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Vancouver to Yellowstone National Park

Level Contributor
187 posts
7 reviews
Vancouver to Yellowstone National Park

Hi there

We are a family of 3 (child will be only 3), and planning a trip starting in Vancouver but crossing the northern parts of the United States and driving to Niagara Falls. We did some of the central parts of America back in September and this time we would like to take longer to explore and take our 3 year old along. I think renting an RV will be the way to go this time so we can self cater all the way.

I am starting to do some research, starting in the first leg of the trip going from Vancouver to Yellowstone National Park. On google maps it's about 13 hour trip. So we would probably make two overnight stops along the way.

Can anyone offer an suggestions on where you would make your stops and what there is to see along the way?

Any advice is appreciated and i am open to any ideas.


Davie, Florida
Level Contributor
11,187 posts
2 reviews
1. Re: Vancouver to Yellowstone National Park

Consider arriving in Seattle as arriving in Vancouver adds the complication of a border crossing into the US from Canada.

western WA
Level Contributor
8,997 posts
14 reviews
2. Re: Vancouver to Yellowstone National Park

If you do rent in Vancouver, start out by spending some time there. Otherwise, rent in WA to save trouble. Vancouver has Stanley Park, Granville Island and a big Hong Kong community in Richmond.

Seattle and northwestern Washington have lots going on, too.

You could drop down to Bellingham, explore this cute university town a bit, then drive down to the Chuckanut drive (top part only) to Larrabee State Park. This has beautiful views and fun rock roaming, plus fishing if you've got the gear and a license. You can camp there.

From there, drive over the North Cascades National Park highway (only open in full summer), skipping Seattle this trip. It takes three or four days, and you don't have the time. Stop to see Ross Lake/Diablo Lake, enjoy the ride down Washington Pass, then stop in Winthrop for a touristy but cute Western town experience. There is a very nice KOA in Winthrop. From there, go check out the Grand Coulee Dam, and the fruit orchards nearby.

At this point it is time to make tracks. Eastern WA is wide open and smooth sailing. Interesting stops along the way include red wagon slide in Spokane for photo op, Lake Coeur D'Alene, Silverwood amusement park, Wallace ID. When mine were small, I'd leave western WA and drive to Missoula in one day, 3pm - 11pm, so they'd be asleep for most of the distance. There is a KOA in Missoula, but a cheaper option is the Quartz Flat campground at Superior, right at an I-90 rest stop and only $10.


From Missoula, you need to decide how you are going to get to the park. On the way, Butte is a very interesting old town with a cool mining museum, free mineral museum on the Montana Tech campus, and Cornish pasty shops (Joe's is a must for lunch). From Butte, decide if you will go through Ennis to Big Sky and West Yellowstone, or through Livingston, the Paradise Valley and Gardiner. Availability of campgrounds in the park may be a factor. Both are easy drives in an RV.

As you drive through Montana, look for large letters on the hills! Most of the colleges and high schools put a big white letter up there. Your 3yo will be big enough to spot them. There is also Our Lady of the Rockies in Butte.

Destination Expert
for Seattle
Level Contributor
20,214 posts
112 reviews
3. Re: Vancouver to Yellowstone National Park

you might want to consider


as they have a location at the cdn border but are US based. I'm not a big fan of rv's as they are very expensive to rent and to operate but they do offer a unique way to see the sights.

western WA
Level Contributor
8,997 posts
14 reviews
4. Re: Vancouver to Yellowstone National Park

To save you some trouble, the Red Wagon is located in Spokane's Riverfront Park, part of the old World's Fair site from the 70's. This site has a picture. Look at the handle -- that part is the slide.

Sounds like there is an admission charge, but for the red wagon there isn't. There are other attractions in Riverfront Park which do have admission fees, though.


western WA
Level Contributor
8,997 posts
14 reviews
5. Re: Vancouver to Yellowstone National Park

I also have never rented an RV because of the expense. Looked at it many times, but never got it to pencil out!

You can do this trip easily with camping gear as there are cabins available in many campgrounds. State parks offer them, and they are available in YNP. I even saw mention of some on the Montana site, but I'm not sure exactly which parks. KOA's usually have Kampin Kabins.

I like a minivan with reclining captains chairs all around for my personal road-trip ship. I use a thermo-electric cooler to keep the milk and mayonnaise cold, and a deep electric skillet for quick plug-in cooking. On longer in-camp days, cooking over the fire or using coals (pie irons, Lodge dutch oven) is memorable.

KOA's have showers, too, as do all state parks on OR (but you aren't going that way!).

Green Valley...
Level Contributor
18,029 posts
65 reviews
6. Re: Vancouver to Yellowstone National Park

How much time will you have for this trip?

How many days/nights are you planning to see Yellowstone NP?

And from where will you be returning/flying home?

Guess I'm requesting even a draft itinerary, at least of the high points, as best you know it at this time.

I, too, have never been able to pencil out use of an RV, but know folks who have and love them. But, with regard YNP, in my opinion, a car is much better - easier to pull in and use parking lots, for pulling over to view the wildlife, etc.

Here are a couple of collaborative Inside Pages that will prove helpful to fully enjoy the YNP experience.



Level Contributor
187 posts
7 reviews
7. Re: Vancouver to Yellowstone National Park

Hi, and wow thanks for all your help. Especially ainwa.

I haven't planned out how many days to spend at Yellowstone or in other places yet. I am only just starting to research what we would like to do.

