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Please help me plan my summer trip west.

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 
You folks out west might still be skiing, but here in Michigan we've been done for a couple of months already. I'm planning our July vacation, a two-week driving trip to Wyoming, Utah and Colorado. Stops to include Bighorn, Yellowstone/Tetons, Bryce and Pike's Peak, and we'll be bringing tents. Can anyone suggest particularly scenic routes that keep us off of interstates? Places to stop in Iowa, Nebraska and S. Dakota on the way to and from? How about that little diner in that small town that serves the best whatever-it-is regional delicacy (or bizarre food) that everyone should have once in their life?

Thanks.
post #2 of 10
Anywhere in Utah will be scenic. However if you are into a moon landscape 24 to capital reef national park is distinct
post #3 of 10

Try to fit in Zion National park and make the  Escalante Staircase drive. Do some hiking in the Canyons of the Escalante River. If you have not been it will blow you away. It certainly did for me.

 

We had a RV but lots of tent friendly campgrounds.

post #4 of 10
The Lander Bar, on the way to the Tetons. Keeps you off the interstate:
http://www.landerbar.com/the-lb.html
post #5 of 10

That's a pretty short time for a lot of distance.  That being said, here's a couple of places to stop on the way.

 

1.  Custer State Park.  It's pretty amazing.  The road is quite narrow and twisty, but it is a testament to what it took to build it.  Lots of wildlife to see -- perhaps more than you may see in Yellowstone (!).

 

2.  Devil's Tower.  You've seen the pictures, but seeing it in person is pretty amazing.

 

3.  Shell Canyon (West side of Bighorns).  Nice drive.

 

4.  Cody -- don't miss the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, one of the most important museums of western art and one of the largest and most important collections of firearms in the world.

 

5.  This one is tough -- which way to Yellowstone?  Option 1, the direct approach through the East Entrance over Sylvan Pass.  It is beautiful.  And if you feel up to it, the hike up Avalanche Peak near the top of the pass is one of the most spectacular views in the park.  It is also one of the most demanding hikes, quite steep, over scree.  Option 2 -- head north of Cody, through Sunlight Basin over Dead Indian Hill (the retreat of the Nez Perce indians from the Battle of the Bighorn (kinda), to the Bear Tooth Highway (turn right and head to the top, then do a U-turn) through the Cooke City Entrance.  It is also beautiful, and the Bear Tooth Highway is one of the most scenic roads in America.  You also will then be driving through the Lamar Valley, one of the places in the park with the greatest potential for seeing wolves.

 

6.  You could spend the entire two weeks in Yellowstone.  I don't know how much time you are budgeting for YS, but it is vast and if all that you do is drive the grand loop, you will have done it and yourself a disservice.  There is a varied ecology in the park, ranging from prairie in the north to the caldera of the world's largest super volcano to the lodge pole pine of the central park to the Madisons on the west edge, the Hayden Valley, and one of the US's largest fresh water lakes.  Don't be like 97% of visitors to YS that never get more than 100 yards from their vehicle (according to a NPS survey).  Personally, we prefer to stay at the Lake Hotel.  It is the oldest hotel in the Park and is absolutely beautiful.  You need reservations for dinner.  Also, take the short hike to Storm Point just past Fishing Bridge towards the East Entrance preferably around sunset.  I'd also suggest the longer, but still pretty manageable hike to Shoshone Lake from Delacy Creek between Grant and Old Faithful.  I can also provide suggestions for many more hikes in the park.

 

7.  The Tetons are one of the most beautiful areas in the US.  Stay at the Jackson Lake Lodge or the Jenny Lake Lodge.  Jenny is incredible, but very expensive -- it does come with breakfast and dinner, as well as horse riding.  At a minimum, you must take the shuttle across Jenny Lake and hike toward the mouth of Cascade Canyon to Inspiration Point.  It is a small amount of elevation gain, but the view is amazing.  Even more amazing views are accessible depending on how much hiking and elevation gain you are willing to endure.  I can provide my list of top hikes if you desire.

 

8.  If you really are going to go to Utah (the time and distance here are the issue, not the beauty), then you've got a lot of driving to do.  It is 545 miles from Jackson to Bryce -- a full day's drive.  And if you are going all the way to Bryce, there is no reason not to go to Zion first -- its only another 40 miles.  Drive from Zion to Bryce, then take Utah 12 through Grand Staircase Escalante.  Try for some of the wilderness permits to the amazing rock formations in the area.  Head up 12, it's an incredible drive through Boulder to Capitol Reef, Goblin State Park, and to Arches National Park.  Revel in the amazing geology of the San Joaquin Swell before hitting Green River on your way to Arches.  

 

9.  Instead of Pike's Peak, why not head to Aspen?  Visit the Maroon Bells.  Hike to Crater Lake.  Enjoy the fine restaurants in Aspen.  Then drive over Independence Pass.

 

That's at least a month's trip.

 

Mike


Edited by habacomike - 5/11/15 at 4:00pm
post #6 of 10

Hell's Backbone Grill on scenic route 12 is amazing. Drive's great too. So many different kinds of landscapes.. Hell's is not a diner; it'll cost ya, but worth it in every bite. really cute motel across the street and lots of places to  camp.

+++ for Zion

+++ for Custer State Park

Crazy Horse Monument in S. Dakota. the museum is a bit kitchy but the monument is monumental.

121105060258-01-crazy-horse-memorial-horizontal-large-gallery.jpg

 

Also there is a really sweet wild mustang sanctuary near there. The Black hills are amazing and there is a wildlife loop drive that can be fun but I can't recall which route it is.

 

The boat tour of the lake in Teton Nat'l. Park is fun and it's nice to get cooled off on the water. Jenny Lake Lodge worth visiting for a drink.

post #7 of 10
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mom View Post
 

 

 

 

Also there is a really sweet wild mustang sanctuary near there. The Black hills are amazing and there is a wildlife loop drive that can be fun but I can't recall which route it is.

 

The boat tour of the lake in Teton Nat'l. Park is fun and it's nice to get cooled off on the water. Jenny Lake Lodge worth visiting for a drink.

The wildlife loop, if I'm not mistaken, is Custer State Park.  The boat tour in Teton, I suspect, is the shuttle across Jenny Lake to the hike up Cascade Canyon.  Mom can correct me if I'm out on a limb...

 

Mike

post #8 of 10

I was under the impression that the loop road went beyond the park boundaries, but it appears not? here's a link. Don't know if the boat is a shuttle but there is a tour boat that goes around Jenny Lake. No-one got off the day we took it... Shuttle to hiking would work too, though!

post #9 of 10

If you're bringing the tents the place to stay in the Tetons is Colter Bay Village.  There is a large NPS campground there.  If you can't get a spot there go just a few miles north to Lizard Creek Campground for something more rustic.  Also, just a mile or so north of Colter Bay is a marina called Leeks Marina, and they have terrific pizza.  

 

In Jackson, if you like craft beer, make sure to stop at the Snake River Brewery.  They have good food too, but the beer is very good.

 

As others have said, you could make the whole trip a trip to Yellowstone and the Tetons and still feel like you were just getting started.

post #10 of 10
Thread Starter 

Thanks, everyone, this is a great help. It indeed looks like I need to make some difficult decisions; I sure wish we could spend more time on the trip!

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