My first trip to Yellowstone was unplanned because the previous itinerary to drive from Florida to Sundance, Utah was cancelled. Several groups were now flying to Sundance Utah. This change made Yellowstone possible as something to do before I had to be in Sundance. Now the objective was to land four days ahead of the group going to Sundance, Utah and explore Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.
Planning an itinerary and hotel during tourist season to a National Park should be done well in advance At least a year. I was overwhelmed with last minute trip planning and finding out what to do in the timeframe.
My research focused on trip planning and what to see. Took some time to acclimate to the area, roads, national park web site and all the research that is at our fingertips.
What to see and do was daunting because Yellowstone is so vast! Quickly learned the main roads make a figure eight. Each quarter and the area in-between offers so much. I narrowed the objective to the Lower Geyser Basin, the Falls and the Lake.
The itinerary was to land in Salt Lake City, pick up the rental car, drive 5 hours in the daylight, enter the Northern pass, called Targhee Pass, in the daylight and explore West Yellowstone. Because reservations were guaranteed, I could check at the hotel at my leisure. Next day, planned to explore the Falls, drive the Lake to the Falls and then explore two geyser areas, Fountain Paint Pot and Old Faithful. Then drive south to Jackson Wyoming, exploring the Grand Tetons along the way.
Lodging was scarce and I made reservations to ensure a room outside the Park because there was no lodging available inside the park. As the seven day cancellation neared, I was able to find the lodging inside the park that I first wanted. I cancelled the other reservations. By talking to the National Park reservations, I learned this is common practice. I also learned more about the tourist traffic and driving times. I knew my itinerary was pushing it.
Departing Tampa at 5 AM made all this possible. What I did not account for were two delays Airplane maintenance issues and Budget Rental Car issues. This cost six hours and cut into driving and sightseeing. The whole plan had to be adjusted to see the most important aspects.
What was missing from the trip planning was "Previous experience" from the travel web sites. I could not pick up on the valuable tidbits that I wanted from tourism web sites. If I had been able to sift through all the information, I would have focused on less. After being there, I found that each section of Yellowstones figure eight could well take a 3-4 days to explore. I also talked to other tourist and learned what I had missed.
So what is the take away here? There is nothing like knowing someone who has been there!