Struggling With My Yellowstone/Tetons Planning - Would Appreciate Your Help

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steelmooch

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Hello, all...as always, thanks for your time and consideration.  Your input and suggestions have helped us greatly during our first 3 seasons of travel trailer camping. 

I've honestly done quite a bit of homework so far, but I'm struggling with my Yellowstone/Tetons planning, and would really appreciate your thoughts. 

(Disclaimers: I know that June will be busy and that spring/fall would be better in many regards.  I also know that some folks on the board don't like reservations or much pre-planning, but with children/dogs/employment in the mix, we need some structure and predictability with this trip.  Attempts at boondocking, first-come/first-served campgrounds, $14/night rough-country campgrounds, and the like are "out" for us in this regard.) 

In short: Planning a 3-week loop from Pittsburgh to Yellowstone/Tetons for June 2020.  Will take our time out over 4-5 days, take our time back over 4-5 days, and probably looking at 3 different "home base" areas for 4 nights each.

A couple of issues/questions that I'm having are as follows:

A) Camping outside the park with full hookups is appealing in a way, but most everything I've found is "parking lot" style where we'd be remarkably close to other campers.  That's just...not how we prefer to camp.  Experiences with more amenities an hour away from the attractions, versus "making it work" from inside the park and close to the action?  Ease of full hookups when it's time to move on, versus wrangling with water-fill stations and waiting for the dump station? 

B) The side-by-side campgrounds are not inexpensive...around $70+ per night.  Do folks generally "behave" when packed in like that in this type of "early to rise and explore" destination?  Any experiences or concerns re: sanitation?  To be honest, the thought of someone's sewage elbow 3-5 feet from my sleeping children gives me a bit of the willies. 

C) With June temps approximately 38 - 70 degrees, would we even NEED hookups?  We like to run our overhead A/C (even set to "fan") in order to drown out others' noise, but we could probably run a battery-powered digital sound machine instead.  What about heat?  If it's going down into the high 30's, how would we fare for 4 days trying to run our furnace blower off of the house battery?  Even if we buy a quiet inverter generator, I don't think you're allowed to run those overnight if we needed it for heating purposes inside the park.  I think we'd be OK with LP fuel...just not sure how long we could make the furnace/fridge work off of house batteries and/or an inverter generator.  (I'm obviously green in that regard...we've had 30A from the Keys up to Acadia during our first 3 seasons.) 

Thanks...any thoughts or input would be greatly appreciated.  I'm struggling with this one because of how different the campgrounds out that way are versus what we've experienced so far along the east coast. 

Happy travels.  :)
 

lynnmor

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Way over thinking the camping.  Yellowstone and the Tetons are a vast area and you only need a place to sleep.  You will have plenty to do all your waking hours and hanging around the camper can be done anywhere. 
 

Gary RV_Wizard

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While the campsites may not be nestled in the woods and private, we've found nice parks in both West Yellowstone and near the North entrance (north of Gardiner) to be quite pleasant. Easy drive into the park each day.
 

SeilerBird

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lynnmor said:
Way over thinking the camping.  Yellowstone and the Tetons are a vast area and you only need a place to sleep.  You will have plenty to do all your waking hours and hanging around the camper can be done anywhere.
:)) :)) :))
 

kathijoz

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We just got back from Yellowstone, and I recommend Grizzly RV Park right outside the west entrance to Yellowstone.  You don't want to stay an hour away from Yellowstone or the Tetons.  They are both huge and you will be doing a lot of driving within the parks to see it all.  If you really dislike being packed in at an RV park, you wouldn't like the park inside of Yellowstone called Fishing Bridge.  We stayed there a few years ago, but we didn't mind it because all we did was sleep there, since our days were spent exploring the park.

It's a beautiful place, enjoy your trip.

 

steelmooch

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Lynn and Seiler,

Dismiss the content of my post if you must, but I'm the type of person who cares more than to "wing it" when camping at 7,000 ft with a family. 

Rephrasing a bit: 7,000+ feet altitude + 38 degree lows = cold camper. 

Cold camper = unhappy campers.  It's a family with children...not SEAL Team Six.  :-\

We've camped in that type of weather before, and found that we needed at least a plug-in "Pelonis" type heater, which would not work sans-hookups in the NPS campgrounds. 

