After many month of planning and many hours obsessing over various TripAdvisor forums, we went on a 2 week road trip from Alabama to Yellowstone, with stops along the way. Thanks to all who regularly post here. Even though I never posted questions while planning the trip, the answers were somewhere on the forum, and I felt like you were my new best friends. We are empty nesters with demanding jobs, so being able to relax and enjoy the ride was a priority. We drove a total of 4604 miles and enjoyed every minute. Most days we left at sunrise and were in our room before dark. We took a cooler and a box of food, which gave us options if we didn't want to search for somewhere to eat. Here goes:
Day 1 drove 635 miles from Alabama to Clinton, MO. Day 2 drove 533 miles to Mitchell, SD. These days we enjoyed back roads and tranquility.
Day 3 church Sunday morning in MItchell, drove 278 miles to Badlands National Park, stayed at the Cedar Pass Lodge. The Badlands were so beautiful, and a great first real destination.
Day 4 drove 338 miles. We enjoyed the Badlands again, then drove to Mt. Rushmore, through Custer State Park, then overnight in Buffalo, WY. Mt. Rushmore is an American icon that I wanted to see, but it was very crowded. Custer State Park was beautiful, and if I ever return to the area I'd skip Mt. Rushmore and spend more time at Custer State Park.
Day 5 we drove 199 miles to Cody, WY. Cody is a great town. We restocked at WalMart, visited the Buffalo Bill Museum, enjoyed dinner and a show at The Cody Cattle Company, and just enjoyed the town.
Day 6 began with a Red Canyon Wild Mustang Tour, a lot of fun. We then drove to Yellowstone via the East Entrance, and I felt like I had FINALLY arrived. We saw a herd of elk, a bear, deer, a hawk, and encountered our first bison jam. We toured the mud pots and brink of the upper falls, and enjoyed driving through the Hayden Valley. We spent the night in a Lake Lodge Cabin. This was actually a last minute change, having planned to stay 2 nights in Cody, and it was probably the best decision of the trip.
Day 7 we slept in a little (all of the other mornings we were up early), started a hike, it started to rain so we turned back after about a mile, but it was a beautiful mile. We then went to the Canyon Area and checked out all the viewpoints in the rain. It was so beautiful, and the crowds were very thin. We then drove to the Northeast Entrance, stopping at pullouts to enjoy it all, really enjoying watching the wild life. We viewed the Mammoth Terraces in the rain with umbrellas, spent the night in a Mammoth Hotel Cabin, and heard elk bugling from the front porch.
Day 8 did a few short hikes, drove to the North Entrance, saw bighorn sheep, drove to Old Faithful, watched it erupt, stayed in an Old Faithful Lodge cabin with a bathroom. Tiny but sufficient because we were very tired.
Day 9 a cold rainy day. We spent time in the Old Faithful Lodge and the Old Faithful Inn. We then drove around and visited some of the thermal features, which were not crowded at all. We spent another night in our tiny cabin.
Day 10, Sunday, was a day of worship & rest. We went to church in West Yellowstone, did laundry, & checked into the Evergreen Motel. Hubby then did some work while I watched a replay of the Auburn football game.
Day 11, enjoyed West Yellowstone, and rode ATVs on the Two Top Trail (I think that was the name of the trail). We had beautiful weather and the change of pace was perfect.
Day 12, Grand Teton Day, another cold rainy day. Plans changed due to the weather, we didn't get very far from the car, but The Tetons are beautiful and we enjoyed the day. We spent the night in Jackson.
Days 13-16 driving back across the country, stopping in Cheyenne, Salina, KS; & Forrest City, AR. Again, a lot of the trip was on back roads. Hubby doesn't meet a stranger, so we rarely had a quick stop for gas or food, and learned about the areas we were traveling through.
Conclusion: Play with Google Maps to determine your route & where to stop, research your lodging options on TripAdvisor, be flexible, and set realistic expectations. Traveling after Labor Day means thinner crowds, but some of the attractions are closed. We had a great time, and I'm now pondering our next big trip.