Planning

July 31, 2006

July 2006 will be etched in our memory for a very long time to come coz. the first ten days of this month was spent in one of the most memorable vacations of our life. During the course of our vacation, we got to drive through Beartooth highway, arguably one of the most scenic drives in US and visit some of the most beautiful and diverse national parks in US like Yellowstone, Grand Teton and the magical Glacier National parks.

This is a small attempt to bring out the beauty and serenity of these places and also help those of you planning a visit in near future.

IDEA: All this began on a cold February morning when both I and my wife were watching a program in discovery channel showing sunrise in “Lamar Valley” inside yellowstone. The beauty and silence of the place instantly hooked us to Yellowstone and that was when we decided to visit Yellowstone. As I started researching more on yellowstone, the more curious I was to learn about the different features of the park and also the facilities available there. Initially the idea was to drive to Yellowstone from St Louis, MO, stay there for 5 days and then drive back. All my readings suggested that I would need atleast 5 days to cover both the Yellowstone and Grandteton NP. However on further research I found that since Glacier National Park is only 450 miles from Yellowstone, it would be wise to cover even that park and to reduce time, I decided to fly to Billing, Montana. This way, I will also get an opportunity to drive through BearTooth highway to Yellowstone. So the final plan was to fly to Billings and then drive to Yellowstone through Beartooth Highway.We would spend 5 nights in Yellowstone area, drive to Glacier National park,spend 3 days there and then drive back to billings before flying back to STL.

Preparations: After planning, the next task is to start preparations. The first thing I finished was booking flight ticket to Billings. Since there are only limited flights to billings ( Frontier,United and NorthWest flies to Billings), it would be wise to finish booking at least 2-3 months in advance or else the price could climb very fast. After flight next comes accommodations.

All accommodations within Yellowstone is managed by Xanterra Parks and Services (http://www.travelyellowstone.com/). There are couple of important points to be noted here.

1. Since accommodations within the park are limited, they tend to get booked very early in the season. If you are planning to visit the park in summer ( July-august), I would recommed you to book your accommodations at least by March/April.

2.In YNP, accommodations are available in Canyon, Lake Village, Grant Village, OldFaithful area, Mammoth and tower Roosevelt area.( http://www.nps.gov/yell/planvisit/orientation/index.htm) . Before booking your room, plan which area you would cover in a day and then book accordingly. This way, you could avoid driving long distance at the end of the day just to get to your room.

In all of these areas, you could find different kinds of accommodations ranging from campground to log cabins to normal lodges. I don’t think any of these rooms have AC, but I don’t think you would need AC since it cools down at night.

In Grand Teton, you would find few resorts inside the park. We stayed at Flagg Ranch resorts which is just outside YNP (2 miles from south entrance). Lodging link can be found in nps.gov. http://www.nps.gov/grte/planyourvisit/lodging.htm

In Glacier National Park, you can find lodges inside the park http://www.glacierparkinc.com/default.asp. Also affordable accommodations can be found outside park both near west entrance (west glacier) or near east entrance (St Mary). We stayed at the Historic Tamarack Lodge which is 8 miles from the west entrace (5 min to the park). I found it very affordable with all the amenities and free breakfast (http://www.historictamaracklodge.com/index.html). I will be explaining in detail about these places in later posts.

If you are planning to fly to Billings, you also need to rent a nice car (V6 would be very helpful). Try to search for a deal with unlimited mileage. I was lucky enough to find one such deal from Alamo. Later on most of the companies set a maximum limit of 1500 miles. That can be bit less if you are planning to cover all the 3 NP. Alamo, Enterprise, Hertz and Budget have their counters right at the baggage claim area in the airport.

Almost all the activities in these parks are outdoors. So prepare yourself adequately. Hiking shoes will be of great help. Light clothes, bug sprays, sun screens and sunglasses are a must especially if you are planning to visit during summer. Temperature during our stay ranged between 60-90 deg during day and cooled down to 40-60 at night. A good camera (telephoto lens will be of great help) and a pair of binoculars is a must.

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