2 months National Parks Trip
Replies: 27 - Last Post: Jul 22, 2012 5:58 AM Last Post By: bzookaj
Jul 19, 2012 3:35 PM
2 months National Parks TripHi All,
I am planning a trip to America next year from the end of May-end of July. I'll be 24, so can't do my own driving.
I'm planning to fly into San Francisco (from Heathrow) and stay there for about 3-4 weeks, exploring San Francisco and using it as a base to go to Yosemite and Monterey Bay and other places of interest in the 'locale'. I then want to go onto Grand Canyon National Park for a week or so, stopping off in Las Vegas on the way there (or back) to San Francisco (I am skeptical about this part - I want to visit the Grand Canyon a lot, but know it's way off course with the rest of the trip!). Opinions?
From San Francisco, I want to go onto Jackson, Wyoming, and use it as a base to go up and visit Yellowstone (probably be there about 3 weeks or so, including quite a while exploring Yellowstone). I say Jackson as it is a route from San Francisco on the Greyhound buses, but could use local transport from Jackson to get into the park and stay there? I will return to Jackson, whatever I do, I will go down to Salt Lake City (greyhound) and stay there for a week or so before flying to New York. I want to stay in New York for a week or so, maybe taking a day/overnight trip up to see Niagara Falls. I will then fly home from New York.
I plan to use Greyhound buses/local transportation for much of the trip, except for a flight from Salt Lake City to New York, and have already looked into hostels and transport links between these places and think it's reasonably doable.
I have a couple of questions, my biggest one being: do others think this is a reasonable trip in the timescale? I know some may think it's silly to fly to the East Coast, but I really want to visit New York and don't really want to change that part of the trip. Secondly, I have noticed that a couple of websites mention 'national park passes', and I'm wondering what these are? Will I need to get one for getting into the national parks I want to visit? Thirdly, I am wondering how reliable public/local transport is in the US? I have taken into account days for travelling etc.
I know this is only a very rough plan at the moment, and definitely needs work, but I'd appreciate comments/thought on the rough itinerary as I am quite inexperienced at this whole backpacking thing. I am going to Ghana this year with a friend, so should gain some insight there hopefully, but I could use some advice before I firm things up.
Thank you. Bethen.
Jul 19, 2012 3:46 PM
Btw, this is a minimum 1.5 hour drive.
Niagara Falls is 426 miles away
Morgantown, West Virginia is 371 miles away
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is 371 miles away
Youngstown, Ohio is 397 miles away
Wheeling, West Virginia is 405 miles away
Richmond, Virginia is 343 miles away
Portland, Maine is 335 miles away
Montreal, Quebec Canada is 374 miles away
Nags Head, North Carolina is 438 miles away
If you feel you absolutely must go, then go.
If you are on your way to xToronto, go.
If you are making a random side trip to see it because it is there, you're crazy.
Since you seem to be British, let me put it like this:
Imagine spending a week in xLondon, and taking a day trip to xEdinburgh.
You need a car, or you need to read FAQ 271 to understand which parks you can visit (and pay careful note to the definition of "accessible").
Also read FAQs 242 and 243.
If you indicate your interests (history, art, etc.), we can help you better figure out which places you could visit. Remember, we don't know you, and what we like may be what you hate.
Jul 19, 2012 4:05 PM
2I have a license – perhaps better put if I say I’d be uncomfortable driving – never driven abroad before. What is driving in America like? I've driven all over Britain, but obviously America would be extremely different!! For some reason, I also thought that I had to be over 25 to drive abroad.
I want to give the National Parks I do visit the justice they deserve, not a flying, for example, 2 night visit. They're huge and I feel I need longer than that to appreciate them. If you think that a longer stay is unnecessary, let me know why. Perhaps titling my post '2 month national park trip' was misleading, apologies if so.
Basically, I have known about for years and always wanted to visit: Yosemite, Yellowstone and Grand Canyon National Parks. They really interest me. I know there are loads of others, but as yet have not researched them, so cannot comment on them. As I said, my itinerary is still very rough and open to changes. So basically, although it would be nice to visit some cities and explore, my main priority is to get out there and see the national parks.
Thanks for the link to the national park passes.
I do also very much want to see Niagara Falls, always have. Can factor in a longer time there - two or three days rather than my unrealistic overnight visit!
From what I see, Greyhound seems fairly extensive. Is it just me making America seem smaller than it is though? I know travel times are long having checked them out for some cases. If a car really is the best way, perhaps I should bite the bullet and consider renting instead.
Thanks for your comments so far!
Jul 19, 2012 4:34 PM
3You simply cannot do most parks with a car (or a tour). Period, end of story. You CAN do Yosemite and Grand Canyon without a car fairly easily. Others... not so much. Yellowstone is immense, and while you can get to the outskirts via public transit, there's no way to get around the park once you arrive (I know, they need a shuttle system, but as of yet one does not exist).
Glacier is also semi-doable via transit. I've also heard that Bryce and Zion - which have park shuttles but formerly were not reachable by public transit - are now accessible via bundubus, though I've never used that company.
Jul 19, 2012 4:35 PM
4Lots of good advice above.
A few comments: we (from Australia) have done several US road-trips, and have also driven in the UK - US driving is substantially easier, notwithstanding being on the right side - you get used to it quite quickly. The cities are crazy busy in parts, but there are freeways to assist you. Outside the cities, the roads are great.
