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Road Trip - TN to MT

Kingsport, Tennessee
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Road Trip - TN to MT

Good evening all. First I wanted to say what a great forum this looks to be with a wealth of knowledge and a friendly community. I thought it would be a good idea to post our upcoming trip and hopefully get some good tips/ideas. My much younger teenage sister and I will be traveling from Tennessee to Montana, beginning Thursday, July 10th and returning Sunday, July 27th. I've always wanted to drive across the country and she hasn't traveled much, so we are very much looking forward to this adventure.

A little about us…we are avid gold prospectors that enjoy anything to do with the outdoors and site seeing. She is on break before beginning her senior year and I'm lucky to be able to take a few weeks off work for a long awaited and much needed vacation. Along the way, we hope to see as many sites as we can, hike, pick up souvenirs, and eat at the good spots.

I've converted the camper top of my truck into a camper, but we will also have a tent/hammocks for the nights we have more time for setup. We realize the trip might seem rushed in parts, but we hope to see as much as we can in the time allotted, as many of these locations will be new for both of us. We would like to try camping each night in state/national parks for showers/restrooms.

Trip Route:

7/10 Thursday: Leave northeast TN for Nashville after work for the evening - 283 miles/4.25 hours.

7/11 Friday: Leave Nashville for Crater of Diamonds State Park, Arkansas - 454 miles/7 hours. Have this evening and most of the next day at the diamond mine.

7/12 Saturday: Leave Crater of Diamonds late afternoon for Fort Worth, Texas and dinner/overnight stay with family - 271 miles/4.25 hours.

7/13 Sunday: Leave Fort Worth for Pikes Peak/Garden of the Gods, Colorado - 750 miles/12 hours. Have all morning the next day for hiking/site seeing.

7/14 Monday: Leave Pikes Peak/Garden of the Gods for Fossil Butte National Monument, Wyoming - 500 miles/7.75 hours. Have most of the next day for fossil hunting in the area.

7/15 Tuesday: Leave Fossil Butte in the afternoon and head around Bear Lake through Utah and Idaho for Jackson, Wyoming - 191 miles/3.75 hours. We thought driving around the lake would be a scenic route, only adds 45 minutes rather than going straight to Jackson, and adds two additional states.

7/16 Wednesday: Leave Jackson for Yellowstone. Have all day in the park and we are open to suggestions on time frame and what to see as we drive and hike through the park from the southern entrance to the north.

7/17 Thursday: Yellowstone all day.

7/18 Friday: Leave Yellowstone for Glacier National Park, Montana - 379 miles/6.25 hours. We would like to drive in on the eastern side of the park and hike to one of the glaciers and then make the drive down Going to the Sun Road. Have the remainder of Friday in the park and most of the next day.

7/19 Saturday: Leave Glacier Park towards Helena, Montana area - 220 miles/4 hours.

7/20 Sunday through 7/24 Thursday: Stay with friends in the Helena area.

7/25 Friday: Leave Helena area for Mount Rushmore/Crazy Horse, South Dakota - 626 miles/10 hours. Hopefully arrive early enough in the day to see both sites shortly, but we realize the long drive home will put make those sites more difficult to see. Possibly add Badlands National Park if possible.

7/26 Saturday: Leave Mount Rushmore/Crazy Horse/Badlands area for Saint Louis, Missouri - 974 miles/14 hours. If we had time, maybe taking a road into both Nebraska and Kansas just so my sidekick could add those states to her now growing list of states she will have traveled to. Spend the next morning visiting the arch before heading home.

7/27 Sunday: Leave Saint Louis for northeast TN - 551 miles/8.5 hours. This route will be across Illinois and Indiana, then down through Kentucky as I've only traveled back from Saint Louis down to Nashville and then up towards northeast TN before, so just a different route since I haven't come that way before.

7/28 Monday: Somehow drag myself back into the office!

Thanks for reading and any input on sites to see, things to know, tips and other ideas are greatly appreciated. I wish everyone safe travels and a wonderful time on the road.

Tacoma, Washington
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1. Re: Road Trip - TN to MT

Where to start.......

There are stretches that are undoable. For example . You drive 750 miles in one. Day, then next day see pikes peak and garden of the gods and drive another 500 miles.

