Wednesday, September 6, 2017

A Trip To Yellowstone National Park - Trip Planning

After we set our sites on a target we rarely miss.  Yellowstone National Park (YNP) was in the cross hairs, so the planning was in full force.

My wife being a much better planner of travel than me, handled the flight details, lodging and rental vehicles.

We discussed a budget for the trip.  We wanted to be roughly around $3000USD in total for lodging, travel and car rental.

Flights versus Driving
Our vacation time was limited to 7 days and we even planned the trip around a holiday weekend(Aug 26 - Sept 2).
Researching travel options showed that flights from our location would be the best option.  A flight from John Glenn International Airport (KCMH) to Yellowstone International Airport (KCOD) would take around 5.5 hours, while driving would yield a 24 hour trip time.

There were 2 main choices from our location: Delta and United Airlines.  Both flew from John Glenn into Denver, then a connecting flight from Denver to Cody.  United won out for us.  We decided to spring for first class.  I'm very glad we did.  Almost 4 hours in the air, it was nice having the extra leg room and the enhanced services.  Flight costs were $1600 for 2 round trip tickets.

Our first look into lodging was staying in a resort within the park itself.  Possibly at Mammoth or Old Faithful.  Those proved to be cost prohibitive for our budget.  Lodging cost alone in those places would have almost exhausted our budget.  One of our favorite ways of securing a place to stay is using the mobile app called Airbnb.  If you've never used it, let me tell you that it is one of the most convenient ways of finding a place to stay.  Since using the service, we have never stayed in a hotel since.  I'll not get into the details of it all, but look it up on your smart phone and see the cost savings as well as the convenience/quality of the lodging.

Using Airbnb, we found a great one bedroom place in downtown Cody, WY.  From here, it would only be a 50-60 minute drive to the East Entrance of Yellowstone.  Cost of rental for the week was $800

Why so far away from the entrances?   This is my thought process.  Cody, WY has a lot to offer.  Not being familiar with the region, we were unsure of the weather.  We wanted to make sure that we had activities and entertainment for the bad weather days.  Another consideration is fatigue.  We have had times when you try and pack too much into a day and then you get tired from all the boping about you did.  While possible to run through a lot of YNP from a car, we wanted to be able to experience quite a bit more, so plans for hiking could wear you out.  Having a backup plan would be a good idea.

Vehicle Rental
We were able to get a package deal with our flight from United.  $380 got us a Toyota Camry with 2100 miles of use for the entire week.

A lot of people think that you might want a truck of some kind.   I would consider it a "nice to have" not a necessity.  We did quite well everywhere we went for the whole week.  Since we were driving almost 100 miles per day just too and from the park, having the more fuel efficient car was also a bonus.

Viewing Plan
As hinted to in the first post, we wanted to have an idea of what we wanted to do, but not be so planned out that we scheduled a specific when.

I downloaded a map from the YNP website that had an overview of the park.   Labeled all the entrances, the grand loop and most of the major stops along the way.   From that I made a list of the must see areas.  Old Faithful, Mammoth, Canyon Village, Mt. Washburn just to name a few.

Being an avid hiking family, we wanted more detail on the trails we were going to be exploring.  A book that helped a lot in the planning process was Top Trails Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Park: 46 Must-Do Hikes For Everyone by Wilderness Press.  It lays out most of the major trails, rating them for difficulty, use, access.  It also gives you details on length in miles as well as trail types, such as loop, one way or out and back.  This resource helped us pick some great hikes and we could pre-plan them to our desired skill level.  We chose to stick with ones that were 5 miles and under.

I also picked up the National Geographic YNP regional topo maps.  I thought those wold be a good, light weight and small addition to the pack for hiking.

With all that down and out of the way, all that was left was the waiting for the day to arrive.  Our next post will cover the photography and hiking gear.  Stay tuned and enjoy!


  1. With all due respect, you chose about the worst time of the year to go, depending on what you hope to see/experience. As a person who has made nearly 20 trips to YP, most of them for a week to two at a time, all through the year (for a number of years), you went when the wildlife is among it's lowest and people count near it's highest. I mostly avoid YNP from mid-June through Labor day, with one exception - for otters. I hope you find the trip meaningful.

  2. First, thank you so much for taking the time to read and respond.
    I have had with a few people make the same content about the timing of the trip. Honestly, I did not find the crowds bad at all, with the most congestion being at Mammoth. Even that was not bad.

    We saw tons of wildlife and only missed moose and wolves personally...and wolves were spotted by others we had talked with on a few stops.

    I may have only been to Yellowstone once, but I find it hard to believe that any time would be a "worst" time to visit.

    Hectic working schedules being what they are, this time frame in this particular year worked the best for us and we were not disappointed. As you'll be able to see from the next post upcoming,I got some great images.

    It really is all a matter of expectations

  3. I'm glad you felt you saw tons of wildlife. I can assure you, you did not see a fraction of what YNP has to offer. Having spent the time I have in the Park, often month after month and in the best times multiple trips within a month, I am certain if you went at a better time, you would discover, as I did, a completely new Park - and the landscape shots (which i shoot very few of) are much better, too, as you are seeing green grass and wildflowers much more than the view that is more typical in late August/early September.

    There is a direct correlation with people in the Park and visibility of the diversity of wildlife that lives in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem. I've witnessed it many times, in several parts of the Park.

    I understand that timing can be a challenge with jobs, kids in school, etc. I remember being really taken with my first experience in YNP, at about the same time as your first trip. And, I remember the sense of wonder and discovery I had when after a lot of research, I made my next trip - and nearly a couple of dozen since then.

    I live within driving distance - around 7 hours in the summer, around 10+ in the winter. It's one of the key places I really learned to photograph wildlife. It's great that you had a good experience on this trip, as did I my first venture - but you'll just have to trust me when I say, there is way more to discover and experience - at least there was for me.

  4. The park is way too big to be able to do it justice in just one week, I agree. We do plan on returning when we have time and finances to do so. It is not an inexpensive trip when you live thousands of miles away.

    Having been once, I will definitely have a better plan of attack, so to speak for the next trip.

  5. There are many areas of the Park you really can't do justice to in a week. It is a part of what makes YNP the treasure it is. In my opinion it is the closest thing the US has to a trip to Africa (a place I've been three times) relative to the diversity of wildlife and flora that one can see and photograph.

    How expensive the trip is depends on the how you wish to experience the Park, and to a degree, the amount of time you have for such a journey. I'm fortunate to have plenty of time. And, most of my days and nights in the Park were in my truck (with a shell) - in the front by day, or out hiking, etc., and in the back by night. Much easier for one man or a couple, than a family, to be sure. And, some of the best stuff often requires a very early alarm clock and hiking in pre-dawn light - again not something easily accomplished (or desired on vacation!) for many families.

    Bottom line, as much as one can see in a trip in late August/early September, it really is only the tip of the iceberg - at least that is my experience. Good luck!