Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Planning for Summer

Grand Tetons
We decided that this coming summer needs to include a major camping trip. It also needs to include some National Parks - since I am hell bent on seeing each and every one of them.

2017 is going to be a Glacier-Yellowstone-Grand Teton year. With Banff included, of course. Road-tripping from Washington state makes this grouping a straightforward loop. Pulling a trailer, however, means that we can tackle this one of two ways - with reservations or not.

When it comes to National Parks - I'll go with what reservations I can make and fudge if I need to when I get there.

I started with Banff.

2017 is the year of free park entrance to all of the Canadian parks. With the popularity of Banff for summer recreation, I don't really know if the free entry had all that much to do with the sheer craziness of opening day (January 11th) on campground reservations. I was at my computer, poised over the campsite I wanted on the day I wanted and as the clocked ticked over to 7am... I literally watched the whole reservation system bog down. There I am, furiously clicking on my site and watching as other campsites turn red and unavailable. And then my site was gone. I clicked on my back-up site - and YES! - I got it. It took the system about ten minutes to put through my request but it did go through.

Canada Camping Reservations

On to Glacier and Yellowstone...

Reservations in the U.S. are handled a little differently - we have two online reservation systems - Recreation.gov and ReserveAmerica BUT some parks - like Yellowstone - have their interior park campgrounds managed through Xanterra.. See Yellowstone Reservations here.

Good news - with Xanterra you can make the reservations in January for a trip in August. Bad news is twofold: make sure you know the exact length of your trailer and don't fudge it on your reservation and, two, in some of the campgrounds - like Bridge Bay campground - you don't get to pick your site. I'm a little nervous about that.

With Recreation.gov and Reserve America there is a six month window that you have to use for whatever your date is. I have to wait until the end of February to pick up a couple campground reservations that takes us along the eastern side of Glacier National Park and back out the other side of the Grand Tetons.

Can't we just jump in our truck with trailer in tow and head out on a grand adventure?

Of course we could! That was how it was when I was growing up - but here's the thing: there are a lot more people pulling trailers or driving RVs now than 'way back then'. If you have a tent and a sleeping bag, you're golden for spots because there are so many areas in the west that you can find your own camp nirvana; however, with a trailer, we've got different needs that have to be met.

So many campgrounds don't take any reservations and they are often in the most beautiful locations. We check them out as we travel and if a spot is open, we grab it and cancel our other reservations. In this day and age, its not hard to find wifi somewhere and handle reservations online. Sure there is a cancellation fee - but it's not usually all that much.  The point is - I like having a plan and then putting it on the back burner, pulling it forward if needed.

It eases my mind to know that I've got a spot waiting for me - especially when heading to Yellowstone in late August. It's going to be packed with tourists and I know I'll want to high tail it out of there pretty quick - or at least down into Grand Teton where I can find a quieter campground. National Park campgrounds are usually huge, crowded and cramped. Cougar Rock at Rainer or Fruita @ Capital Reef are a couple examples (see my post on Capital Reef). There are some exceptions that I've found so far - like Arches - but I'm prepared for some crazy this coming summer. With Banff - its a matter of limited spots near the areas that I want to explore - so the reservations help me get where I want to go.

The point of a good camping trip is to get outdoors, relax and have fun. Putting a little time and energy upfront into some planning helps me do all three of those things.