Author Topic: 11 Day Yellowstone & Glacier National Park 2023 Summer Trip - with 7 kids!  (Read 5666 times)

Offline kivabb

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After spending the last 4-5 years visiting National Parks in beautiful California, Utah, Arizona, and Colorado, we wanted to continue seeing that natural beauty and this year chose to focus on Yellowstone & Glacier National Park. The Tetons were oh so close. But a day trip from basecamp would have been 2.5 hours each way which would have been pushing it. Being based for 4 nights in each area also made the trip more relaxing. In years past, packing and unpacking those bear bag coolers as we headed to the next destination was a real drain. It also simplified logistics with the kids, food, packing, etc…Rabbi Wolf and his wife in Chabad in Flathead Valley for Shabbos were incredible! Our group consisted of 9: My wife (AKA expert packer, food coordinator, superhero) and I with our 7 kids (aged 6-21).

Flights - Outbound: JFK-BZN Jetblue 7:00-10:00 AM 12.9K TrueBlue points. Return BZN-LGA Southwest 11:05-9:30PM (layover in Denver) 12500 RR Points. I would have loved EWR-BZN direct as we’re based in Lakewood, but $600 (or 60K United points) per ticket was too much. So although JFK and LGA are much less than ideal, the savings x 9 made up for it. And with Southwest no longer flying out of EWR, sooner or later I was going to want to go through my RR stash.

Lodging -  I’m a big fan of Hyatt Place and Hyatt House when we travel as it affords us a nice size room with pull out couch, breakfast (some dry cereals and fruit) and sometimes even a kitchen for 5-9k Hyatt points a night. But in the states of Wyoming or Montana, there are zero Hyatt hotels in the entire state. Yes, zero. That was rough for my group of 9 that weren’t exactly going to squeeze into 2-3 standard rooms. They have some Marriott hotels in prime spots: SpringHill Suites Island Park Yellowstone and SpringHill Suites Kalispell. But at 60k a night and 42k a night (per room) respectively, combined with no practical way to amass a large amount of Marriott points…torpedoed that option. Hotels are also a pretty penny in those areas. That left me at the mercy of AirBNB and VRBO rentals that could fit 9 of us, granted much more spacious than a hotel room. The “reasonably priced” homes that could fit 9 were filling up close to a year out. Also needed to find ones that would allow us to cancel up to a month beforehand without penalty.

VRBO Island Park, Idaho -. 4 nights. Base to Yellowstone National Park. No AC, but we were fortunate to have cool weather during our stay. This place was amazing. We booked directly with the Management Company and saved $300 in booking fees from VRBO.
VRBO Kalispell Montana 4 nights. Base to Glacier National Park. AC. 2 mile walk to Chabad.
Residence Inn Helena Montana Spent one night on the drive between Yellowstone and Glacier, as well as our last night. At 20K Marriott points a night, it was a steal for Montana Point Hotels. Suites even had private bedroom.

Car/Van Rental - My trip planning usually revolves around where I can find a 12 passenger Ford Transit. The only airport location (or close to it for that matter) was in Bozeman. Avis and Budget usually rent the 15 passengers with the last bench removed for extra luggage with still seating for 12. Enterprise usually has a back bench included with makes having to throw luggage over the back bench each time (major pain!). I booked through Costco Travel a 12 passenger for $1600. Expensive, but cheapest I saw after tracking for close to a year. Enterprise had a 15 passenger for $1800 which I reserved as a backup. Salt Lake City had 12 passengers with a drop off in Bozeman for $3200.

Day 1 - Fly into Bozeman, drove 2.5 hours to VRBO in Island Park, stopped in Walmart to pick up some essentials (propane, toiletries, food list). I planned a small stop to Ousel Falls Trail - (One hour out of Bozeman, on the way. 1.7 mile easy hike with waterfall) but we didn’t end up doing.

Day 2 - Yellowstone National Park - With proper preparation and strategy, most of the best sites here can be seen in 2 days (for a family with kids). We left Island Park at about 8:30 am and returned by 6 and 7pm respectively. More energetic, faster pace people can probably knock both these days out into 1 day if you spend 10-12 hours in the park. We enjoyed the process of the 2 day trip making it an enjoyable experience with the younger ones versus dragging everyone into a check off list marathon. The park is roughly a figure 8 and the West entrance cuts into the middle. We did the bottom half on day one and top half on day 2. Don’t forget to print a pass online if you have a kid going in or out of 4th grade. That will grant you free access. Here are some of our notes starting the days from West Gate: Firehole Canyon Drive, Fountain Paint Pots (0.6-mile loop hike), Grand Prismatic Spring, Fairy Falls Trail parking lot (Grand Prismatic Spring lookout point, located about 0.6 miles into the Fairy Falls Trail, about a 20-minute walk one way), Old Faithful (Good rest stop area for picnic lunch and restrooms while waiting for Old Faithful to erupt.) Morning Glory Pool (like 2.4 mile RT easy walk from Old Faithful with some cool things along the way. Entire boardwalk 4.9 miles if you’re doing good with time). We did not do West Thumb Geyser Basin (1 mile loop walk), Hayden Valley (wildlife), Mud Volcano (0.6 mile loop walk). We were wiped after Morning Glory Pool and headed back to the house. My daughter clocked us at 9.4 miles that day, but it wasn’t intense as it was spread out and mostly flat.