The areas you wish to visit do not lend themselves to being "based" anywhere - it simply leads to a lot of backtracking for no gain - it is much better to plan a route that is a long lazy loop, always heading in the one direction, with somewhere between one and three nights in each place.
So 3-4 weeks in San Francisco is about 2-3 weeks too long. If you are uncomfortable about driving solo in a foreign land (which I think is a reasonable disincentive), you could look at Trek America or Green Tortoise tours ... they're not for everyone, but given your youthful age, they might be a good option.
With the amount of time you have, you can have a wonderful western trip that encompasses many beautiful parks, including Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Southern Utah, lots of California, and much else. Plus you have ample time to fly to the northeast and experience that as well. Note that places like Yellowstone NP do not warrant three weeks - it is superb, but the law of rapidly diminishing returns will kick in after a week at most. And you really must have a car, or be on an organised tour.
One issue (noted above) will be the fact that you are travelling into peak US holiday periods, which will require substantial pre-booking of accommodation, if you do not go on tours. Also - it will be summer, so the heat in the desert states can be fierce as well. Is there any chance you can go earlier (May-June) or later (September-October)?
Jul 19, 2012 4:44 PM
Jul 19, 2012 4:45 PM
6You need to get ahold of the Lonely Planet USA guide and look at their suggested itineraries.
Look at the Green Tortoise tours
You are really going to struggle trying to do this on public transportation.
Jul 19, 2012 4:51 PM
7Sorry, I obviously meant WITHOUT a car above (in #4).
In any case... the best idea is to fly to San Francisco, stay a few days to a week, then pick up a multiweek car rental for a loop or a one way road trip (if you can find a rental without a one way fee).
Jul 19, 2012 4:56 PM
Jul 19, 2012 4:59 PM
Jul 19, 2012 9:17 PM
10It appears that a Yellowstone area shuttle does exist.
You can reach Grand Canyon via the train and a shuttle from Flagstaff.
Public transportation can get you from SF to Merced, and YARTS will take you from there to Yosemite Valley, as well as several locations along highway 120 in the heart of Yosemite.
GC and Yosemite have fairly useful free shuttle buses that will take you to the more popular areas.
At the same time, having a car makes exploring these vast parks much easier. Yellowstone in particular will be much more enjoyable when explored on your own schedule.
The National Park Pass is an $80 card that will let get you into all national parks and many state and regional parks for a year. Getting one is often a good deal if you are driving. If taking public transport, the entry fees are lower and it may well be cheaper to pay the $10~15 passenger fee for each park visited.
Jul 19, 2012 10:58 PM
11You have a lot of great advice above, but I'll offer this one general observation. You are planning very long stays in each National Park, which is great (and quite the opposite of how most approach it). You wrote:
Here's why. While some National Parks are indeed vast, the developed and accessible portions of them may be relatively quite small. Unless you are planning multi-day wilderness treks or other lengthy and involved explorations, you will run out of accessible points of interest and activities within a few days to a week (at the outside) at any park. Oh sure, you could stretch this out by settling in and checking out every single walking path, museum, and ranger presentation, but like was pointed out above, some diminishing returns will start to kick in.
You'll need to look at each park individually and figure out what activities you're interested in, and figure out how long to allocate based on that. To take Grand Canyon as an example, if you are a keen hiker, I can envision spending 3 full days at the South Rim. If you wanted to see both rims, add another couple days. The rims are a 1/2-day drive apart with many points of interest between them and in the general area, so I can envision spending 7-8 days in the "greater grand canyon area", if you wanted to get to know it fairly well without really getting into long treks or river trips. Obviously you could spend more time than that, but not if you also want to do the same justice to Yellowstone+Teton, the wonderful parks and coastline of California, a few major cities, the sublime wonders of southern Utah, etc. etc...
Jul 20, 2012 4:42 AM
12As a Brit, just to reiterate bzookaj's point that driving in America is much easier than at home. Apart from in cities, there's usually much less traffic, you have wider roads, it's much easier to park. Rental cars are pretty much all automatic and with cruise control, you can just leave it on and barely have to do anything. Much better than navigating a busy M1 or M4 and constantly having to change lane.
Jul 20, 2012 5:01 AM
13Thanks for all the comments.
@Kahua - thanks for the tip re. Green Tortoise tours. They look good, and not too expensive. I'd already looked into Trek America and decided they were too expensive, and went to a lot of places I wasn't interested in visiting. Green Tortoise seems a lot more personal and willing to cater for different people.
@Flagstuff - thanks for the explaination. I will reconsider the amount of time I spend in each park. I am hoping to do some hiking and activities in each, maybe horseback riding too. Once again, Green Tortoise tours seem to offer this kind of flexibility.
Now considering, having checked out Green Tortoise, the possibility of doing the following:
Fly to New York - week here
Trip to Niagara Falls - 2-3 days and then back to NY
Flight to San Francisco
Week here exploring and visiting places
The national parks loop tour with GT 16 days
Yosemite 3 day tour with GT
Trip to Monterey for 2-3 days and back to San Francisco
Does this seem a more reasonable and doable itinerary - make more sense?
@ianw6705, I have to travel at this time as my work contract runs out end of May next year, and I'll have a 2 month break then before I have to be back for a wedding and to start a new job. No flexibility on the months really at all.
Thanks for all your help, really made me think and relook at my itinerary. Would welcome any further comments and your thoughts on revised schedule, if any?
Jul 20, 2012 5:05 AM
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