National Parks Vacation Recs

Updated on March 28, 2016
K.C. asks from Irvine, CA
7 answers

We are probably going to vacation to some of national parks next year and I would love tips and feedback from people who have been. Top of the list include Yellowstone, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Grand Canyon, and Carlsbad Caverns. If there's a time of year, place to stay, must-do hike, or anything else that you think would make the trip even better, let me know. I think we'll end up doing two separate trips - one that takes us south to AZ and NM, and one that takes us north to Utah, Montana, Wyoming, etc.

Also, if there are other national parks in the western US that you think are "can't miss," please let me know that too. We live in CA so we probably won't be doing the parks here (Yosemite, etc) as part of these vacations.

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So What Happened?

Thanks for the recs so far - I'd love to hear from others too.

Wild Woman, your info was great. To answer your question of why we would skip the CA parks (yes, I'm really from Irvine) - we aren't going to be able to take really long vacations, but will have to split it into 2-3 smaller trips. Because the CA parks are closer and easier to get to, we can do those anytime as a separate vacation. I certainly want to do them at some point (I've been to Yosemite several times but the kids haven't), but I don't want to take the time going there when we're trying to go several parks that are farther away. :)

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answers from Rochester on

Yellowstone is gorgeous! Start making plans now if you want to stay in the park. Everything books up really early! Right near Yellowstone is Teton National Park that is spellbinding! (I grew up 100 miles from Yellowstone so I'm a little biased.)

Probably the best time to go is late June. Late August would also be another time to go. The weather is still pretty cool and it seems to not be as busy. July tends to be pretty busy. Avoid early August. When the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is happening in Western South Dakota, Yellowstone is bombarded with bikers.

If you are driving out from California, come into Wyoming near Jackson, Wyoming. Spend a day or two in Jackson and then drive up through Teton Park. Some friends of ours rented a condo in Teton Park and said it was really great. It was a good proximity to Jackson Hole, Teton, and Yellowstone.

If you want to stay in Yellowstone, the cabins at Old Faithful are pretty rustic, but not bad. It is also a little more centrally located. I would suggest staying there if you can get a reservation or I would suggest staying in a couple of different places in and out of Yellowstone. Maybe a day or two in Jackson. Maybe a night at Mammoth Village. Maybe a night at Old Faithful. Maybe a night in East Yellowstone, Montana. It would be a long haul up to Glacier National Park, but going through East Yellowstone would be probably the best route. If you were up to it, going east out of Yellowstone, about 50 miles from the East Entrance is Cody, Wyoming. It was the home of Buffalo Bill. They have a fabulous museum of the West and a night rodeo. You'd get a taste of the Old West.

Be prepared to do a lot of driving in Yellowstone. The top things to see are pretty spread out. Be prepared to hike. There are easy trails and boardwalks to walk on, but some of them are a couple of miles round trip and some of them are extremely steep. Be prepared for rustic. Unless you are staying at Lake Lodge ($$$$), things are far from being 5 star hotels. And please, take the warnings about wild animals seriously. Please follow the signs that tell you to stay on the path. Lots of people do really stupid things and get injured or even killed. And straying off the path is not only dangerous, but it can cause permanent damage to some of the more fragile areas of the ecosystem. Yellowstone is a beautiful place to visit, but it is wild. And the people of Wyoming want to keep it that way. (Off my soap box.)

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answers from Anchorage on

Have you considered Glacier National Park? It is lovely. As is Yellowstone, I honeymooned there. Back then there was no hot water in the cabins, but it was still a fun stay.

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answers from Washington DC on

First I would go to National

to see all the parks and what they provide, etc. are you planning on renting a motor home or trailer?? Or just driving in your car and finding hotels along the way??

Glacier National Park is stunning. Late June is the best time to go - especially if there was a LOT of snow in the winter, as the Rising Sun trail may still be closed.

Get your passports ready - because it's at the northern tip of Montana - you can hop into Canada....

If you really live in Irvine? and want to make a loop?? I realize you said you would not go - but really?? WHY NOT??? Make a loop out of it and see the United States....there is some REALLY beautiful land there!!

Start out at Joshua Tree - oh my word - that place is AMAZING!!!

Then head to Sequoia Kings Canyon (if you are going in the summer - I would avoid Death Valley - although it's on the way) from there I would go to Yosemite then to Lake Tahoe and Shasta Lake

Then hit Oregon - Crater Lake - again - AMAZING...spent a day and a half here - although if you love to hike and such?? Spend 3 days.
Then hit Washington State - Cascades - we spent day and a half here
Then Hit Montana - Glacier National (we spent 3 days there and it was fun!!)
Then drop down to Wyoming for Yellowstone - here you truly could spend 3 to 5 days if you love outdoor stuff!!
While you're here?? Grand Teton park!
Then drop down to Utah - get the Arches
Then hit Arizona - for the Grand Canyon - double check on reservations for taking a mule ride down the canyon as well as the Colorado River rafting...I think you need A LOT of notice for those...
Then either hit Mormon Lake and/or Lake Havasu and head home!!

See - you've hit MANY parks, seen a LOT and didn't zig-zag all over the place!!

Have a blast!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

When I was a kid, we would do cross country trips, and with each one, my parents would either pick a northern route, or a southern route. We would take our time going out, then come back fast (so, for example, 7-8 days heading west stopping to see lots of stuff (from PA to CA), then back to PA in 3-4 days driving long stretches on major highways with few stops) to keep the trip a reasonable length.

The northern route would include the Chicago tower, Wall Drug, Mount Rushmore, the Badlands, Yellowstone, Sequoia National Park, and Yosemite.

The southern route would include the St. Louis Arch, Grand Canyon and Carlsbad Caverns, plus just some time in general in the desert. On one southern trip, we put a jog in the route to visit the Air Force Academy in Colorado.

You might not want to come as far as St. Louis/Chicago - coming from PA, we had to go through those places anyway to get to the places we wanted to see further west.



answers from Houston on

If you're still reading comments, here's my 2 cents...
Grand Canyon- GO TO the NORTH Rim. I'm emphatic since so few people go, but it is so much better than the South rim. Not crowded and majestic. You can still do mule rides. We stayed in a cabin and loved it.
Zion- Been twice over a 20 year period and both times stayed at the Bumbleberry Inn. It's older, but quaint and nice. Beautiful place.
Bryce- Gorgeous. It's amazing how the rock is formed here.
Crater Lake- My favorite since it's so serene.
Monument Valley- I'm not going to suggest the $$ ride into the Canyon, but definitely a place to see. Google this and you'll see where many of the car commercials have been filmed.
... You can easily do Zion and Bryce over a long weekend. They are not that far from each other. I did it with friends starting and ending in Vegas.



answers from Phoenix on

Yellowstone in late June is the best. August is horrible. We stayed at a great KOA just outside the park that was super convenient and affordable. Also great KOA's in Utah and Montana.



answers from Washington DC on

Grand Canyon. Definitely schedule a helicopter ride. Have you checked out Roadtrippers or Trip Advisor? Helpful. Have fun! (We did road trip from CA to east coast. Was a blast. Hoover Dam, Meteor Crater as well.)

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