Which leaves us with the LP...which is what I was asking about.  How feasible to run the LP furnace overnight off of house batteries?  How many amp-hours would "safely" get us through the night?  Any estimate on how long it would take a generator to charge that aforementioned amp-hour battery array back up for the next evening? 

Looking for some suggestions and info from more experienced campers...you can keep the snark. 

Thanks and happy travels.  :)
 

Larry N.

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C) With June temps approximately 38 - 70 degrees, would we even NEED hookups?  We like to run our overhead A/C (even set to "fan") in order to drown out others' noise, but we could probably run a battery-powered digital sound machine instead.  What about heat?
This was on the news here a couple of days ago:

A Winter Weather Advisory (yes, even though it?s technically still summer) was issued for parts of Montana and Wyoming until 6 a.m. Tuesday.
This storm is expected to bring periods of wet snow to the northern and western mountains of Wyoming, with accumulations between four to eight inches above 9,000 feet.
One to three inches of snow are possible at lower elevations.
Snow was seen falling in Jackson, Wyoming on a webcam in the area.


Experiences with more amenities an hour away from the attractions, versus "making it work" from inside the park and close to the action?
Do keep in mind that a campground in the park isn't necessarily closer to "the action" than the small town of West Yellowstone which has the park's west entrance on the edge of town. And the small town of Gardiner is right at the north entrance. Both are closer than, say, Fishing Village if you're wanting to see Lamar Valley, Mammoth Hot Springs, and a number of other features.

Which leaves us with the LP...which is what I was asking about.  How feasible to run the LP furnace overnight off of house batteries?  How many amp-hours would "safely" get us through the night?  Any estimate on how long it would take a generator to charge that aforementioned amp-hour battery array back up for the next evening? 
You don't mention your rig, nor any specifics about your furnace and batteries (1? 2? 4? How big?), and whether you could get through the night would be dependent on many factors, including temperatures and winds and insulation of your rig. However the furnace fan does draw a lot of juice, so it's quite possible that you'd not make it through the night.

But as a general principle, perhaps (and this is a guess) you could make it through the night just fine at 50? for a low and little or no wind, but you might run the batteries down before morning if it were 35? and moderate winds. Keep in mind that this would be an expensive scenario because running batteries down all the way (or even just somewhat below 50%) damages them, so you might have to replace them very soon, and the next night (even assuming you get them as fully charged as they'll go) you may have quite a bit less battery capacity, because of that damage. You might find a few warm days while you're there, then it snows for a couple of days. Lots of maybe's.

Still, with more details about your rig, perhaps someone could get you more information, keeping in mind that it the actual weather you encounter may make that information less than accurate.
 

SeilerBird

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steelmooch said:
Lynn and Seiler,

Dismiss the content of my post if you must, but I'm the type of person who cares more than to "wing it" when camping at 7,000 ft with a family. 

Rephrasing a bit: 7,000+ feet altitude + 38 degree lows = cold camper. 

Cold camper = unhappy campers.  It's a family with children...not SEAL Team Six.  :-\

We've camped in that type of weather before, and found that we needed at least a plug-in "Pelonis" type heater, which would not work sans-hookups in the NPS campgrounds. 

Which leaves us with the LP...which is what I was asking about.  How feasible to run the LP furnace overnight off of house batteries?  How many amp-hours would "safely" get us through the night?  Any estimate on how long it would take a generator to charge that aforementioned amp-hour battery array back up for the next evening? 

Looking for some suggestions and info from more experienced campers...you can keep the snark. 

Thanks and happy travels.  :)
I am sorry if you thought I was being snarky. I have never had any problems finding a spot for camping.
 

UTTransplant

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I do understand the difference between taking a fixed length vacation with kids compared to the kind of travel us old retired folk now do. We did your kind of travel for many, many years. What kind of rig do you have and what kind of batteries? Residential refrigerator or propane? There is a significant difference between the power usage of a 30? travel trailer vs a 42? motorhome. Note that big units have very limited possibilities inside the park, so you may have to be outside. Grizzly in West Yellowstone really isn?t bad. There is real green grass between sites. Rocky Mountain RV in Gardiner is more crowded, but you will be out and about all day long. The kids will probably be tired enough to sleep pretty well. If you really want no hookup camping, I really doubt you need air conditioning in June, especially since you will be out and about during the hot part of the day. Heat is a less certain need. We always just ran our propane furnace at night, set to about 63-65, then the first one up kicked it on in the morning. In our travel trailer we needed to run the generator a couple of hours a day at least to keep up the batteries. With the motorhome we need two to four, depending on power usage.

