I'd also recommend making the reservations at Madison Campground. It's about as well centered as any. In fact, if you need hookups I'd point to West Yellowstone (or further), which is another ~20 miles west of Madison.
As others have said, start out early in the morning. I used to visit several times each year, and we'd be out of camp before sunrise, then back in camp at 10 or 11 a.m. until 3-4 p.m., then back out until dark. We were concentrating on photography, and the best photos usually are found in early morning and late afternoon. Just so happens that's also the best time to avoid the mid-day crowds/traffic. :)
If you won't be driving the truck much, high mileage is probably okay, but expensive stuff does go kaput on these high mileage trucks, and I would STRONGLY recommend you not plan to drive a high-mileage pickup too much.
I traded off my 2000 F250 PSD 4x4 a year ago following the second year of $10K repairs! I bought it new and only drove it 6K-7K miles per year for the first decade, but then I took a new job and drove it 30K miles per year for three years. It was nothing too major (clutch was the most expensive), but it was a host of $1,500 repair bills. Seemed I couldn't go for two months without some $1500 repair job.
It had 151K miles on it when I traded it, and it needed another $8,000 or so in repairs -- turbo waste gate, clutch again (damaged this time by a leaking waste gate), 2 injectors and some routine stuff that was about due, like front suspension work and new brakes. It was clean and rust-free. I got $3,500 for it in trade. I figured a brand new one would have been cheaper. (If you're a DIYer, repairs wouldn't have been so bad, but I always took it back to the dealer.)
My extensive repairs began at around 100K miles. Had I continued to drive it 6-7K miles per year, the repairs would have been manageable at $2,000 or so per year, but multiply that annual mileage (and repair bills) by five and it wasn't feasible to keep it.
I also wanted to recommend that you get a good tent with an adequate rain fly. I bought a new tent several years ago and barely got it up before a nice summer storm blew in. Thankfully I hadn't gotten my sleeping bag or any clothes into it, because there was half an inch of water standing in the bottom of the tent by the time the storm was finished -- all having come in through the windows since the fly didn't completely cover them.
I'm probably guilty of some overkill with the tent we now use -- a Cabella's Alaskan Guide tent (iirc). It's a great tent (6-man), but it takes both of us a half hour to set it up. That's after some practice! But don't under do it either. A tent full of water, soggy clothing, sleeping bag, etc. can take the fun out of camping in a hurry.
Your coldest nights will be in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado, especially if you camp in the mountains, where most of the NFS campgrounds are found. We meet family in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming each August. We camp at about the lowest campground on the mountain so it'll be warmer, but the night temps always drop into the 30s or 40s. This is at about 8500 feet ASL.
In case you weren't aware of it, the standard atmospheric lapse rate for temperature is 3.5F per 1000 feet, so if you had an 8500-foot mountain in Florida, temps at its peak would be ~30 degrees F cooler than those at sea level. Since the plains in the Rocky Mountain West are already at around 4500 feet elevation (+/-), temps at 8500 feet will only be ~14 degrees F cooler than at the base. However, the thin, cool, dry air of the Rocky Mountain states also means there will be more of a temperature drop in the evenings, after sunset, and this is also exaggerated with higher elevations in the mountains.
Where I live on the plains, evening summer temps normally drop 25-30 degrees, so on a typical day with a high of 85F, night temps will drop to 55-60F, and at "our" campground in the Bighorns, it'll drop to around 40F.
As you might imagine, ground temps in the higher elevations are pretty low, and that temperature will be quickly transferred to your air mattress, which will in turn be transferred to YOU.
All this is simply an explanation of why you'll need some kind of insulation between you and the ground, and an air mattress provides almost NO insulation.
For our August camping trips, my wife and I use a double thick (22") queen-sized air mattress topped with a couple -30F sleeping bags zipped together at the bottom. One (spread out) bag stays under us for insulation from the mattress, the other is thrown over us to use as desired. Usually I don't cover up completely until the wee hours of the morning when the outside temps are at their coolest. Our dog, a silky, sleeps on top of the sleeping bags until about that time too, when she starts shivering and climbs under the top bag to cuddle with us.
We like the thick air mattress because it sits high enough that we can sit on the edge of it, whether climbing into bed or getting out of it. At our ages (60 and 70), we like all things that we sit on to be at butt level!
While on the subject of air mattresses, I've found that at higher elevations the little $30 DC pump doesn't work too well. It'll get the mattress almost full, but a better pump is needed to top it off and give it the firmness for a comfortable sleep. I have a converter in my car that works well with the mattress' built-in AC pump ; otherwise a hand or foot pump should work. I plan to get one next spring.
