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help with trip planning

Harleysville, Pa
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help with trip planning

My husband and I are planning an early June vacation to Yellowstone and Grand Teton and would also like to see some other areas of interest. Is it possible to have one base to see both areas, or is it too much driving? Would West Yellowstone area be a possible base?

Any comments on whether a side trip to Helena is worthwhile, or the old mining towns of Va City, Nevada City, Bannack?

Also, is it worth the drive to go to see Little Big Horn?

We also are interested in going to Cody and Jackson if anyone has any comments for those locations.

Thanks for any advice!

Calgary, Canada
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for Waterton Lakes National Park, Nelson
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1. Re: help with trip planning

We stopped in Virginia City and Nevada City this summer on our way back from Disneyland. We thought it would be a good rest stop for an hour or so. Boy, were we wrong! We ended up spending the whole day there!

Virginia City is a real town with original buildings. You can check out their website at www.virginiacity.com The buildings are incredible, complete with employees in period costumes. You can take a stagecoach ride or a steam engine train ride. There are a great many gift shops to tour through, as well as 2 jewellery stores selling hand-made jewellery with locally mined gold and silver. The ice cream shop sells the best home-made ice cream I have ever tasted. The candy shop sells wonderful sweets. You can watch salt water taffy being made through the front window. The opera house still has performances in the evenings. We stopped into the local pub briefly at the end of our tour. The children are allowed in the pubs in Montana, and they had a great time playing pool and eating peanuts and throwing the shells on the floor! There are several b&b's in town, as well as a hotel.

As you can tell, I am a big fan! We intend to go back and spend a weekend there this summer. I'm not sure I was as thrilled with Nevada City. Most of the buildings there have been moved in and you have to pay an admission to get into the "town". But we did have a quick walk through the train yard and round house and found it to be interesting enough. Incidentally, if you take the train ride in Virginia City, it goes to Nevada City and back.

If you decide to go to Virginia City from Yellowstone, you may as well prowl around Ennis a bit, while you're at it. We really enjoy the "wild west" look and feel of Ennis. And we always stop at the restaurant downtown on main street (the name escapes me, it's an old two-story building on the east side of the street) for breakfast when we're in town.

I hope this information proves useful... have a great trip!

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2. Re: help with trip planning

If this is your first trip to the "Park" then would suggest staying at West Yellowstone for your home base. The ability to travel to both parks is quiet easy as long as you are willing to be in your vehicle for a few hours and be part of the authentic animal jams that happen within the Park itself.

Plan for a day to see Virginia City and Nevada City, mostly due to driving time and stopping in at Ennis to stroll through the shops. Personally more than 2 hours spent in either ghost town is enough, but "been there done that" applies for me.

Love the Cody area, especially the drive through the Park to get there. Stop and watch the big horn sheep right before you ascend into Cody. Be prepared for Jackson's overpriced tourist oriented climate but at the same time don't leave the area without going there either. It is a great place for about one day (or until the $$ runs out!) as you cover all the essentials of Jackson and then can head back to the beauty of Grand Teton and Yellowstone itself.

Have a great trip and remember - bison look really friendly but keep your distance!

Harleysville, Pa
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3. Re: help with trip planning

Many thanks to both of you! Great info from each. This will help us to get our plans together.

Big Sky, MT
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4. Re: help with trip planning

I'll try to give you the lowdown on the towns surrounding Yellowstone. The "base of operations" is a good idea, but if you want to really see the area, you're going to be moving around a bit (o.k., a lot).

Yellowstone has five entrances, with a "gateway" town at each. In addition, there are five major "locations" within the park that offer lodging, either in hotels or cabins.

The gateway communities are a little cheaper, and offer a wider variety of lodging, dining and shopping options. They will give you better access to attractions surrounding the park, but involve a little more driving to reach attractions within the park. They are: North Entrance (Gardiner, MT), West Entrance (West Yellowstone, MT), East Entrance (Cody, WY), Northeast Entrance (Cooke City, MT) and South Entrance (into Teton NP, then Jackson, WY).

The locations within the park are more convenient, but are generally more expensive, and more rustic. Many do not have televisions or air conditioning. Also, one company operates all the hotels and restaurants in the park, so the food is pretty similar at each location. The locations are Mammoth Hot Springs, Old Faithful, Canyon Village, Lake Hotel and Grant Village.

For what you want to see, I'd recommend sticking to the gateway communities. One exception might be the Old Faithful Inn. It's the world's largest log structure, and contains scads of history. If you do not stay there, it's worth going in and poking around.

To be centrally located, I think West Yellowstone is probably the best bet. I'll try to describe each of the communities below:

Gardiner, MT (North Entrance) is closest to I-90 (about 60 miles). It is 5 miles from Mammoth Hot Springs, and also serves as Park Headquarters for the concessionaire. It is the location of the historic "Roosevelt Arch", the traditional entrance to Yellowstone. The surrounding mountains are spectacular, as is the Yellowstone River. If you're driving from Bozeman or other points on the Interstate, it might be a good spot for your first night. You could go up to the hot springs in the afternoon, then hit the road south in the morning.

Traveling south from Mammoth, I'd go southeast to The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The drive through that part of the park is my favorite, the the canyon is spectacular. From there, you could then go west and south to West Yellowstone (west entrance).

