Planning Yellowstone/Grand Tetons Motorcycle Trip
Should you read this blog post?
This is Planning Yellowstone/Grand Tetons Motorcycle Trip. If you’re in the planning stage, then you should definitely read this. If you’re interested in how our trip actually went, then this probably won’t be very interesting. However, we’re going to cover the trip itself, from Bend, Oregon across Idaho and all over the parks in upcoming posts. So please check back and see if all this planning was of any use. We’ll be riding Beartooth Pass too, so if you’re a motorcycle person you won’t want to miss that.
There will be plenty of photos, we took 700……and once we get some editing done, we’ll add videos. We recorded at least part of all the major spots in the parks. You can also look back at our trips to: Glacier NP, Zion, Bryce, Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Crater Lake by following the links.
Planning Yellowstone/Grand Tetons Motorcycle Trip
A motorcycle trip to Yellowstone/Grand Tetons National Parks, one of the nation’s most popular destinations requires advanced planning. You could just hop on the bike and ride there with almost no forethought, but if you want a place to sleep, that’s another story. We were going to be only two of over 4 million visitors the park receives. That’s equal to everyone in Oregon going to a space roughly the size of the county we live in. And we all want to go when the weather is great……July or August….if you’re lucky. More about the weather (snow) later.
I doubt there is anyone in the United States who hasn’t at least thought about a Yellowstone trip. I know ever since I was a child, the thought of seeing this one of a kind land was almost magical. Grizzly bears, bison, hot springs and Old Faithful!, These are things that make Yellowstone a trip of a lifetime. With around 500 grizzlies in the park of which, exactly none want to see you…….there is one bear for every 8000 people……do you really think you’re going to see a grizzly? Might have to settle for a this photo we got.
My best Grizzly photo
I’ll explain how I got that later
One of the main purposes of our blog is to help other’s take the same trip, without spending as much time researching. So, I’m going to list of some of the resources you might want to consider. Some are obvious, others not so much. Of course, the trip you make depends on what you want to accomplish. Unless you have a month or more to explore, you’re not going to see it all.
When should you start planning Yellowstone/Grand Tetons Motorcycle Trip?
Where in line with the 4 million people do you want to be? Yes, you need to plan early, the first thing that sells out are hotel & lodge rooms. If you would like to stay at least one night in one of the park lodges, ready, set, GO. We spent one night at Old Faithful Inn, the most historic and sought after property. We’re writing this post in late July 2017 and Old Faithful Inn is sold out for most of the summer 2018. Disappointing right?
One year in advance is too late for the popular spots and good rooms……those with your own bathroom 🙂 Many National Parks, including Yellowstone are operated under contract by Xanterra. However, since people are not always sure of their own plans, they cancel and rooms become available. You must check the website every day and look for an opening. We used this to get a better room than we had originally booked.
- General Park Information
You would expect the park’s website to have all the information you need for your visit. It’s a good place to start, but we find it has shortcomings, and you’ll need more references. For a reason unknown to us, every National Park has organized it’s website differently. While they look basically the same, you can’t go from one to another and find them easy to navigate. It offers maps, including a large downloadable/printable one as well as several, “section” maps. They give you a decent over-view, but don’t try to use them for hiking, or you’ll be frustrated.
Pay close attention to the Alerts section, even though it is confusing at times. Road and area closures as well as construction will affect your visit. We were sort of amazed at how many people we talked to that were totally unaware. This year, Uncle Tom’s trail and parking lots are closed. Those are really popular spots and passing the parking lot, you have to go to Artist’s Point to safely turn around……it adds an hour or two due to the backed up traffic. Cars were all over the place, sideways in the road trying to turn around. See our review on Trip Advisor.
The website Yellowstone Up Close & Personal by John William Uhler is an outstanding piece of work displaying his dedication and love of the park. This rather massive compliation is a great resouce in planning the trip. John spends a lot of time in the park observing bears & wolves. The park website has a section on where to see wildlife. John writes reports of exactly where he parked, the time of day, and what he saw. Look at, Bear sighting reports or wolf sighting reports for details going back 10 years.
