Visiting Montana

Parent Q&A

  • Hi BPN community,

    Our family of four (two kids 13 and 10) and our small dog are planning to visit Wyoming, Montana and Idaho next summer in late July/early August. We expect to spend about 10-12 days total. We'd like some advice on the best way to approach this trip. We're open to camping if towing a rented pop up camper makes sense. Concerns with this are how easy it is to find campgrounds, whether the dog is welcome, and whether the crowds will make this difficult and not relaxing. Other options include glamping (where?) and finding motels or hotels or airbnbs along the way, or really figure out our trip ahead of time and book lodging in advance. If anyone has done this kind of a trip recently and could share an itinerary or lessons learned, we would be grateful! We'd love to understand what is a reasonable amount of driving to take on each day or few days, how long we should allow for places like Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone and other sights, etc. We would like to do some fishing, horseback riding, river rafting and hiking. Would also appreciate tips from anyone who has done this with a dog...does having a dog prevent any of these activities or severely limit access to the parks? Thank you so much for your insights! Laura

    We drove from NY to CA this past summer with our 4 yr old and two small dogs. We stayed in Yellowstone (one night near the geyser and one night in the north of the park then one night in town - all pet friendly cabins) and had no trouble booking accommodation with our pets. There are a lot of good tips for visiting national parks with dogs on their websites. Yellowstone has a video to watch about pet safety in the park as there are a lot of risks. Feel free to reach out directly with specific questions. 

    Fun! We did a very similar 10-day trip last August with our 4-year-old. We didn't have a dog with us and we didn't camp, so I'm not sure how relevant this will be, but I thought our itinerary really worked out well in terms of having just enough time in each place. 

    We flew from SFO to Jackson and then rented a car for our whole trip. We spent four nights in Grand Teton, four nights in Yellowstone (which is a very short drive from Grand Teton), made a quick diversion down to eastern Idaho to catch the eclipse, then drove to Helena, MT for a night just to take a break from the driving. From there, we went up to Glacier National Park for four nights and then flew home out of Kalispell's airport. The driving in Montana was the most tiring, as it is such an enormous, sparsely-populated state. That said, if you're not planning to go all the way to Glacier (which is right on the Canadian border), it might not be so long. I was also surprised by how much time we spent driving in Yellowstone, as the highlights are very spread out throughout the (enormous) park. I was glad we opted to fly to and from, as trying to drive to any of those places from California would have eaten up several days of the trip. 

    We booked our lodging in National Parks hotels, but you usually have to do that about a year in advance (especially in super-popular parks like Yellowstone), so you would probably need to look at hotels in nearby towns if you end up opting for hotels rather than camping. Or you could try Airbnb; I have a friend who rented an amazing house in Montana at a very good price for a Yellowstone trip last summer. No matter what, I would recommend trying to book something in advance as these places are very, very crowded in the summertime. 

    Overall, we really liked Grand Teton and the nearby town of Jackson. The Rockefeller wilderness area that was recently added to the National Park was definitely a highlight. Yellowstone was amazing in some ways, but overwhelmingly crowded at times. Glacier was stunning, but again, a long way from everything. Since our kid is so young we didn't do a lot of the activities you're interested in, but we did hike almost every day. Don't forget your bear spray! 

    Have a wonderful trip! 

    It was some years ago we did this, on a +/- National Parks circle tour that hit the Golden Spike in Utah, Tetons, Yellowstone, and Craters of the Moon in Idaho. We camped most nights with motels at a few spots to do laundry and regroup.  We did this in a prius with a car top carrier for the camping gear at the peak of summer with two kids.

    For us it worked well to make reservations in advance for Yellowstone and Tetons where campgrounds fill up way in advance.  After that we were able to play it by ear and find spots at BLM or Forest Service campgrounds as we went (those might not have been weekend nights though) - they were were nothing fancy but worked fine for a quick overnight on the road.  We stayed multiple nights at the parks we were most interested in.  Craters of the Moon seemed off the beaten path so it may not fill far ahead but I think it is worth the drive - it's an unusual spot. I recommend calling the visitor center to see how far in advance you need to reserve.