1 day yellowstone and 1 day glacier.....this is a waste of a trip seeing this. Instead drives trait up to glacier from Colorado springs and spend time there.

Atlanta, Georgia
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2. Re: Road Trip - TN to MT

Some of your days are just not feasible.

People who have not been to the west just do not understand the vastness of this part of the country.

We have done trips to the west just about every year for the past 10 years but after driving one year we now do fly and drives.

You need to concentrate on a couple of areas. One day in Glacier and Yellowstone just does not make sense. Yellowstone is huge- over 300 miles of paved roads!!

I would concentrate on Black Hills of SD, visit friends in Helena then Yellowstone and the Tetons. That is over 4,000 miles and a whole lot of driving!!

Kingsport, Tennessee
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3. Re: Road Trip - TN to MT

Thank you for the replies/advice. I understand the itinerary is a bit overzealous, but I assure you it isn't out of ignorance to the vastness or a lack of appreciation for the areas visit. Weeks could be spent at each location and that still not be enough time. The itinerary is likely not manageable, and that is where I seek this forum's advice based on the route and time we have and what the best places to spend our time would be. The goal was to help my teenage sister, that hasn't traveled much, see as much of the country as she could during the short time frame and with the driving restrictions we have, but of course be able to have quality time at the locations as well. I do appreciate the input, any ideas based on the route, as to where our time could be better spent? The places I would consider 'must see' for us would be the diamond mine in Arkansas, fossil hunting in Wyoming, Yellowstone, Glacier, Mount Rushmore/Crazy Horse and the five days with our friend in the Helena area (those days won't include any site seeing).....although I would love, and the itinerary reflected that somewhat, for everything to be 'must see', but as was pointed out, the amount of driving doesn't seem to make this feasible. Thank you again for the input.

Casey

Saint Paul...
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4. Re: Road Trip - TN to MT

Any chance you can get your friends in Helena to join you at either Yellowstone or Glacier instead of spending 5 days in Helena? Or split it up some with 2 days in Helena, 2 in Glacier and then back for 2 in Helena? That will help give you a few days to breathe.

Those last three travel days will be brutal. It looks like you're using travel times from Google. You need to add at least an hour, or more, to them to take in the reality of stopping for gas, lunch, etc. You have a lot of "musts", so it's tough to see where you can slice an extra day for the travel back home, but you should think long about that. Also, the drive from Ft Worth to CO could be broken up with an overnight at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Hope you have some reservations at the National Park campgrounds as you'll be arriving pretty late in the day. If not, make certain you know where the national forest campgrounds are as a backup.

Atlanta, Georgia
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5. Re: Road Trip - TN to MT

Great ideas from David T. If you are using google maps then yes add at least an hour and usually two to your trip times.

I know you want to visit friends but feel that you just do not have time for 5 days. Make it 3-4 and split it up with visit to Glacier in between and you will not be so road weary.

This is a map link using mapquest but still feel you need to add some time to their estimates.

http://mapq.st/1nBXmJm

Many people who do a trip such as yours will have about 2 1/2 weeks to drive from the east.

If you are going this July then for sure make reservations for camping in Yellowstone. You cannot just park anywhere in the park and camp. For back up there are campgrounds in both Gardiner and West Yellowstone.

http://www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com/

Many of us on the forum have made multiple trips to Glacier, Black Hills, and Yellowstone. Please let us know if you have other questions.

Kingsport, Tennessee
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6. Re: Road Trip - TN to MT

Thank you all for the excellent advice, it is appreciated. Sorry for the delay in replying, but taking off 2 weeks of work has had me fairly busy the past few days. We have the route trimmed down, but still a lot to try and see in a short amount of time. Regarding the 5 days with friends, this is how we decided upon the trip and have planned the other destinations around…we'll actually be gold prospecting with our friends, so the 5 days in the Helena, MT area will include some traveling, but also a lot of work and not much site seeing.

