National Parks Tour Before The Snow Falls

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10 Day Road Trip in the U.S. National Parks

We had been in Vancouver for the fall and it was time to head back to Toronto. On our road trip into Vancouver, we detoured a little but had stayed pretty north in the U.S. for our run across. The plan for our return trip would take us on a few detours south before running east and north for home. Part of our trip planning ensured that we could do a U.S. National Parks tour before the snow started. We would discover a key set of pointers for others wanting to follow us for a National Parks tour.

We managed to enjoy our first top in Spokane for 2 days and had headed south before we got a call saying we would need to return to Vancouver again. We debated returning immediately or taking a longer loop to get back. Since we had a few weeks before we needed to reach Vancouver and given it was already mid-October, we decided we could do a short U.S. National Parks tour before the snow falls started to shut down the parks. We had our U.S. cell plan to keep us in touch while we travelled and knew we could always turn back to Vancouver earlier if needed. Doing the National Parks tour on this trip would leave us with a straighter and faster road trip back to Toronto much later in the year.

Our trip plan looked like ….

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Returning to Enjoy the Spokane Chinese Lantern Festival

Leaving Vancouver mid-day, it was a short border crossing before hitting the interstate for a quick run to Spokane for our first stop. The trip over the mountains provided us with the first of many great fall colour treats. Mid-October is a great time to road trip in the northwest U.S.

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We had been in Spokane in August on our road trip into Vancouver and were returning specifically to see the Spokane Chinese Lantern Festival. When touring the Spokane Riverfront Park on our first visit, we were intrigued by the work being done to build the lanterns. We had hoped to be able to return while the festival was still running.

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The Washington Spokane Chinese Lantern Festival proved to be worth a return trip. While it did not seem to be that well marketed by the locals that we met, we found it to be a real treat. The Riverfront Park walkways provided a colourful and playful place to stroll for a few hours after the sun set.

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Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks In One Day

After our 2 day stop in Spokane, we hit the road for a long run to get to Wyoming to enjoy our National Parks tour before the snow started. While we had wanted to stay inside Yellowstone Park to give us 2 days to explore, by mid-October there were limited in-park accommodations so we had to come up with another option. Plan B meant staying in Gardner, WY just outside the north entrance for the night before spending a very long day visiting both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. We would finish in Jackson, WY at the very south end of the Grand Teton Park.

Yellowstone Park is known for its geysers and we certainly saw a lot of those as we toured from north to south.

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But we also got surprised by some up close wildlife encounters.

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And were intrigued by the views of canyons and waterfalls that got us excited for our visit next to the Grand Canyon. By the time we hit the Grand Tetons, we looked with awe at the ragged and majestic mountains over the lake but we did little exploring.

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Grand Canyon National Park – North and South Rims

The next place on our park tour list was Grand Canyon National Park. Travelling over the Grand Teton Mountains and then through Utah we arrived in Cedar City, UT to get us close to the entrance for the Grand Canyon North Rim Park.

While most people visit the Grand Canyon from Vegas and see only the south side (and sometimes don’t even make it all the way into the actual park), our advance investigation suggested that we would absolutely want to see the more stunning North Rim. We spent most of a day heading higher and higher on the North Rim side, often ending up high in the clouds. The Grand Canyon North Rim was truly a sight not to be missed!

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When we hit the Grand Canyon South Rim and started to explore, we found it interesting to see the differences in geology and the much broader and less steep canyons. But we must admit that starting on the North Rim had spoiled us a bit! We were certainly glad to have started on our National Parks tour before the snow falls closed some parts of the parks.

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Las Vegas Break

When we initiated our National Parks tour, we had originally planned to turn east after the Grand Canyon and head for home in Toronto. But we would be heading back to Vancouver instead. It seemed that our fall in Vancouver was not yet at an end. So we were headed back to the west coast!

We needed a bit of a break so decided to stop in Las Vegas for 2 nights. The glitter of Las Vegas would be a stark contrast to the natural beauty we had seen in the previous days.

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One Final Detour to Yosemite

We planned to do a pretty straight, fast run back to Vancouver, BC with one night stops planned for Fresno CA, Redding CA and Vancouver WA. For our entire trip since leaving Vancouver, it seemed as if we kept driving through mountains in every direction. Even when we finally almost hit sea level in California, we were headed back up again.

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When we realized that we could see Yosemite with a slight detour from Fresno, we made it a long 11 hour day and spent most of that day touring the park. Entering Yosemite Park at the south end, we started high on Glacier Point to get a great overview of the park and then headed down to the valley to explore. This would be our last stop on the National Parks tour.

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David had thought it would be funny to go from Vancouver to Vancouver on our last day (Washington to British Columbia). We had dinner at the Beaches restaurant on the Columbia River and the great customer service included a special table placard especially for visitors from the “other Vancouver”.

While the last driving day was planned to be a shorter day, Seattle traffic and a suspicious car right in front of us in the border crossing, meant we rolled into Vancouver BC at almost 5pm. Unpacking everything from the car, we dropped exhausted into our temporary home, returning to our Airbnb condo with the great Vancouver view! We would enjoy the rest of the fall in Vancouver before we would pack up for the last time and drive back to Toronto.

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Our National Parks Tour Trip Stats

It was a long loop to go from Vancouver to Vancouver through the National Parks!

 

Actual
Distance
6,509 km (4,046 mi)
Time 89 hours
Includes break time (3 coffee, one for lunch and occasional detours)

Our route took us through 9 states, 5 U.S. National Parks and 1 Canadian Province:

Day

Start
Stop
Journey
Travel
1 Vancouver
Spokane, WA
Border cross and travel in WA. 2 night stop.
683 km, 5.5 hrs
3
Spokane, WA
Gardner, WY
Travel WA, ID, MT and WY.
772 km, 10 hrs
4
Gardner, WY
Jackson, WY
Visit Yellowstone and Grand Teton Parks.
307km, 10 hrs
5
Jackson, WY
Cedar City, UT
Travel WY and UT.
892 km, 10 hrs
6
Cedar City, UT
Grand Canyon, AZ
Visit Grand Canyon North and South Rims.
693 km, 11 hrs
7
Grand Canyon, AZ
Las Vegas, NV
Travel AZ and NV. 2 night stop.
455 km, 8.5 hrs
9
Las Vegas, NV
Fresno, CA
Travel NV andCA.
723 km, 8 hrs
10 Fresno, CA
Redding, CA
Visit Yosemite Park.
762 km, 11 hrs
11 Redding, C
Vancouver, WA
Travel CA, OR and WA.
715 km, 8 hrs
12 Vancouver, WA
Vancouver, BC
Travel WA and BC.
507 km, 5 hrs

Our 12 day park tour cost us about $3,800 CND broken down as follows:

Accommodations = $ 1,923 (included 2 nights in Vegas and 1 night in Grand Canyon Village at a nicer hotel)
Food = $ 1,123
Gas   = $ 606
Fees = $ 151 (entrance fees for Spokane Chinese Lantern Festival & the National Parks pass)

We did a long road trip to visit 5 of the Western U.S. National Parks but really were glad to have visited in the quiet off season but before the snow started. We had our Annual Pass so may even plan a visit to the National Parks before our year expires!

How many of the Western U.S. National Parks have you visited? Which ones should we add to our next National Parks itinerary? Do you have any questions about the trip or our costs?

About TravelAtWill 353 Articles

Travel blogger and photographer! Scuba diving, luxury cruising, chocoholic, sea and sunshine addicts, camera attached and just generally curious! Join us on our adventures!

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