I’m really sad to see summer come to an end. In Colorado, we are already having cooler temperatures, and I can’t help but notice that the sun is sleeping in and going to bed later than just a few weeks ago. We decided to go on one more blow out road trip before summer is gone, and I’m VERY excited that we chose a national park. It will be a whirlwind, but here’s how we’re planning our frugal trip to Yellowstone!
Well, because it’s maybe the most famous national park, and it’s a goal of mine to see them all before I kick the bucket. Yellowstone is a 10 hour drive from us, so not close, but it’s a no brainer to road trip it. I have always wanted to visit Yellowstone since I was a kid. I’m not even sure how I knew about it. They don’t talk much about destinations west of the Mississippi in rural Kentucky, but geysers have always fascinated me. I’m not sure why we’ve never been now that we live closer, probably because it’s still a haul. A long weekend is probably not the best way to see the park, but sometimes you just have to go for it.
How To Get There
We are taking off tomorrow after work and driving halfway, which is Salt Lake City for us. We should get to the park around mid day on Friday. For a road trip, I can’t imagine the scenery would be better in many places than the drive up to Yellowstone.
If you do have to fly, there are regional airports in Bozeman, MT or Jackson Hole, WY, but they will be expensive. United, Delta, American, Alaska and Frontier Airlines service one or both airports.
Denver is about an 8+ hour drive to the park, and Salt Lake is about 5 hours. Both of those airports will be less expensive and serviced by most major airlines.
For those of you who are into travel hacking, don’t forget that there are some really great sign up bonuses for air travel going on right now. The United Airlines credit card currently has a sign up bonus of 50,000 miles after spending $2000 in the first 3 months. I don’t have a link for that one, but it’s not hard to find if you Google United Airlines credit card. An ever better deal is with the US Airways Mastercard. It does have an $89 annual fee, but you get 40,000 miles after the first purchase. Either of those offers could get you really close to Yellowstone for minimal costs.
Stay in the Park or Not?
We decided not to camp for this trip, but there are lots of camping options in and around Yellowstone. We do have a small pop-up camper, but it does not fit into the same sentence with quick road trip, so we are leaving it at home.
I would have loved to book a room in one of the many lodges in Yellowstone, but I did not think to book a year in advance. All the websites say to keep checking back for cancellations, but I did not have any luck. Maybe because of Labor Day? You can book a basic cabin with communal bathrooms starting around $74/night or stay in suites for $500-$600/night. It looks like there are accommodations to fit all budgets and tastes. It would have been fun to stay inside Yellowstone, but it isn’t in the cards for this trip. If you are planning a trip for next year and want to stay in the park, I’d book as soon as possible.
We decided to stay in the border town of West Yellowstone, MT for Friday and Saturday. We chose that town mainly because it seemed quaint, and they have a Holiday Inn. We have a truckload of Holiday Inn points through the IHG rewards program. Jim had to stay there several times on business last year, and we got extra points through various promos. Since it was booking at $280 a night, we though that was a really good time to use points. It won’t be fancy, but we don’t plan on being in the room that much anyway.
We are staying at a cheap place in Salt Lake on Thursday night. We will get free breakfast, and I’m planning to
steal serve myself as many fruits and snacks that I can to minimize travel snack purchases. That might seem very Cousin Eddie like, but you gotta take advantage of those buffets!
We should roll into the park around mid-day on Friday. Our plan is to have a picnic lunch, then go straight to the Old Faithful area and explore that part of the park. I imagine it will be crowded, but we have to see Old Faithful! We plan on having dinner at the Geyser Grill, which serves “cheaper” fare than the fancier Old Faithful Inn. It will still probably be around $30 for dinner, but that’s better than the $100+ it would be at the Inn.
We plan on doing some hiking on Saturday and Sunday in less crowded places and will take lunch for more picnics. We will probably eat out on Saturday and Sunday nights, but will try to keep the bill to around $30 or under. I will probably take about $50 worth of food and water from home so we don’t have to buy stuff on the road.
It costs $25 for non-commercial vehicles to enter Yellowstone Park. This fees gets 7 days in Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Park. What a deal! We might drive home through Grand Teton just because we can.
Total For a 4-Day Road Trip To Yellowstone
Hotel in Salt Lake and TBD on way home: $200
Hotel West Yellowstone: $0
Admission to parks: $25
Food (grocery plus restaurants): $150
Now, if we wanted, we could use a rewards card like the Barclay Arrival to “erase” the costs of the hotel. You get $460 in travel credits after spending $3000 in the first three months of opening the card. I don’t think we will use Arrival points for this trip, but it would be pretty easy to get to Yellowstone for almost nothing if you wanted. As it stands, I don’t think $450 is too bad for a bucket list trip. I’ll be sure to post some pictures when we get back.
What are your Labor Day plans? Any tips for visiting Yellowstone?