West Yellowstone has lots of shops, hotels and restaurants, and the obligitory boardwalk sidewalks. There is also the Grizzly Discovery Center and IMAX theater. From West Yellowstone, you can easily make a day trip to both Old Faithful and its attendant geyser basins as well as a scenic drive past Yellowstone Lake. Be sure to give the Geyser basins ample time, though, as most people are far more interested and impressed than they expected.

From here, you could also conceivably take a day trip to Ennis/Virginia City/Nevada City, which are neat for all the above stated reasons.

I have been to Bannack and the Big Hole battlefield (further afield to the west). I loved visiting both, especially the Big Hole battlefield (unless you're heading east on the interstate at the end of the trip, the Custer Battlefield at the Little Bighorn might be a little too far out of reach). However, these are probably a little far to day trip from West Yellowstone.

Heading out the South Entrance takes you through Grand Teton National Park to Jackson, WY. Jackson is the busiest gateway community, the most developed, has the most ameneties and is, of course, the most expensive. If fine living is your thing, this is your place. I thinks it's worth at least a night, even given the cost.

Out the east entrance is Cody, WY. Home of the Buffalo Bill Museum Again, generally more cool than people expect--most everyone I've spoken to who's been there absolutely loved it. Cody also has extensive galleries, shopping etc. It probably has the most "old west" feel of any of the gateways.

Lastly, for my selfish interest, I should mention Big Sky, MT. Located half way between Bozeman and West Yellowstone, Big Sky is a resort town with a variety of ameneties. It's a great place to do activities like rafting, horseback riding etc., because it's much less crowded than the gateways. There are great restaurants and affordable lodging.

You'll have a great time. The key is to study maps be familiar with how long it takes to get from place to place. Plan a realistic amount of time for each leg so that you aren't rushing past things. Remember that traffic through Yellowstone can be stop-go, and the speed limit is 45 (and they mean it) if not. On this vacation, it pays to get up and hit the road early.

Check out www.yellowstoneparknet.com or www.visitmt.com for more info.

Harleysville, Pa
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5. Re: help with trip planning

Excellent info, Docbigsky. Thanks! I am getting more and more excited about this trip!

Deg
Buffalo, New York
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6. Re: help with trip planning

I'm looking at that same kind of trip around August. If you learn anything else that isn't posted here, I would be much appreciative if you would add it. Have a great time!!!

Deg
Buffalo, New York
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7. Re: help with trip planning

Actually, I thought of further questions. We are flying from the east coast. I'm thinking it saves money to fly to Jackson Hole and then drive there instead of trying to fly to Cody which would be way more expensive. Does that make sense to people. What suggestions do people have about making the most of two days in Jackson Hole to get a real feel for the Grand Tetons? Thoughts about where to stay, I've seen places with semi tent cabins and cabins etc. We don't mind rustic, but not too run down. Are there things to do and see along the drive to Yellowstone? We're big on exploring small interesting towns and nature areas. Any additional help would be great. Thanks.

Cody WY
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8. Re: help with trip planning

visit the codychamber.org site for stuff to do in Cody. The Yellowstone Park can easily take a week to 'run' through, but to really see the neat stuff you need to stay in one place for a couple of days at a time.

We love the Park and moved to Cody from TX to be closer. Cannot say enough about getting into shape by walking before you come. The elevation is over 6000 in the Park. Cody is at 5000 and you can fly here on United or Delta pretty easy. It has lots to do and will give you a couple of days to climatize before you head into the Park. The West Yellowstone is a nice place. Cody has access to two of the entrances to the Yellowstone - East and Northeast. Teton is nice to see but not much to 'do' but relax, fish maybe and hike. Yellowstone has the wildlife, the thermal features, waterfalls, lakes, trailrides, fishing (fly and regular), there are steak dinners in the open, overnight at one of the lodges or cabins, take a trail to see the back country or a horseback ride. I live in Cody and we love to do day trips into the Park. We can be there in about an hour to either entrance. Staying in the Old Faithful area is probably the most central location to see everything though.

Southeast PA
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9. Re: help with trip planning

You all have given Katyd great advice.... I have little to add... except that flying into Jackson is an experience in itself... wish we could have done it durring the daylight hours.. would have been even more spectacular. A day or two in the Tetons is well worth it.. if even just to get some great pictures. Before our trip, I read some advice here... to stop at Oxbow Bend for a picture. We did... my husband asking why I wanted to stop. I jumped out and snapped a quick picture.. and it turned out to be our favorite of the whole trip!! I didn't even notice the mountains reflecting in the river till we printed the picture.

So take notes from this board, and take them with you!!!

Harleysville, Pa
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10. Re: help with trip planning

All of the info you have all posted is wonderful! I really appreciate it, and have printed this discussion out as well as some other discussions I saw. We may have to move our trip to September, but everything I've read suggests that is a great time to go too.

From my home airport, (Philadelphia) it looks like Jackson Hole is the cheapest and has decent flight times. If anyone knows differently, let me know. And I give up -- where is Oxbow Bend, Pa Yankee? And are you saying we need a window seat because you fly in through the mountains? (we are from the same part of PA!)