I live near I-90 in eastern Wyoming. Our standard trip to Yellowstone is over the Bighorns (Hwy 16 or 14), then through Cody and the East Gate. While I prefer to drive through Yellowstone bobtail, there are lots and lots of others driving through with their campers, and I can do it too -- and enjoy it.
That's what I'd recommend to you. Hwy 16 leaves I-90 at Buffalo and is a fairly gentle mountain drive across the Bighorns. Hwy 14 leaves I-90 about 50 miles NW of there at Ranchester and is a little steeper going up and coming back down from the Bighorns, but it's not hairy-scary. Both are about the same distance, whether measured by miles or time, and both are good, wide, scenic, all-season highways. If you choose Hwy 14, DO NOT take 14A at the top. It's too steep for your rig, imho.
This recommendation comes with the assumption that you're fairly experienced at handling your rig (gathered from your profile) and that you've done some mountain driving with your rig (w-a guess). :)
Here's another in favor of using 4LO, especially coming down! Inching down a steep trail with 20K+ pounds can be too much for your brakes. (Ask me how I know.) ;)
Yes, I did it once. I had a 2500 lb. slide-in camper on an F250. I'd been down that 4x4 canyon trail dozens of times before, but this time my girlfriend (now wife) was riding along. She's scared to death of steep and narrow mountain trails, so when she started freaking out I slowed down. I don't remember whether I was in 4LO or 4HI, but I'm thinking it must have been 4HI, as I rode the brakes a little too much... and suddenly they were GONE! Luckily I was almost at the bottom of the canyon when they left me, and I was able to find a place where I could leave the trail and head up a little hill until we came to a complete stop. Were it not for that little hill, I'd have been plowing into cars, people, or maybe a very swift stream.
And you're talking about doing it with a 14K trailer. Don't do it in 4HI! If this is a 25% grade, you need 4LO. This is why you have it.
As for the front tires grabbing in a turn, let 'em. On a dirt road it's not going to hurt a thing.
OP, you need to tell us how you're going to use it. If it's for a few days at the lake and back home for a month, you won't need much in the way of size nor quality. If you were to take off for a year of traveling, then decide to winter in the south, etc., etc., you'll want it bigger with more load capacity, and you'll want flooring, cabinetry and everything else to stand up to heavy use.
One thing I would recommend is that you don't decide on a 3/4-ton truck too soon. That's what I did with my last truck. I was sure 3/4-ton trucks would haul whatever I'd want. So we were stuck with smaller 5ers than what we really wanted.
So, what I'm understanding is that because it is called an F250, the most GVWR that will be on the sticker is 10000 lbs,, even if it had a greater capacity than that, right?
And also, since this truck has the same engine, transmission, tires, transmission, ect as an F350 (I'm assuming) the whole issue is about payload. If this is true, would adding some type of auxiliary springs or airbags take care of the problem.
I don't know about the first paragraph. I've never before heard that statement but can't say it's not true. My old (2000) F250 PSD with camper package had an 8,800 pound GVWR. They've been inching upward since (and before) then.
However, I'm fairly certain that your assumption is wrong about an F250 having the same wheels and tires as an F350. That's one place you can beef up fairly easily, however. I installed slightly larger tires on my old F250, as I drove it the last few years considering to buy a larger 5er and wanted the highest load-carrying capacity I could get for a few bucks -- so if I found one I could carefully tow it home and park it until I got the bigger truck. You can also switch wheels to get even heftier tires. And add a spring leaf for stability. I'm not positive, but I think that would give you the added capacity that you'd get with an F350 (wheels, tires, leaf).
A neighbor of mine "converted" his F250 to an F350 dually by getting a wrecked F350 and switching out the bed, axels/wheels/tires/differential/springs. I kept driving past it seeing the "F250" on the side of it and "F350" on the tailgate. Then he put a for sale sign on it, and I had to stop and ask about it. I think he said it only cost him about $2000 for the upgrade, doing it all himself. I think he found a bargain for the upgrades.
The last (3rd) 5er I towed with my 2000 F250 had a GVWR of 10K pounds, and I thought it was about perfect (at 8-9K pounds loaded). It was small enough to get me into most FS campgrounds and large enough that we never wanted for more room during weekend and 1-2 week vacations. It was 27' long with a small slide-out. I was slightly over the truck's GVWR but only by a couple hundred pounds. I started with a smaller one, then got a larger one, then got one "just the right size." :)
I'd think the biggest advantage to having 2-wheel drive would be that the truck sits lower, and most 4x4s sit too high for the 5ers we pull.
That said, I wouldn't go back to 4x2 if I could help it. I've used my 4x4 to wander along jeep trails for sightseeing/photography, wood gathering for the fire pit and fishing trips, steep driveways, stump pulling, towing stuck 4x2s and, most important, snow, ice and mud. Oh, and for those mountain passes with chain laws in effect... that don't require chains if you have 4x4/AWD. In other words, 4x4 is really handy for me, summer or winter.
