Travel in the age of pandemics; plan six months out!

Travel in the age of pandemics, why plan for six months out?

After more than two weeks sheltering at home, I am going on the assumption that you and family members have spent time thinking about and discussing future travels. Whether it has been face to face with your spouse, or via Skype, Zoom, Facebook Messenger or other high-tech modes connecting to family, you have, or soon will have, identified the destination(s) and felt the excitement that comes with visiting nearby or distant exotic places.

If you have finished your discussions and planning, you have:

  • Captured a running list of travel hopes and dreams,
  • Challenged members of your new “travel team” to do research (web searches, your local library, scanning TV resources like Travel Channel , Nat Geo)
  • Visited sites like Visitstockton.org (for Stockton travel), Visit California or similar state sites for overall state travel info, or specific national park sites,
  • Shared that research with family (using Skype, Zoom or others), and,
  • Updated your written bucket list, and now you are ready to make reservations.

Let’s also assume that, within five to six months, the coronavirus will be mostly behind us, and we can freely travel through the western US and beyond. Be forewarned that pent-up travel demand will see prime vacation spots book quickly for September and beyond. Whether your destination is Southern California beach front condos, the state’s pristine state parks like several on the Big Sur coast or one of California’s nine national parks, they will book fast for the fall.

Perhaps you are dreaming of a fall trip to a scenic beach in Newport Beach, CA.

Perhaps you are also thinking of an ultimate bucket list destination, like the national parks of Yellowstone, Grand Tetons or Glacier in the winter; or something even more exotic. But, those parks, and Glacier, virtually overrun by tourists from June through September, are nearly deserted in the winter; making for memories to last a lifetime. Such special trips may necessitate planning even more than six months out, perhaps a year or more.

Let’s target just a couple suggestions, where the methods will work for other destinations. We already have a campsite booked in Yosemite for May, but the park will likely remain closed due to the pandemic, as it is today. Hence, we are thinking of early September. Whether you plan to book the historic Ahwahnee Lodge, or a campground, get planning, and reserving, now!

Visitors gather on Glacier Point for view of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.
Bison and calf, Midway Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park.

For Federal campgrounds, like Lower Pines in Yosemite, or Sequoia, Yellowstone and others, use the recreation.gov site. Yosemite campgrounds are currently reservable through August 14, 2020 (but currently booked almost solid). On April 15, 2020 at 07:00 am PDT, availability will be released through September 14, 2020. Hence, log in and book moments after 7:00 AM on April 15!

Old Faithful Geyser thunders into a dusky sky and an absence of visitors, January, Yellowstone National Park.

Lower Pines Campground, located in stunning Yosemite Valley at an elevation of 4,000 feet, is surrounded by waterfalls, sheer granite cliffs, deep valleys, grand meadows; make that timely reservation to secure a site.

Perhaps I have piqued your interest in the national parks of Montana and Wyoming for a winter visit. There are about three choices how you might do such a trip; drive the 1000 miles to Montana, or fly into a city like West Yellowstone or Kalispell and rent a car, or – the ultimate – book a snow coach trip deep into Yellowstone Park and spend several nights at Old Faithful Snow Lodge as we did about seven years ago.

I will always remember, on our first day in Old Faithful in January, we walked the three blocks on snow-packed board walks to Old Faithful Geyser, stood in the clear, crisp -5 degree evening, noted one solitary fellow other human a hundred yards to our left, a skittish coyote on the geyser’s far side, and watched the geyser thunder into the Wyoming setting sun. Hot water and steam rising a half quarter-mile into the sky; a moment all to ourselves, forever frozen into our memories.

The drive to, or fly and rent a car option, gives you opportunity to visit one, two or all three of these iconic parks. But, with main roads through both Yellowstone and Glacier closed in winter, interior access can be a challenge. With Yellowstone, one can drive into the park’s North Entrance at Mammoth Hot Springs (adjoining Gardener, MT, offers a selection of motels and hotels, including our favorite, the Park Hotel). Mammoth Hot Springs are a destination in their own right, and one can motor relatively deep into the park, including the Lamar Valley, where wolves are frequently sighted, and out the park’s northeast entrance.

Four bison cross the Lamar River in the Lamar Valley, Yellowstone, in February. Visitors can drive into the Lamar Valley in winter, from the park’s northeast or north entrances.

Grand Teton National Park, while adjoining Yellowstone’s south boundary, requires a bit of circuitous driving to access the main jumping off point, Jackson, WY. Here you have the choice of numerous hotels and motels, skiing at two ski areas, including a favorite, Jackson Hole, and the National Elk Refuge on the edge of the city.

Likewise, Glacier allows you partial drive-in access, to the Lake McDonald Lodge on the park’s west side, and limited access on the east side. For Glacier, consider spending some time in the lovely nearby resort town of Whitefish, MT, ski a day or two at Whitefish Mountain and visit the park over several day trips. Our favorite overnight stop is the Grouse Mountain Lodge, surrounded by a cross-country ski complex, with free shuttles up to the ski hill and into the town a mile away.

Glacier National Park’s roads are kept open from the park’s west side entrance, to Lake McDonald Lodge (about 12 miles into the park).
A frozen Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park, February.

For more information: Glacier Park, nps.gov/gla/: Yellowstone Park, nps.gov/yell/; Yosemite Park, nps.gov/yos/; Camping, recreation.gov.

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com or follow him at recordnet.com/travelblog. Happy travels in your world!

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