With all that being said, I highly recommend at least a few nights in the park. The kids can get their Junior Ranger badges easier, and ?ranger talks? are always enjoyable.
 

steelmooch

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Larry and UTT:  Thanks so much...we have a small, 22' Winnebago Micro Minnie that we'd be looking to keep warm enough overnight.  To be honest, we still have the original, 35 amp-hour battery that it came with (tended over the winter).  That's a definite area of "upgrade" for us in coming seasons.  :)

Seiler:  Thanks!  We've not been camping as long as you have, and we appreciate your insights.  When we did the state parks in the Florida Keys, for example, we found it to be "11 months to the day" to get a reservation...or else you'd be crossing your fingers and hoping for one of the few walk-in sites.  Yellowstone, unless I'm getting bad info, is reported to be very similar...get your reservations "May 1st the year before" or else hope that you luck into a random cancellation or walk-in site.  Tough proposition for people expected back at work in "x" number of days. 

Thanks, everyone...we really appreciate all of the excellent information. 

Happy and safe travels to all. 
 

jackiemac

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Here are the average temps/rain for the areas.  Note that when we were in Yellowstone early June several years ago, it snowed.  We left Yellowstone 4 days ago and it was snowing in the high mountains.

Yellowstone
Month        High / Low(?F)    Rain
May            53? / 28?            12 days
June            63? / 34?            10 days

Tetons
May            57? / 29?            9 days
June            68? / 36?            7 days

If you need hook ups then I would suggest both West Yellowstone and its sister park Yellowstone RV in Gardiner.  These are both really nice parks which are well run and well kept, both have laundries and nice shower/toilet facilities and are close to the park. We have stayed in both and liked them although they are not cheap.  You can definitely get to most places in the park, although if you want to do the south end then try one of the park facilities like Bridge Bay

Gros Ventre Campground is not reserveable but does have electric hook ups.  If you don't get one on the first night then you can go to the office at 8am and put your name down to get one if someone leaves.  It will depend on the size of your rig how easy it will be to get a site as it is not definite that you would get one, particularly if you have a bigger rig.  I would be surprised if it is very busy in June though.  I understand the issue if you have to dump tanks and refill water frequently, there are only 2 of us so this is not an issue.  In the generator loops you can run from 8am to 10pm and that should enable you to have enough heat for during the night if you have warm blankets or good sleeping bags.

Alternatively -

The Virginian in Jackson looks OK and a friend of ours stayed there and liked it, alternatively there is a KOA if you are a member that might be OK.  Colter Bay RV Park is reserveable but we have not stayed there so cannot comment except to say it is very central.  We had a look at the first come first served campground but we were not so keen as the spaces are all in a row next to each other and we prefer a bit more space.

I would say that even if you are cramped beside your fellow campers, most folks are very friendly and we have not had any issue with noise apart from people laughing but certainly not later than 11pm.

At the end of the day you have to decide what is more important, a hook up or space as unfortunately inside the park you won't get both I think.

If you are out for most of the day then I really would not worry about it.  Just go with the intention of enjoying yourself.  Make sure you plan to see everything that you want to.

For hook ups I would think Colter Bay, West Yellowstone and / or Gardiner. 

Have a plan of what you want to see and check out the distances, remember if you do this during the winter google maps will show closed roads in the area so you will need to amend the date.

These parks are so wonderful with lots and lots to see and do.  This time of year is good for seeing the bears in the park too so you will hopefully see some.

Let me know if I can help with anything else....






 

SeilerBird

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steelmooch said:
Seiler:  Thanks!  We've not been camping as long as you have, and we appreciate your insights.  When we did the state parks in the Florida Keys, for example, we found it to be "11 months to the day" to get a reservation...or else you'd be crossing your fingers and hoping for one of the few walk-in sites.  Yellowstone, unless I'm getting bad info, is reported to be very similar...get your reservations "May 1st the year before" or else hope that you luck into a random cancellation or walk-in site.  Tough proposition for people expected back at work in "x" number of days. 
I do not understand your problem. You say you have a trip planned for June 2020. You certainly have enough time to get a reservation at a FHU spot either at Fishing Bridge, Grizzley, in Gardiner, or Colter Bay.
 

