1. Introduction: Fun and Chaos of Visiting Yellowstone and Glacier with In-laws (this post)
2. Logistics of Visiting Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks via Miles and Points
3. Jet Blue vs. Southwest for Families, Plus Review of Club MCO Lounge
4. Lessons from Our Flight Diversion from Las Vegas to Phoenix, and How You Can Protect Yourself
I have just returned from our trip out west, where we visited Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. In a word: INCREDIBLE. Go, just go!
Here is the approximate map screenshot of our road trip, minus visits to actual parks:
Five states in five days
I’ll save the details/advice for another post, and instead focus here on logistics of traveling with an extended family. There were seven of us, so not surprisingly, tensions ran high.
People often obsess about packing the right stuff for Yellowstone, since weather in the park can be quite unpredictable. What’s even more important is “packing” a lot of patience and go-with-the-flow attitude. When you have many personalities squeezed into one vehicle, it’s extremely unlikely that you will get what you want 100% or even 50% of the time. Ain’t gonna happen.
In addition, what seems nuts to you may appear totally reasonable to another family member, and vice versa. It helps to discuss a rough plan of some sort before the trip, but be prepared for it to go out the window. So “pack” a good attitude, because you will need it. Speaking of packing…
Where do I put my stuff?
I’m a light packer, and a strong believer that not burdening oneself with too much luggage is the way to go. My in-laws are the opposite. Of course, it all depends on a trip and how much you’ll be moving around. In our case, we had to stay in four different places, and all of them had laundry facilities. So, I just packed two carry-ons and called it a day.
When my in-laws came to pick us up in their minivan, I opened the trunk and there was no room for my luggage. None. They already had five large suitcases in there. We did manage to barely squeeze in one of my carry-ons, and the second bag had to be placed near my feet. So, I’m thinking, since we will be renting a minivan in Salt Lake City, that suitcase will be living next to me the entire time.
This seriously annoyed me because I knew we would be driving a ton. An argument followed, and we barely even started the trip. I kept telling them that we will have washer+dryer, so there is no need to pack all of this junk. Oh, and several of the suitcases were half empty in anticipation of buying presents. Are you kidding me?
But at that point the argument was completely unproductive because we had to get to the airport, and I knew that my hissy fit wouldn’t change a thing. So why bother? As it turns out, the car rental company offered a free upgrade to GMC Yukon, which had a huge trunk to fit all of our junk. So, things worked out, sort of…
Stuck in the middle seat
While the trunk of our GMC Yukon was huge, the leg room in the third row was pitiful. Since we are tall people, we had no choice but to put three adults in the middle row. My mother-in-law and husband’s sister were the designated drivers/navigators, so guess who got stuck in the middle? Yep, yours truly. My husband insisted on switching seats at one point, but seeing how uncomfortable he was, I couldn’t let him do it again.
After few hours of driving, my husband would normally take a nap and my father-in-law would be browsing his phone. On it he has set a loud ding alert so he can hear all the important news developments. I use the word “news” loosely because one time I found out that five puppies were rescued by a policemen in Gary, Indiana. Nope, I’m not making it up.
So, it would go something like this. My husband would dose off next to me, only to be violently awakened by a loud ding on my father-in-law’s phone. Finally, I told pops that the next time I hear a ding, his phone would be thrown out the window. He turned it off.
It’s just food!
I don’t know if it’s just our family, but food is a big deal. Yuuge! Like life-and-death type decision. I can’t think of one time on this trip where everyone could agree on a restaurant. Sometimes we would drive an extra hour and I was starving because of inability to pick a place. Any place.
We did get to eat in park lodges, and my husband and I paid the bill just to ease the tension. That was done partially for my father-in-law’s benefit because he constantly asked to go to McDonald’s in order to save money. Pops, there is no McDonald’s in Yellowstone!
The only time he was truly happy was when I got all of us into Priority Pass lounge in MCO, and the food was 100% gratis.
“Shopping” tour of Yellowstone
Aside from airport hotel layovers, we had five nights total to see both Yellowstone and Glacier. I wanted to spend three nights visiting the former, my SIL had the opposite idea. Guess who got her way? Not me. Yellowstone is huge and it’s easy to underestimate the driving distances.
I did agree to let her plan the whole thing. I paid for flights, groceries and gas, and she took care of lodging and rental car. Due to lower cost, she decided to get a cabin in Driggs, Idaho and do Grand Tetons/Yellowstone/Jackson Hole as a day trip. Let me show you the screenshot of a map, so you have an idea on what I’m talking about:
That’s just driving distance (minus stops) under ideal circumstances.
So, we left at 9 AM and didn’t get back to our cabin in Driggs until midnight. Needless to say, Driggs isn’t a good base for touring Yellowstone/Grand Tetons/Jackson IN ONE DAY. It’s cheap for a reason. As I’ve said earlier, I’ll focus on the logistics of visiting the parks in another post. My point here is: don’t bite off more than you can reasonably chew when going out west.
My in-laws (aside from my husband’s dad) are serious shopaholics, so we had to stop in every stinkin’ souvenir shop under the sun. I’m not exaggerating when I say that we spent more time shopping than actual sightseeing. But this is what they love to do, and it would be unfair for me to demand that they conform to my way of doing things. Plus, we did hit most of the highlights despite the breakneck pace.
The Old Faithful Geyser
On top of all the driving, we ended up getting delayed on our way to Jackson due to snow storm. That cost us an extra 45 minutes, which, to be fair, my kids thoroughly enjoyed.
First time playing in the snow
Despite the craziness and hectic pace, I rate this day as the greatest nature experience you can have in US, and possibly on the whole planet. I’ve been to Denali National Park and it honestly pales in comparison.
Since we were in Yellowstone till it got dark, we got to see quite a few animals on the move. So in hindsight, my SIL’s idea wasn’t so crazy after all.
Would I recommend you do what we did in one day? Of course not. But I made the best of it. I have agreed to let my SIL plan the whole thing, so the time to speak up was before the rentals were booked and paid for.
Someday I hope to go back and explore Yellowstone at a slower pace. But for now, I’m content with my memories of visiting this great national treasure, America’s best idea. Glacier National Park is incredible in its own right, but if you are debating between the two, Yellowstone/Grand Tetons combination IMO is the winner, hands down.
Crystal clear lake water in Glacier National Park
Was it worth it?
Despite all the challenges, it really was an incredible trip. Some things didn’t go as planned, and there were several major arguments. At one point, my husband asked to stop at a gas station. The reason? He wanted to book a taxi to take him to Spokane rather than endure another three hours of bickering. He stayed in the car, though.
We also had a big hiccup on the way back, when our flight got diverted to Phoenix, stranding us overnight with no luggage. I’m working on filing a claim and will do a post once everything is settled. Did I mention that you have to “pack” a good attitude above all else?
That said, I’m so grateful that my kids got to experience Yellowstone/Glacier with their grandparents. In fact, it made me think how much I would love to take my own parents to this part of the United States. I doubt I will due to all the complicated logistics.
But one thing is for certain. Yellowstone and Glacier are two places you should experience with your family. So call your elderly parents/in-laws and see if they are up for this challenge. It will be chaotic and crazy, but it will probably be worth it. My in-laws drive me nuts sometimes, but I still love to do things with them.
That being said, you may be wondering if I would be willing to do a trip like this anytime soon. Eh, ask me again in a year.
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.