As it stands now, the trip will include some time in Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Glacier National Park (the most time of all locations other than with our friends), Yellowstone and Fossil Butte National Monument. Other than the obvious options and things to see, like Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Old Faithful, does anyone have any tips on what to see or trails to hike for the trip? We are really looking forward to Glacier National Park and will be coming into the park from the east and would like to hike to a glacier, any knowledge of what trails to take or other things to do? This trip will be short at each location, but we hope to be going to Montana in summers to come, so this will just have to be a small taste for now : )

Again, any and all information is greatly appreciated. The advice to trim the trip/route was excellent.

The route will now go from northeast TN to St. Louis, MO - Kansas City, MO - Sioux Falls, SD - Badlands, SD - Great Falls, MT - Glacier National Park, MT - Helena, MT - Yellowstone, WY - Fossil Butte, WY - and then headed home (not all destinations, just the route we'll take).

And my young sidekick has talked me into getting her a gopro camera for the trip, so we hope to have some great pics from the journey : )

Thanks again,

Casey

Tacoma, Washington
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7. Re: Road Trip - TN to MT

I'd suggest try and drive different ways.

Going out go north though Indianapolis to Iowa to south Dakota ---long 2 days drive 10-12

The return from fossil beds would be a long 3 days through KC and STL. 26-28

13-25 site seeing.

13 black hills

14 black hills AM/ early PM drive to great falls

15-16 east side of glacier

17-21 Helena

22-25 Yellowstone and ossil beds

If you want to do 20-24 with friends then you will need to reverse the route

10-13 drive to fissil beds through st Louis and KC

14-16 Yellowstone and fossil beds

17-19 glacier

20-24 Helena

25 drive to black hills, pm black hills

26 black hills

27-28 drive home through Iowa and Indianapolis

Atlanta, Georgia
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8. Re: Road Trip - TN to MT

In Yellowstone I would be sure and visit Old Faithful and the geyser area. Also would try and see Artist Point.

Here is link to some of most popular spots in the park-

http://yellowstone.net/intro/top-10/

Not into hiking but do short walks but if you post on the Yellowstone forum in Wyoming Pam (DObby) and others can help you with that. Be sure you have a place to camp in the park as it will cut down on long drive times from the gateway towns of either Gardiner or West Yellowstone.

Saint Paul...
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9. Re: Road Trip - TN to MT

Hikes in the Black HIlls - Harney Peak, Cathedral Spires. others if you have time like Sunday Gulch

Easy hike around Devils Tower in WY, if you stop there.

Hikes in Yellowstone - those around the big waterfalls on the Yellowstone R, hikes/boardwalks around the geysers, Mt. Washburn, Lone Star Geyser - lots to chose from and I'm certain others have favorites

Hikes in Glacier - Highline a must if you have time and can use the shuttle, Iceberg Lake, and again so many to chose from. The website hike734 is a great resource for hiking information in Glacier.

Green Valley...
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10. Re: Road Trip - TN to MT

I understand your desire to do it all, but feel you are taking on a lot of windshield time and not smelling the roses. These sites are unlike anything on the eastern seaboard and warrant more time than allowed.

If you've not done so, I suggest that you study the national park websites so you know what to expect re: campground availability and how it works (some reservations, some first come). Understand the road conditions in the parks. See the sections entitled "Lodgings", "Things to Do" and "View park map" on each website. In short, these are not "drive throughs".

Your sidekick's camera request is a good one. Add good binoculars.

I was curious enough to Google Map your last posted route and found this: 5,491 miles, 85 hours without traffic, without stops, etc. And those miles are a bare minimum; you'll actually be adding hundreds more in, as one example, Yellowstone NP. Given your apparent 17 days, you’d be driving at least 325 miles/day. You will have considerable traffic in the major tourist areas and much slower speeds than suggested by Google Maps.

For example, in Yellowstone NP, you'll hardly ever achieve posted speed limits and the maximum is, I believe, 45 mph, in rare instances, with over 300+ road miles. And when you examikne the park map, multiply the miles between major points by 2, you'll get an idea of time distance.

Then, you’ll be spending what many of us believe too few hours in key locations. I hear you, that you understand this. But to me, and I don't pretend to be you, it's shorting your opportunity for what could be a once in a lifetime trip, to truly experience what each major location offers.

But, it is your trip to meet your needs and, whatever you decide, I wish you well and a safe trip.

Edited: 03 July 2014, 16:52