UTTransplant

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Fishing Bridge is closed in 2019 for reconstruction.

Your unit will fit in lots of places in or out of the park. It will also be much easier to heat than a big unit. In fact, 3 or 4 people inside will provide a lot of heat just with their bodies. For a real bucket list trip, you would be well advised to upgrade your battery to at least a good 12v true deep cycle or even to 2 six volt batteries for even more amp hours. With that you should be able to run the furnace in your small motorhome overnight, as long as it is set at 60 or 65. You will charge your battery every day while driving around. If you want to be extra sure of having enough power, you could always buy a nice little Honda or Yamaha generator. $1000 isn?t so bad for a bucket trip, and they are handy to have around the house for ice storms and such.
 

SeilerBird

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UTTransplant said:
Fishing Bridge is closed in 2019 for reconstruction.
Which means it will be open in June 2020 when the OP is planning on being there.

Personally I don't like running a furnace. I found it is much more comfortable for me just to have an electric blanket. And cheeper too.
 

AStravelers

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About reservations at campgrounds inside the park.  The reservation system for the summer 2020 season opens May 1, 2019.  You won't have any problems getting reservations during the first week the reservation system is open.

You mention you have kids.  I think the kids will enjoy being in campgrounds inside the park, rather than crammed in a RV park.  Many families camp in tent and small trailers.  There should be other kids in nearby campsites to help entertain yours when you are in camp.

You mention your dry camping experiences have not gone well.  Well, you have plenty of time to gain experience.  If you can park your trailer in your driveway, you can practice there.  Suggestions about batteries are farther down in my reply.

I would recommend Madison CG first and Grant Village second. Both are dry camping and have water available and a dump station.  If being near a store and probably takeout food is important, Grant Village would be better option.  Go to the Yellowstone campground website to check on generator usage.  You won't be able to run the generator all night, but you shouldn't have to.

I think you are overly concerned about sleeping in the cold.  With a 22' trailer body heat will help keep the trailer warm.  Kids are very resilient and with footed pajamas, and warm blankets they will be plenty warm down to about 50 degrees inside the trailer.  You can set the furnace thermostat at 50* and it won't run enough to drain a well charged battery.  In the morning turn up the heat to the mid to upper 60's. 

You are not going to need air conditioning in Yellowstone.  Even if you have a warm day, it cools down quickly as the sun gets lower in the early evening.  BTW in June it will be after 10pr or close to 11pm before it gets dark.

I did a search online and the gas stations inside the park have propane bottle exchange available.  I'm sure it is for 20 pound bottles. 

You will need more than a single small battery if you are going to dry camp.  You should be able to build a plywood box for a pair of 6V golf cart batteries on the front of your trailer.  It will add about 80-90 extra pounds to your hitch weight over the existing weight of your single battery.
Here is a link to some very good info about batteries and wiring a pair of 6V batteries in series for a 12V battery pack. http://www.marxrv.com/12volt/12volt.htm

I don't know what kind of charger comes with your trailer. There is very little detail in the Winnebago brochure I downloaded.  If it is a single stage converter/charger you will need to replace it with a good 3 stage charger.  With a pair of golf cart batteries and a good charger, running your generator for about 2-3 hours each day should charge your batteries enough to last though the night.

About staying in West Yellowstone.  From the park entrance it is about 15-18 miles to Madison Junction .  This can take 45 minutes to an hour on a busy day.  This is one reason I much prefer to stay in campgrounds inside the park.

If you haven't downloaded the park newspaper, do so at your first opportunity.  https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/yellowstone-today.htm  Lots of excellent info about the CG's.

A suggestion about viewing geysers in the geyser basins.  It takes some planning to do this, but it is well worth it. Go on the boardwalks beyond Old Faithful.  Also be very sure to check the geyser eruptions schedule for geysers other than Old Faithful.  It is a wonderful experience to get up close to an erupting geyser.  You get to see the water level drop, then fill, then hear the rumbling and splashing preceding the actual eruption.  With Old Faithful you sit or stand so far back all you see a spout of water going up. 