- Specific Sights in the Park
We mentioned Trip Advisor, and we highly recommend it’s use. These are user written reviews; so beware, they are not always accurate, read several to get a balanced view. You will find reviews on just about every interesting point in the park. We use Trip Advisor on every ride we take, even locally. You will find things you didn’t know were there. And we write reviews; so far in 3 summers, over 120,000 people have read our opinions. One review we wrote last year on the, “Iceberg Lake Trail” in Glacier NP has had over 13,000 people read that review alone. (I hope it was accurate 🙂
Google Maps & Satellite View: We find these to be very helpful tools. We, “drove” most of the park in satellite view and especially the crowed parking lots during the planning. We pride ourselves in what we call, “Pirate Parking.” On a motorcyle, no parking lot is ever full. You can park where cars can’t; looking them over ahead of time, we had several ideas of where to head, going around sometimes long lines of cars. The main disadvantage with Google Maps is the extreme zooming required to get close enough to see road names or other details. Doing this causes you to lose perspective on where you are, and you find yourself, zooming in and out often.
Pirate Parking or Illegal Parking?
Paper Maps: Good old paper maps; you should always have one when you travel. Of course if you’re like us, you can’t find the one you need and you have to get another. I think we have 7 Oregon state maps……thank you AAA for free maps. We bought maps of both Yellowstone & Grand Tetons at one of the visitor centers. National Geographic makes awesome maps of the parks, way better than the free ones from the park service. On the shelf, they didn’t have prices…..oh why don’t I ever learn? After Karla stood in line behind some not so considerate tourists…..I’m putting it mildly, and waited 20 minutes for one family to pay for their stuff…..”Hey the information booth is over there”………….the maps were $15 each. Ouch! OK, I’m getting off track.
Maps are huge
Hiking Guides: Yellowstone has over 900 miles of hiking trails……whoa Karla, we’re not doing them all! Deciding on where to hike can be overwhelming. Short hike, long hike, easy trail, mule trail, vistas, wildlife……Once again, the park website lists some popular trails. If you follow that link and look at their maps, it’s almost useless….we have a couple of slightly used National Geographic maps for sale……
Do a Google search for 10 best, 25 best, all the best…. hikes in Yellowstone and you get 100’s of websites. Some are good, some are just click-bait for advertising. Here are a few we used:
Apps: Yes there are plenty of Apps for hiking. I’ll be brief….don’t even bother downloading the Offical Yellowstone National Park App……it doesn’t work and they don’t respond to questions. According to the reviews in the App store, it doesn’t work for anyone. But here’s one I think you’ll really like:
National Parks by REI: As you would expect from REI, this one is quality. They currently list 275 trails with good information. However, your phone only works in a limited number of areas, mostly around the visitor centers and even then it’s spotty. We found decent data service at Canyon Village, sometimes you’re able to send a text or make a call. Much of the park is, “No Service.” So, plan your hikes before you get to the park, because the app may be unuseable once you’re there.
Geyser App: This one actually works. It offers, “next predicted” eruption times for some and locations that may be of use.
Where to stay
Old Faithful Inn
Stay in the park or a neighboring town?
Lodges are rather expensive
Should you stay in one of the lodges or in a nearby community? There are a few factors that come into play. This will be a plan of compromises, how much do you want to spend? How close to the sights (how far to drive each morning) do you need to be? and, How important is having food choices?
First, should you want to stay at a lodge or two, are you planning early enough to get a reservation, remember booking one year in advance may not be adaquate. To get an idea of pricing you really need to look at the website.
