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Help with 4 day itinerary for first-timers

Onalaska, WI
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Help with 4 day itinerary for first-timers

My husband and I (both in our 50s) will be driving to Yellowstone for 4 days in early July after two days in SD. We will be staying West of Cody on the first night, in Gardiner the second and in West Yellowstone on nights 3 and 4. We want to see the main sights as well as do some short hikes (anywhere up to 4 miles) each day. We would also appreciate suggestions for lunch and dinner. Can someone suggest an itinerary? We don't mind full days!

Spery, Iowa
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1. Re: Help with 4 day itinerary for first-timers

hopefully the resident planner will chime in. Until then, I will give my 2 cents worth. I am confused on the timing. Are you planning to see Yellowstone and drive back to west of Cody? Or is day one in the park starting from west of Cody and ending in Gardiner. Then, what is your departure plan? Are you heading home or south to Grand Tetons? All that will make a difference on any suggested day plan. If you are driving back to west of Cody, It takes an hour to get to the east gate from Cody, and then the main sights are even farther, so that would be a lot of driving. If you want to see the main things, you really won't have time for 4 mile hikes as well, but not to worry, there is still plenty of walking on all the boardwalks, and most of the great things have the road close by. You need to be back to lodging before dark, and since you are staying outside the park, that cuts your days just a bit. For meals: you will want a cooler. Picnic lunches are great in the park (pick up supplies before entering) and the food in the park is usually just good. Some pretty poor. That said, my favorite food spots: Fishing Bridge General Store, Lower General Store at Old Faithful, Roosevelt Lodge. Plan an ice cream break at Old Faithful- get it on the first floor of the inn and eat it on the second floor deck.

Atlanta, Georgia
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2. Re: Help with 4 day itinerary for first-timers

Here is an online travel guide for the Black Hills since I assume that is where you will be in SD-

www.travelsd.com

Most people want to visit Badlands NP, Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse and Custer SP. You can also do quick stops in Deadwood and Devils Tower.

In the Black Hills when you visit Custer SP the lunch and dinner buffet at the State Game Lodge and Blue Bell Lodge is very good- delicious bison stew and homemade pies on the menu.

Here is a link to the must sees in Yellowstone to help you plan your trip-

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

Also check out the NPS website for great info-

http://www.nps.gov/yell/index.htm

For lunch bring a cooler and get water, snacks, fruit and buy some deli sandwiches in Gardiner and West Yellowstone and take them with you to the park each day.

For dinner in Gardiner we've eaten at BW (only for breakfast) and it was good. We ate at this open air BBQ-steak place called The Raven and it was awful.

For dinner in West Yellowstone we've had good luck with Bullwinkles and Three Bear Restaurant. For the best pancakes in the world go to Running Bear Pancake House for breakfast.

In the park we've eaten lunch at Old Faithful Inn and it was good and didn't have to get reservations like you do at dinner.

For detailed daily trip plans then Pam who posts on this forum is excellent at this and hopefully she will see your post and reply.

Good luck and enjoy your trip!!

N. Idaho
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3. Re: Help with 4 day itinerary for first-timers

I'm probably the (obsessive) *resident planner* thbergs and PeachBelle referred to! Agree with the questions so we know how many days to fill along with your departure direction/destination so we can know what you'll see on the way out (back toward WI?).

Also on that day where you have spent the night near Cody, are you planning to visit the museum complex for a half a day or so?

And you thought you were asking an easy question!

Pam

Edited: 23 June 2012, 15:20
Onalaska, WI
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4. Re: Help with 4 day itinerary for first-timers

Great questions! Day one starts West of Cody and ends in Gardiner. We will be heading back to Wisconsin after our last day in the park. We were planning to go back through Cody but are open to an alternate route and could even extend our stay by a night if need be. Thank you all in advance for your help. I've been trying to figure this out on my own but just don't have a sense of how much is possible in a day.

N. Idaho
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5. Re: Help with 4 day itinerary for first-timers

Ok, here goes one suggestion.

Day 1: Enter the East gate. Stop at Fishing Bridge, walk across looking for wildlife. Turn right at the intersection heading toward Canyon. Stop at Mud Volcano, then continue north thru Hayden Valley. Turn Right on the South Rim road and go to the overlooks. There are several including Uncle Toms stairs down to the viewpoint over the falls. I like the Artist Point view best! Return to the loop road, turn Right again. If it is close to lunch, you can go to Canyon and eat at the General Store, or other restaurant of choice. If you want to see more of the Canyon, go back to the North rim drive and look at some of the overlooks. From Canyon (Visitor Center has nice new bathrooms) go North over Dunraven Pass stopping at Tower Fall and some of the overlooks north of there. When you get to Tower Roosevelt Junction, if you are early in the afternoon (I doubt that, but you never know!), turn right and head out in to Lamar Valley for a quick look, then reverse back to this junction. From here, head toward Mammoth, then out to Gardiner. This will be a very long day so start early. I, personally, would skip the North rim except for perhaps the trail down to the brink of the upper falls in order to get everything else in!