Grand Prismatic Spring - Lost some of it's color over the last 20 years

Day 3 - - Yellowstone National Park - Artist Point (must must see!). Upper Falls View Point. Brink of the lower falls (0.7 miles RT), Lookout Point, Grand View.  We drove  4-5 miles into Lamar Valley and saw loads of bison. Drove to Mammoth Hot Springs and did some of the boardwalk. We saw lots of Elk leaving the Albright Visitors Center. If you still have time and energy (we didn’t), then check out Norris Geyser Basin and Artist Paint Pots Trail on the way back to the West gate.

Artist Point

Day 4 - West Yellowstone - 3 Hour horseback riding with Diamond P Ranch (20 minutes from house) starting 9:30AM. Expensive for us as @ $110 x 9 people plus tip, but it was beautiful scenery and an incredible experience. We then went back to the house for lunch. Afternoon trip to  Mesa Falls in Ashton (35 minutes from house). Beautiful short activity without too much walking and only $5 entry fee per vehicle.

Day 5 - Leaving Island Park and starting our trip up North towards Glacier. On the way Gallatin River Classic Half Day Raft Trip (More Challenging) at 1PM with Montana Whitewater Rafting for 3 hours. Everyone had a great time and my 6 year old could go which was a treat. Slept in Helena, Montana (90 minutes).

Day 6 - (Friday) Drive to Whitefish (4 hours). We purchased the Zip Line Tour package that included lift tickets and several Alpine Slide rides. The oldest 5 kids did the 6 zip lines and said it was amazing. My wife and I, with the youngest 2, went to the top of the mountain to see the view. Gorgeous. Alpine slides were short but enough to keep them busy while we waited for the older ones on the 2 hour zipline tour. Drive VRBO in Kalispell Montana. Check in was 4PM and candle lighting around 8:45 PM. Set up for Shabbos.

Day 7 - (Shabbos) - We spent Shabbos day with Rabbi and Mrs. Wolf in Chabad of Flathead Valley. Warm. Gracious. Generous. Altruistic. Authentic… are some of the thoughts I had about both of them. Dans article about visiting Chabad centers was extremely helpful.  Several families from Flatbush, Boro Park, 5 Towns and Lakewood….that probably would have (at best) acknowledged each other on the east coast, were totally connected in Montana. Rabbi Wolf and his wife definitely contributed to the vibe. Amazing, amazing people, that contributed to an amazing Shabbos experience.

Day 8 - - Glacier National Park East Side - This Park is Royalty. We spend 3 days, but fast paced people can probably combine my first two days into one. Here’s some of my notes: Glacier National Park Sign: Mile 0.5, Enter Glacier National Park via the West Entrance Mile 1, Going-to-the-Sun Road, Logan Pass Visitor Center Mile 32, Highline Trail (We did just one mile in). Hidden Lake Overlook hike (2.7 miles 551 ft elevation 2 hours), Both of these were amazing hikes. Turn around and head back to Logan Pass Viewpoint: Mile 28, sights include the Bird Woman Falls and Haystack Mile 27, Heaven’s Peak and The Loop Mile 24.5 (a hairpin turn that has parking in the middle. There are also bathrooms here) and West Tunnel Mile 24. Explore Redrock Mile 18 ,Sacred Dancing Cascade: Mile 13.5 (wide set of falls crashing through McDonald Creek), McDonald Falls pull-off Mile 13 (Pull-off to view McDonald Falls. After taking a few stairs down toward the creek you’ll find a large observation deck that allows you to experience the powerful McDonald Falls and its blue-green water), Lake McDonald Lodge (also has gift shop) Mile 11, Apgar Village & Visitor Center (restrooms) Mile 2 - amazing views of Lake McDonald and the surrounding mountain range.  Drive to Kalispell.

