Going Our Way: A couple's trip combines Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks

By Carol Sottili
Sunday, March 28, 2010

Who: Therese Martin, 73, and her husband, Bernard, 72, of Reston

Where: Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks

Why: Sightseeing, walking and enjoying natural areas and wildlife

When: September for 12 nights

Budget: $7,000

"We like history, easy hiking, sightseeing, nature walks, dining and ranger-led discussions. We like good eating and don't want to rough it. We had thought of spending three nights each in Glacier West, Glacier East, Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons."

For reasons that may not be entirely logical, many travelers, like this week's Going Our Way-ers, Therese and Bernard Martin of Reston, tend to lump Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks into one vacation. When my family was planning a similar trip, I almost did the same before looking at a map and realizing the distances involved.

Glacier National Park, located in northern Montana on the Canadian border, is a good eight hours from Grand Teton, which is just south of Yellowstone. The Martins' itinerary, no matter how it's sliced or diced, is going to add up to a minimum of 24 hours in the car, with several stretches of more than six hours. That's assuming that they'll fly into centrally located Great Falls, Mont. And it does not include getting stuck behind an RV, pulling off to animal-watch or doing the complete Yellowstone loop.

But with a love for the open road and no screaming kids in tow, the trip is doable and may even be advisable if it falls into the once-in-a-lifetime category. In my case, we decided to cut out Glacier, and while that did result in a more relaxing trip, we have not kept our promise to go back.

Qualms addressed, let's go along with including Glacier in the Martins' plans.

Even though September is five months away, it's already late in the game to be planning this trip. Many of the most desirable hotels are booked for early to mid-September, as reservations generally open up a year in advance and the parks start to shut down for the season by the middle of September. The Martins may have to compromise on accommodations to take advantage of in-season activities.

Day 1: To minimize driving, fly to Great Falls, south of Glacier National Park. Fare on Delta or United from any of our region's airports in September is about $467 round trip for connecting service. (There are no nonstops.) Take the earliest flight possible, which will arrive about 1 p.m. From there, the closest destination on the wish list is East Glacier, about a 2 1/2 -hour drive. Renting an intermediate car will cost about $730 through a traditional car rental company, but save a couple of hundred dollars by paying in advance through Hotwire.com. (The catch is that they don't reveal the rental agency name until after payment.) If there is availability, settle in at the historic Glacier Park Lodge (406-892-2525, http://www.glacierparkinc.com), built in 1912, where a deluxe room will run about $219 a night. A cheaper option is Travelers Rest Lodge (406-378-2414, http://www.travelersrestlodge.net), with $115-a-night rooms.

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