 
 

steelmooch

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THE definition of a kind and helpful post...thank you SO much.  A lot to digest and to consider...talk soon.  Wow...thank you for your time and efforts.  ;D
 

coxid

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Some general information about YNP (some items apply to GTNP also)

YNP is about 45 miles E/W and about 65 miles N/S (2.2 mil. Acres total). The figure 8 loop road inside the park is about 140 miles around. The lower loop is 96 miles and the upper loop is 70 miles around and yes, it is bigger than the states of Rhode Island and Delaware combined.

Whatever time that you think you will need to see YNP you better double it, or to say it another way is that you will see one half as much as you planned on in the allotted time. The Bison think that they own the road (they do!) and will slow down the traffic to walking speed or all stop for 1/4 mile or more blocking both directions of travel, the thermal attractions also tie up traffic and with a 5 month long summer tourist season that coincides with a 5 month long road construction season and a 45 MPH radar controlled speed limit it will take about a full day to see each loop and then you will only see the main attractions. In addition to the occasional construction delays they will also sometimes close whole sections of road (for uninterrupted night construction) between 10 PM and 8 AM in the morning, if you are running late and get caught at night in the wrong area it CAN be a LONG way around to your CG! (The entrance stations will have current construction information or go on line to check it out)

Then there is the elevation- YNP ranges from a low at Mammoth- 6239 ft to 7784 ft at Fishing Bridge or higher if you go hiking and there are passes on the grand loop road that are close to 8000 ft or so! Drink plenty of liquids and pace yourself when walking.

I recommend that you get up EARLY, leave the CG and be back by 4 or 6 PM have dinner and be sitting in your recliner drinking a cool one when your neighbor drags himself back to the CG at 8-10 PM. Remember that from mid May to mid July in YNP the sun doesn't set until about 9:30- 9:45 PM then there is a long twilight.

Cell Phone Service- Only at the major visitor centers, otherwise spotty to non-existent!

Clothing- Especially in the early or late season it is not unusual to have a 30 or even the occasional 40 degree temperature change throughout the day. Dress with easily shed layers of clothing. Also dress in bright easily seen clothing. I am sure that we all have been to a sporting event, parade or Disney World etc. and we blink our eyes and our partner/child has disappeared. My DIL was born and raised in HI, you guessed it, every Xmas, b-day or Father's Day I receive a Hawaiian shirt. One of them is  shiny black with 4-5 inch dia. bright flowers. Not many of them in Wyoming and in YSNP, that is what I wear. If your partner has on a Violet blouse and a Orange scarf with a Pink hat I guarantee that she will be the only one within the boundaries of either NP. It can save you a few anxious moments.

Water- Now I will have to contradict myself, at the altitude of YNP yes, drink lots of water!    HOWEVER, be aware that the flush toilet restrooms are are in the major tourist areas- Mammoth, Canyon, Fishing Bridge, Lake Hotel, Bridge Bay, Grant Village, Old Faithful, Madison Junction etc. The geyser basins and other thermal attractions areas only have pit toilets. I have seen the pit toilet line (2 rest rooms) at the lower Geyser Basin 25 or more feet long (bless the tour buses) So be smart about drinking your water and use the major tourist area R/Rs before leaving the area! I.e. ?Never pass up a flush toilet!?

Sun- At YSNP altitude the Sun is intense (uv)have and apply sunscreen, wear that old floppy wide brim sun hat, wear Sunglasses!

If your luck is like mine Old Faithful will have just erupted when you get there and you will have up to a hour and 10 to 15 minutes wait for the next one. Tour tour the O/F Geyser basin while waiting. O/F INN is a must see, reportedly the largest LOG building in the U.S. (Meals in the O/F dinning room are ?OK? also.

We have lived about 110 miles from West Yellowstone, MT since 1964, go to YSNP 3-4 times a summer (normally before Memorial Day and after Labor Day) and haven't seen it all yet! So don?t be discouraged that you didn?t have the time to see all of it. Just plan on coming back another time!