View From Highline

Lake McDonald

Day 9 -- Glacier National Park West Side - Enter Glacier National Park via the West Entrance, Going-to-the-Sun Road, Logan Pass Visitor Center Mile 32,  After Logan Pass, you’ll find Lunch Creek Mile 33 (Can have lunch here), Jackson Glacier Overlook Mile 38, St. Mary and Victoria Falls Mile 39 (1.7 or 3.6 miles RT, bring swim gear as you can go swimming), Sun Point Mile 40, Wild Goose Island Overlook Mile 43, St. Mary Lake & St. Mary Visitor Center Mile 50, Drive to Kalispell

St. Mary Lake


Day 10 - Tuesday - Glacier National Park -  Grinnell Glacier - Drive to Many Glacier Hotel via Highway 2 and 464. Needed to leave by 5:40 AM as we had a 9am Many Glacier Boat ride and it's a 2.5 hour drive from Whitefish. Grinnel Glacier Hike 7.6 miles, 1840 Elevation, Return Boats 1:45; 2:45; 3:45; 4:30; 5:30. We started the hike from the boat at 10am and made the 4:30 return boat by a minute. Breathtaking. Reminded me of some of the best Alaska scenery we saw. It was a climb but the payoff was incredible. The pictures don't do Justice. Drive to Helena

Grinnell Lake (On way to Glacier)

Grinnell Glacier (The pictures don't do any justice)

Day 11 - Wednesday - Fly back home

I hope this helps.

Offline gns

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great trip report
great pics you got

Offline Dan

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Nice TR and pics!
Save your time, I don't answer PM. Post it in the forum and a dedicated DDF'er will get back to you as soon as possible.

Offline Luvtotravel

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wow! i look forward to your beautiful and informative trip reports!
Don't wait for the perfect moment; take the moment and make it perfect.

Offline CountValentine

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When I seen with 7 kids, I just had to read this one as to see how you handled all the logistics. Great TR!!!
Only on DDF does 24/6 mean 24/5/half/half

Offline efflpetzel

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When I seen with 7 kids, I just had to read this one as to see how you handled all the logistics. Great TR!!!

Can you write up more detail about the logistics/food, it would be a great resource for those with large families

Great TR!

Offline kivabb

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Can you write up more detail about the logistics/food, it would be a great resource for those with large families

We brought 4 large bear bag coolers:
2 bags for fridge stuff filled with Milk, Cheeses, yogurts, cold cuts, cole slaw, guacs, chummus, dips for Shabbos.
2 bags for frozen hamburgers, hot dogs, marinated shnitzel, muffins, prepared 9x13 dinners, roast for Friday night, frozen ready shaped challah dough.
Staying in a place for multiple nights with full size fridge definitely makes this step easier. Otherwise it's more challenging changing the ice in all of them every night.

Then in egg boxes (2 properly taped together) we'd put the dry goods and accessories that were going one way: crackers, rice cakes, wraps, soups, small assembled propane grill (shlep versus picking grill there but also saved time assembling as well as allowed me to toyvel rack).

Once there, we stop at a Walmart and get condiments there. We bring most paper goods...but buy napkins and cups there. We also get breads, bagels, and chips there.

When on the go: Yogurts, string cheeses, energy bars (KIND Kids Granola Chewy Bars, Nugo Bars), prebaked muffins and granola (made by my girls the week before we went).
For slower paced mornings: We bring the Betty Crocker Pizza Maker and make in it eggs, wraps with ketchup and cheese, bagels with ketchup and cheese, etc...

Lunches are usually cold cut wraps. This year we brought beef jerky packages as well which worked well on Grinnell Glacier Hike. We bring cold cuts, wraps, Costco size containers of Golden Taste Cole Slaw... Other days we have Costco mini chummus and mini guacs with crackers, or cheeses with rice cakes or crackers. We have bear bag backpack as well for those lunch to go days.

Suppers are either BBQ of hot dogs and hamburgers and/or marinated schnitzel. On days when we had oven (either kashering or double wrapping) and staying multiple nights, we would leave 9x13 of (for instance) meat and pasta on warm the whole day and we'd come back to a hot supper. My wife said she found that generally pastas, couscous and mashed potatoes worked well with pulled beef....Rice did not reheat well. We bring 3 or 4 cases of Gefen Soups as backup. The kids had these on Southwest flight home. If you're nice to the flight attendants, they say yes just about every time.

Snacks - We also bring and buy lots and lots of snacks

As for the reality check....yes, it's exhausting. My wife says it's not a vacation, it's a trip. Especially at the end of a long day when you get back and the (teenage and up) kids want to chill (and not so helpful...) and the younger ones need attention and baths, and pajamas and tuck ins....and my wife and I are running a full time traveling camp and wouldn't mind some of our own downtime.  But with proper preparation and attitude, it offers us a opportunity to see incredible things and spend some real good times with the family (just without much sleep for the tour coordinators).

Here's some other trips we did with 9 kids :)
West Coast 2021

Colorado 2020

Offline ah giten

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Wow just wow.