Day 2: Head to Mammoth. Stop at the Visitor Center, do the walking tour of Ft. Yellowstone if you wish, then see the lower terraces. Get back in the car and do the upper terraces. You will need to either eat lunch at Mammoth or have picnic stuff because there is nothing really on the way. You could divert back over to Canyon to eat if you needed to. You have a couple of choices as you leave Mammoth. If you want you can go east to Blacktail Plateau Dr which is a 7 mile one way dirt road that parallels the main road. I saw awesome, awesome wildflowers back in there. Many others see animals, but on all the times I have been back in there the only thing I was was a darn chipmunk tail disappearing down a hole. You would then do the drive to Petrified Tree and head back to Mammoth. The other choice is to head straight south to Norris. Look for wildlife on Swan Lake Flat, many have seen a griz in this area. Stop at Norris, do part or all of the geyser basin. Continue on toward Madison Jct stopping at Artist Paint Pots and Gibbon Falls. Continue on out to West Yellowstone looking for trumpeter swan and bald eagle in or near the river. Many like the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery center there. (Peach will tell you to eat breakfast at Running Bear Pancake house) BTW, at Mammoth, the bathrooms at the Visitor Center are kind of crummy. They are downstairs at the front entrance. The better and newer bathrooms are next to the gas station by the bus parking.

Day 3: Make this your geyser day. Head in to the park, turn right at Madison Jct. Just after you cross the bridge over the Gibbon River, take the Right turn into Firehole Canyon. Rejoin the main road. From here, you will head directly to Old Faithful. You will pass several geyser basins, but you will pick these up on the way back out to West Yellowstone. At Old Faithful, stop at the Visitor Center first, pick up the brochure (50 cents) and write the times down of the predictable geysers. See if you can work any of these in to your walk around the geyser basin. You should easily get 4 miles in on the boardwalks around here! I like to eat lunch at the Lower General Store as well which as you face the geyser side of the Old Faithful Inn, is on the right. Try to save room to get the aforementioned ice cream. Get it on the 1st floor of the Inn and take it up to the deck overlooking the geyser basin. Head back toward West Yellowstone, stopping at Black Sand, Biscuit and Midway Geyser basins. Then do the Firehole Lake Drive off to the Right, then pick up Fountain Paint Pots and then head back to West Yellowstone for the night.

Day 4: I would leave by the NE gate and go over Beartooth Pass to Red Lodge. I would probably plan to spend the night in Billings as this will be a slow drive. I would leave West Yellowstone, head for Canyon (pit stop at the VC) then North over Dunraven. (There is road construction on this road, which you will have gone thru on Day 1. If it was bad, and you want to miss it, turn north at Norris toward Mammoth and come around the top end.) In either event, you will head out thru Lamar Valley, stopping to look at wildlife, then out of the NE gate, thru Silver Gate and Cooke City and up over Beartooth. This is also a day you may need picnic lunches, otherwise, if it is close to lunch when you get to Cooke City, eat there. Cooke to Red Lodge will take you 2 and a half hours or perhaps longer if you make some stops. From Red Lodge, I would overnight in Billings then you have the choice of returning to Wisconsin via I90 or I94.

That should get you most of the highlights!!

Pam

Edited: 23 June 2012, 19:29
Onalaska, WI
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6. Re: Help with 4 day itinerary for first-timers

Thanks...this is exactly the kind of help we needed!

Madison, Wisconsin
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7. Re: Help with 4 day itinerary for first-timers

That long reply is a good, and very busy, schedule. I would keep two things in mind:

1. Watch the weather. We watched Old Faithful go off in a hailstorm one year - kinda neat actually. You don't necessarily have to see things in the order mentioned. pick a good weather day for the Upper Geyser Basin (Old Faithful). On a bad weather day, stay in your car and watch for wildlife - see smaller venues like mud volcano, etc.

2. (This is my personal opinion so take it for what it's worth.) The first week of July, or the month of July for that matter, is probably the worst week to go to Yellowstone. The last time we went in July (second week), a drive that took us 45 minutes in normal times took us nearly two hours because traffic was so bad. This year we were there the first week in June and I would say the park was very busy but not crowded.

My best advice would be to take your time - stay longer at something that holds your interest and give just a glance to something that doesn't catch your fancy. Don't think you are going to see everything in four days - you won't. Make a list of the things you'd like to see the next time you come. We've been to Yellowstone more than 30 times and haven't gotten tired of it yet.

Enjoy!!!

Yellowstone Nat...
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8. Re: Help with 4 day itinerary for first-timers

johnfaludi, good for you! Flexibility is the key to enjoying YNP, not OCD planning. Bless you, Pam, but you and I just disagree on this.

A couple of tips ... dinner at Roosevelt Lodge, you'll be glad you did ... be done driving by the end of daylight, around 9:30 PM lately.

N. Idaho
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9. Re: Help with 4 day itinerary for first-timers

I will admit to OCD planning, but what I want people to do is really go a certain route and see what they can on said route. When you haven't been there it's hard to figure out which way you should go and my goal is to assist with that. I generally try to avoid the connector from Norris to Canyon because it bores me, (oddly I have seen a moose along there so it should be a favorite!) as does driving in the piney woods beside the lake. I know you love Lamar, but a first timer usually doesn't have the time or patience you and I do to stand around and watch/wait for wildlife.

Pam

Onalaska, WI
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10. Re: Help with 4 day itinerary for first-timers

I have seen several posts in different places about being done with driving by dark. Is this about animals or roads?