Yes RV's are expensive aren't they! Maybe we could hire a large vehicle with plenty of space and take some camping gear. I guess the main thing for us is to be able to pull up anywhere and make ourselves lunch etc as my son is a fussy eater and i hated eating road food the whole time we were in the USA last year (the first few days were great but just craved home cooking after that!!!). And it's amazing how different your food is over there compared to Australia.

How many days would you suggest in Yellowstone? I think our whole trip will take a month or so.

Is crossing the border between Canada and USA a huge drama or is it just a drama when taking rental vehicles through?


Green Valley...
Level Contributor
18,029 posts
65 reviews
8. Re: Vancouver to Yellowstone National Park

I said car, but agree with ainwa, a van as detailed in that post is a terrific idea. I like the suggested general route, though given what you will be seeing on this trip, I'd skip Bellingham and Spokane for the sake of time and more interesting sights and locations.

But, it all depends on your entire itinerary, interests and schedule.

YNP: I'd give it at least two full days, but once there you might want more. It's a huge "park" and wilderness experience, and one place you probably should not "short" yourselves. A suggestion: go to the YNP TA Forum and read posts with similar questions and detailed answers.

Where is davidgmg? Expert on border crossings... or search for his name and see his Inside Pages.

western WA
Level Contributor
8,997 posts
14 reviews
9. Re: Vancouver to Yellowstone National Park

The one good thing about RVs is they expect it to be a one-way rental! So you need to investigate the costs of one-way car rentals. There were some posts recently in the Washington forums about agencies that exist solely for foreign visitors, so look for those.

I think you could easily do the trip in a car. I'd personally choose a bigger car so you can organize your stuff comfortably. But there are only three of of you, so you could go fuel-efficient. I like a wagon or van instead of a car, because then your stuff does not get up to 112 degrees F in summer (eastern MT)!

You can get the minimal camping gear you'd need by stopping by a Wal-Mart or Joe's Outdoor (a Washington State store). You could bring along a few items, like some favorite cooking tools. But bulky things like sleeping bags, an electric cooler, and an electric skillet can be picked up for the cost of one or two days in an RV. I say electric because most sites have electric available, and if you have a power strip you're in business. You'd want an inverter so you can use the cigarette lighter in the car, too.

I think the electric cooler and cooker are a must for pleasant long-term travel cooking. Otherwise the ice is always melty and the cooler has a tendency to scent the car with its unpleasant swampy presence. Propane stoves are the classic, but if electricity is available it is fast and easy with no propane smell in the car later from hose ends.

The other things RVs provide are bathrooms (readily available), quiet places to sleep (big cars do the same), storage (ditto big cars), and showers. The hardest thing to replicate is showers! But truck stops have them, KOA campgrounds have them, state campgrounds with yurts and cabins USUALLY have them, and you could always get a hotel room periodically throughout your trip.

You have a lot of ground to cover from Vancouver to Niagara Falls. YNP can easily fill up a week (or a lifetime.. so you need to balance of course). With a 3yo, you'll want to see lots of animals and bubbly things, and less panoramic views. So I'd focus more on the central (Old Faithful and geyser basins) and north (Mammoth and Lamar) ends of the park. But the YNP forum will give you the best advice.

There's a whole lot of quirky wide open space between YNP and points east. Cody or Red Lodge, Medora or Battle of Little Bighorn, Mt. Rushmore, Wall Drug, Mitchell Corn Palace, Lake Okoboji, a few Cabela's, the Spam museum and not a whole lot else lie between YNP and Chicago. These are my people, so it sounds like a fun trip to me, but you might be underwhelmed!

Spend more time at worthy destinations like YNP and Chicago and less time zooming along I-90 between them. Other forums will help you with what to do as you drive through. There are fun and interesting things to entertain your 3yo all along the way, but they aren't really destination events!

Regarding the border crossing, I've never taken a rental across. But I've never been asked for auto registration documents. The border can take awhile, but they are generally polite.

Port Townsend...
Level Contributor
326 posts
35 reviews
10. Re: Vancouver to Yellowstone National Park

You have already gotten some good advice (especially in renting a van, most places to stop/see), but I would like to add a few things:

- the North Cascades drive/route (which would be on the way from Vancouver to Spokane) is exceptional,

- a stop at Grand Coulee dam (north/central Washington) is also enroute and some spectacular engineering,

- camping/stopping in the Coeur d'Alene area would be good, though perhaps a bit much for the first day across the border.

- Western Montana has a "lot of good little things to see" - but perhaps not enough to mention (and take up otherwise valuable time...I realize with a 3 year old you need to build in stops)...Bozeman is a good stop for the night.

- in addition to Yellowstone I would strongly encourage seeing the adjacent Grant Teton National Park, it does not have the wildlife but the mountains are great.

- heading east the Big Horn mountains in central Wyoming make for great camping/stoping,

- Devils Tower (eastern Wyoming) is quite a scene (remember the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind),

- Mt Rushmore is great, though much of the Black Hills region is overly touristy (however some of the stops may be good for your 3 year old),

- The Badlands National Park is a must - similar but different from some of your country "down under,"

- The Custer Battlefield (Battle of Little Big Horn) is great for "western history" (cavalry & indians) but it is not "right on the way" from YNP eastward, unless you swing north through Billings.

- the town of Deadwood (northern Black HIlls) also has some great history (Wild Bill Hickcock...) and rather scenic, though a bit overtaken by the gambling industry.

- eastern South Dakota and enroute to spots even further east is boring (I say that as a native Dakotan who went to college in the "east river" area) and other than the Corn Palace in Mitchell there is not much to spend time seeing.