I honestly don?t mean to scare or discourage you but to give you a heads up as to what to expect! After all there was 4.1 million visitors in 2015!  As far as I know we didn?t lose one of them. Except those who by their own stupidity step off the board walks into BOILING HOT water and ignoring the warnings about the WILD ANIMALS!  That is called purifying the gene pool!Early in the summer of 2017 a foreign visitor stepped off a boardwalk into just a few inches of hot water. He walked about 100 yards (according to the newspaper) broke thru the crust and parboiled himself. The park service decided not to try to retrieve the body! Between the temperature of the water and the acidity of it the body would just fall apart when retrieving it, as well as being dangerous to the rangers. Of course a few Bison fall in every winter also.

Note I have seen on this blog and others about folks ?day tripping? from YSNP to GTNP, it is done all the time (myself included) however remember this is BIG country and with the speed limits, animals and thermal attractions you will NOT come close to a 60- 65 MPH average. From the West Thumb Area, Grant Village Visitor Center (extreme S/E corner of the lower loop road) to Jackson, WY is about 80 miles with Coulter Bay being about 1/2 way then from Grant Village you have to add the distance to your CG it will be a Long days trip!

A point of Coulter Bay (in GTNP) clarification- there are two (2) CG?s at Coulter Bay, One, the ?Coulter Bay RV Park? a full service ?RV Park? with FHU?S that takes reservations. The other is the ?Coulter Bay Campground ? has no hookups and doesn?t take reservations. Both have about 300 sites and are located basically across the road from each other.

Also in GTNP be sure to see Jenny Lake, the water is swimming pool clear! You almost feel like you are in space when you are on the boat dock and you can see the rental boat shadows on the bottom of the lake!

When in the Jackson area I highly recommend seeing the Bar J Chuckwagon dinner show! If you go, MAKE RESERVATIONS and BE THERE EARLY TO PICK UP YOUR MEAL TICKETS/ TABLE SEATING ASSIGNMENTS! They seat you by when you show up to get your tickets NOT by your reservation number. Tim, their fiddle player has won the "Idaho state old time fiddle contest 7 times and the US open fiddle championship twice".  If you decide to go you will sit at picnic type of bench seats/table, they get pretty hard, I recommend that you take along a blanket/pads to sit on. We day trip it there 2-4 times every summer just to see them! Disclaimer- We have no financial or other interest in the Bar J only that it will be the best $$ value for your money for your trip! Check out their website. 

http://www.barjchuckwagon.com

Also in Jackson check out the ?COWBOY? bar, the bar stools are saddles and check out the # of Silver Dollars imbedded in the bar. The Wort Hotel Bar (just around the corner from the Cowboy Bar) also has Silver Dollars imbedded in the Bar
 

SeilerBird

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I recommend that you get up EARLY, leave the CG and be back by 4 or 6 PM have dinner and be sitting in your recliner drinking a cool one when your neighbor drags himself back to the CG at 8-10 PM. Remember that from mid May to mid July in YNP the sun doesn't set until about 9:30- 9:45 PM then there is a long twilight.
This does not apply at GTNP. Sunset is the very best time to view wildlife at Oxbow Bend, one of the best spots in the country to view wildlife.
 

Isaac-1

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One thing most people from the east coast don't realize is just how BIG Yellowstone is, if you are looking at it east to west the distance between the first commercial RV campground on the west side to the first one on the east side is over 100 miles, this is on roads that cross the continental divide most of which has a 45 mph speed limit and can often be at a standstill due to wildlife on the roads.  The Grand loop around Yellowstone is 142 miles long, there are over 310 miles of paved road in the park (most of which are the loop, the center cross over, and the various entrance roads) ,  the park is also larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined.

Having said that I would strongly consider staying in some of the dry camping campgrounds in the park, as it can save considerably on commute times to popular attractions.  As while West Yellowstone is fairly close to the west entrance, it is a considerable distance to some of the attractions in the park, and by staying at places like Canyon Campground you can make it to some of the eastern side popular attractions in the mornings before people staying outside the gates on the west side even make it through the traffic jam that occurs at all the entrances.
 

SeilerBird

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Isaac-1 said:
One thing most people from the east coast don't realize is just how BIG Yellowstone is.
And people from foreign countries, especially Europe. Just how big is Yellowstone? You can put the entire state of Delaware and the entire state of Rhode Island into Yellowstone and still have 500 square miles left over. :eek:
 

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