    For us this allowed a good mix of certainty that the spots we wanted most were booked ahead, with the ability to alter the trip as we went for the other nights.  We didn't make any of the motel reservations in advance (I think we stayed in motels in Winnamucca, Salt Lake City, Boise, and Klamath Falls).  I think we did our trip in about 10 days, but it might have been two weeks.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Questions

Whitefish, Montana for family vacation?

May 2009

A professional training I'd like to attend is being held in Whitefish, MT in June. I'm having this fantasy about turning it into a family vacation, but I've never been to Montana, let alone this particular region. Has anyone been there to tell about it? It would have to be done on the cheap side of things for us, to be able to work. Driving there, most likely. If anyone has any opinion about the drive, that place, what there is that's attractive/fun/interesting, etc., I'd love any input. It would just be me, my husband, and our 8 year old son. jenny


I think Whitefish Montana is a beautiful place to take the entire family. There are many outdoor activities you can do with kids, hiking, fishing, horse back riding...you name it. There are also a few water parks in the vicinity so if your kids enjoy swimming they will have tons of fun. Whitefish is in the Northwest of Montana. The surroundings are clean, serene and simply gorgeous. And it is close to one of the most beautiful places on earth, Glacier National Park. We enjoyed tremendously. Gloria


Dude ranch in Montana

Jan 2009

RE: Montana working ranch for my 40th birthday

I went to the E Bar L Ranch in the early 1990s. It is a working dude ranch - very beautiful, spacious, lots of horses, places to white water raft nearby. You eat your meals in the lodge. People are friendly. I think it's gotten expensive but it was a wonderful vacation. Enjoy! Kate


Last summer, we (2 parents and 2 kids ages 5 and 8) went to a dude ranch in Montana. It was a super experience, or as my daughter said ''Best vacation ever!'' I chose this particular ranch based on what we saw on their website. It was sight unseen and nobody we know had been there; we were not disappointed. I should start off by saying that there are 3 categories of vacation ranches: resort, dude and working. A great website for the options in Montana is http://www.montanadra.com/montana_ranches.aspx You'll need to decide which type you want, and this website does a good job of explaining the differences. We opted for a smaller, family run dude ranch called Laughing Water in Fortine, MT. It's about an hour from Kalispell (and the airport). The owner grew up there as a child and turned it into a dude ranch. It is horseback riding oriented and has amazing kid ''camps'' depending on your child's age. The kids camp was a big selling point for us as they allowed my 5 year old to ride and have his ''own'' horse for the week. Many ranches have a higher age limit. It is an authentic Montana experience, but I would not call it a cowboy ranch; these are real Montana people who work there in all their rural glory. Everyone was nice, accommodating, and friendly and the food was great. They do offer cattle drives at different times throughout the year, but that isn't for kids. I think you can get a real feel for the ranch from their website: http://www.lwranch.com/ I subsequently learned that what sets Laughing Water apart from other ranches is that you ride out directly from the ranch; many ranches have you bus out to where they keep their horses. Here, they are kept on property and you ride out each morning to remote locations. We cannot say enough good things about Laughing Water Ranch. We'll most likely return there (as many people do year after year).

Happy Trails!
Honorary Dudette


Jan 2003

Re: Grandparent-Friendly Family Camp
I would encourage you to look at dude ranches. My family has taken grandparents in wheelchairs, teenagers, and kids to ranches in Montana and Wyoming and everyone had fun! Ranch accomodations range from superluxurious to bunkhouse. Here are a few web sites to explore:
www.duderanches.com/ www.virtualcities.com/ons/dude.htm www.duderanch.org/ www.ranchweb.com/ gorptravel.gorp.com/dude_search_main.asp Connellan