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