They list rooms in some lodges for around $100 and up to $700 per night. If having your own bathroom is important, it’s going to cost more. Even though there are less expensive rooms listed, I will pretty much guarantee you, this is an expensive place. For us, we just wanted the, “lodge expereince” and we only stayed one night. We’re glad we did it, but it is by no means necessary to enjoy your trip to Yellowstone. Food is limited inside the park and eating every meal at a lodge is going to add up.
Neighboring towns are not so close
The term, “nearby” is relative. West Yellowstone sits within walking distance to the west entrance, but to get to Old Faithful or Yellowstone Lake, you’ll be driving for an hour at least. Cody is, “nearby” on the east side and the drive to Old Faithful is 2 1/2 hours……You’re getting the picture, Yellowstone is a huge park and driving will be a big part of the experience. Careful planning on where you want to go and what you want to see is key.
We stayed one night in West Yellowstone on the way in, 4 nights in Jackson WY, one night at Old Faithful Inn, and one night in Cody. Our plan worked well and we drove around 600 miles during our stay.
Jackson is about 60 miles south of Yellowstone and you drive through Grand Tetons, each has it’s own entrance fee. The advantage for us to stay in Jackson; we had so many restaurants, and other options should we get weather surprises…..we did.
The ugly truth about crowds & traffic
You know about traffic jams, Yellowstone has those. Ever been in a, Bear Jam, Bison Jam, Coyote Jam?……it seems tourists really like jam. Being in a bear jam, on a motorcyle ……well you get to see a bear really close.
Young Black bear at about 20’……….. 3 seconds if mom shows up
I use the word, “tourist” with a certain amount of disdain and that’s probably not fair, I mean we were tourists too…..I would like to separate the stupid tourists from the rest, but……….I couldn’t tell the difference 🙂 Bear jams are caused when people stop in the road, blocking traffic so they can take pictures. There are lots of signs telling you not to do this, but it happens all day long. I will edit out the sound of some of our videos, cause I made Anthony Scaramucci sound like a Boy Scout with some of the, “advice” I shouted at other park visitors.
How to beat the crowds– 100% effective
I know you’re on vacation and this isn’t what you want to hear, but it works. Get up early! How early you ask? Well, if you get to the park entrance before 0830 you’re ahead of most people. So add your driving time say 90 minutes, and you’re leaving at 7 am. That’s after breakfast, after packing the car, getting coffee whatever. If you really want to see wildlife, get there at 5:30……
If you choose to ignore this one piece of advice (99% will) then add: 30 minutes to get through the gate, anywhere from an hour to two at each parking lot and figure an extra 2 – 3 hours for driving the Grand Loop Rd. The crowds can be huge. Our rule is; if you get up with the tourists, you will be with the tourists all day long. Get up early and hit the one place you just can’t miss first……it works. And, stay late, it’s light until 9 pm, the crowds leave around 5, it’s still busy but it doesn’t look the entrance to a Justin Bieber show.
To use a current political term….in, “transparency”,,,, I’m lying. The photo on the left is courtesy of NPS taken in 1959….you can’t actually fish off the fishing bridge these days. For illustration purposes only. Honestly though, that is the difference all over the park when you get up, get out and GO!
That’s how we approached planning Yellowstone/Grand Tetons Motorcycle Trip.
We hope that it may save you some time and frustration in your trip. There’s too much too see and narrowing down the targets will lead to a feeling of accomplishment rather than disappointment. Buy a season pass if you plan on going to even one more park this year. If you come in from the south you have to pay at both Grand Tetons & Yellowstone…$30 each for a car, $25 for a motorcycle.
I wish National Parks weren’t so expensive. There are no really inexpensive places to stay close by, food isn’t cheap and most people live a long way from Wyoming. We drove almost 1000 each way just to reach the parks. It’s worth it, if only once in a lifetime.
We’ll be writing some more in regards to our particular trip in upcoming posts, we hope you’ll check them out. There are lots of other state and national parks, even some of the local parks are worthy picnic spots. Get up, get out and FIND YOUR PARK!
Life is short……Start living now !
Random dog photo