FAMILY ROAD TRIP TO GLACIER NATIONAL PARK
WITH STOPS AT THEODORE ROOSEVELT N.P. AND BADLANDS N.P.
We had previously made plans and reservations for a trip to Glacier National Park in 2017, but when Malia’s golf season was announced, we found that she would be missing a number of tournaments. We canceled the trip and planned our road trip to the Southwest instead so this year’s trip was eagerly anticipated by all.
1 car, 3 National Parks, 14 days, 3500 Miles. Lots of campsite registration changes…
St. Louis Park, MN
My brother and sister-in-law are putting us up, (or is that “putting up with us” – haha), for the night on Friday, which will shave about 2.5 hours off of our total drive on Saturday. Thanks, guys!
Theodore Roosevelt National Park – Cottonwood Campground
NOTE: You can read more about our experiences in our blog post about Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Our first stop will be at the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park where we have a reservation at Cottonwood Campground. We had read several places that this park is considered the “Badlands of North Dakota”, and that wildlife sightings are common. It’s right along I-94 so it should be simple enough to get to. We will spend one full day exploring the South Unit before moving on.
I reserved a hotel in Missoula for one night. It will be an 8-9 hour drive from Teddy Roosevelt National Park and Missoula is about 3 hours from West Glacier, so it seemed like a good layover point. We can grab a hot meal and a shower before heading into Glacier.
Glacier National Park – Fish Creek Campground
NOTE: You can read more about our experiences in our blog post about Fish Creek Campground.
It’s February 2018 and I was in front of my computer looking to reserve a site – I had my iPad and laptop both open and logged in to recreation.gov and had my campsites ready to go. Unfortunately, just like I have experienced with some other campgrounds/parks that are in very high demand, (Zion, Yosemite), everything was gone instantly. I mean I started hitting the reserve button and refreshing 10 seconds before it was on the hour that reservations opened.
Fortunately, I had a plan B, which was to grab an outer loop C or D campsite in Fish Creek, directly on Lake McDonald. By the time I got to the backup plan, all of Loop D was gone but there were a few sites still available on C. I grabbed the only one on the lake.
When I started looking up info about that particular site, reviews that I read noted that many of the sites in Loop C were very small, which was a concern because we have a pretty large tent – an REI Kingdom 6. Additionally, my parents said that they were interested in driving out to join us at some point in their van so we needed space for our vehicle, a tent, and another larger van, at the very least. All of the photos and drive-by views that I could find showed our campsite to be very small. I figured that we would probably have to set up the tent on the little gravel drive through that looked pretty small…
Long story short, I kept checking back to the reservation website and managed to “upgrade” our Fish Creek site to a campsite onLoop D, which looked to be a quite spacious site.
NOTE – We came to find was incredibly fortunate – all of the Rangers that we spoke to at the campground consider the campsite we got on Loop D to be their favorite campsite.
Glacier National Park – Many Glacier Campground
NOTE: You can read more about our experiences in our blog post about Many Glacier Campground.
Last year, on our road trip to the national parks in the Southwest U.S. we camped at Colorado National Monument and got to spend time with our friends Greg and Crystal Owens who live nearby. Greg, an accomplished landscape and nature photographer that has frequented most of the national parks in the Rockies and Southwest and whose opinion I trust, said that his favorite park was Glacier – particularly the Many Glacier area. This was immediately filed away in my, “make sure to go there”, mental folder, especially since our initial plans for this year had been to go to Glacier.
In the weeks leading up to our trip, I checked the reservation website regularly, looking for a cancellation for Many Glacier. I managed to get really lucky and got a site in Many Glacier, not only for our family but for my parents as well (you can only have one car per campsite in Many Glacier). I have site 104 for our family and 43 for my parents.
Just like our quick hotel layover in Missoula on the way to Glacier, I booked a hotel for a stop in Billings. It looks to be about a 7 hour drive from Many Glacier and I plan on taking us there via the scenic byway that bisects the Lewis & Clark National Forest.
Badlands National Park – Cedar Pass Campground
Our last stop is Badlands National Park, which is about 6 hours from Billings. We’ve been here before and I tried to grab a similar campsite to what we had previously but those locations were gone. I managed to get site 81, which looks to be pretty large and provides an unobstructed view of the Pinnacles.