I wouldn't worry about it. Taking I80 will put you amongst the truckers; I90 amongst the bikers. I'd prefer the bikers. And really, even at the height of the rally, the bikes are only a "problem" within about 50 miles of Sturgis -- those out touring after arrival. I've always enjoyed seeing the bikes when traveling on I90 across SD. 99% of them seem to be careful and considerate travelers. That's better than auto travelers or truckers, btw. :)
Harleys are not cheap bikes, and most of the bikers I've talked with in Sturgis are pretty fine people -- middle income or higher and just as friendly as RVers. They just like to dress the part for the Rally.
I ran into a friend of mine at the gas station several years ago during Rally week. He was the local funeral director that I'd known for years -- president of our Rotary Club, active in our church. I didn't recognize him -- nor his wife, who was one of the prettiest and best dressed women in town. They were headed out to Sturgis on his Harley. He had grown a beard for the occasion; she was his biker chick; both were dressed in leathers. :B Simply amazing! But typical of the Sturgis crowd.
My daughter and son-in-law also attended for several years (until they sold their bikes a couple years ago). He's an architect, she's a pharmacist, both in management jobs. The have three beautiful and gifted young daughters and a lovely upscale home in Tucson... but for Sturgis they looked like... bikers. One year we were going to meet them in Sturgis and take in a show. I didn't even recognize my own daughter when she came running up to me!
I've "cut the corner" from Ft Collins to Laramie many, many times. It's not a bad road, and there are a fair number of passing lanes as I recall. It has claimed a few lives, however. The worst part of it for me is getting through Ft. Collins to the highway. I've always had something else to do while in Ft Collins, so had to approach it from... the mall! ;)
My son and daughter both attended UW in Laramie, so between the two of them, we made a lot of trips that way when going to or coming home from Denver.
25mph is a nice day in Wy.
Most every day is a nice day in Wyoming. But this is a topic about wind. 25 mph isn't WIND, not in Wyoming! That's simply a gentle breeze. ;)
Glad you had a pleasant drive across the state, OP. Y'all come back again real soon.
I'll agree with most; it's a good road and will save you some time. I-90 is a little more scenic, a bit safer, and has more services should you want or need them. You won't experience traffic congestion on either!
Yes, 16 is easier. It may be a couple miles longer but not much more than that. I once had a partner who lived in Greybull (east of Cody) who drove both routes regularly during his semi-weekly visits to Gillette. He said the time difference (in his Buick) was less than 5 minutes.
Hwy 14 has a bit more spectacular views going up and coming down, but across the (flat, straight) top it's pretty bland. Hwy 16 doesn't have as many tight curves and isn't quite as steep going up and down, but it has gentle curves and grades the whole way across.
Both are scenic, both are good roads, and both are mountain highways that should be treated with respect. Not too many years ago an older couple descending down the east slope of 16 into Buffalo overheated the brakes on their smallish motorhome and ended the journey inside a store on Buffalo's Main Street. The hubby was killed. Sad. Totally preventable if you mind your brakes (don't "ride" them), but it can happen easily if you ride them too much. Ironically, they probably overheated because he was being TOO careful. It's happened to me once (inching down a jeep trail) when my wife (girl friend then) kept telling me to "slow down," but we were lucky and spared the possible consequences when we reached the bottom just as the brakes totally gave out. I'd been down that trail dozens of times. Brakes were hardly needed at all, but this time I had a gal with me who was frightened of mountain driving. Brake fade was the last thing on my mind.
Just to be clear, when your engine braking isn't enough to slow you for the next curve, brake fairly hard until you've slowed below your target speed, then leave your brakes alone until your speed builds up to or beyond the target speed and brake hard again. DO NOT use light brake pressure to maintain the speed. That'll kill ya on any mountain. There are pull-offs where drivers are encouraged to stop and check the brakes for heat build-up. Use them if there's any doubt at all.
Lantanatx, you mentioned that you have a month scheduled in the parks. I don't know if it would work out for you or not, but Gillette, WY will be hosting the "World Fireworks Convention" (Pyrotechnics Guild International) August 8-15. I'm not sure of the dates for the fireworks shows, but I can guarantee they'll be bigger than anything you'll see on July 4. They have their convention here every 2-3 years iirc. We "watch" them from our home 5 miles away. ;)
Just thought I'd mention it, in case the timing would work out better. (Gillette is on I-90, about halfway between the Bighorns and Black Hills.)
Wow! I don't blame you for being upset!
The only new camper I've ever bought was our current one (now for sale). We bought it in 2006 -- a cheap one because our old one broke down during a trip and we didn't want to wait 3 days for the repair. It's a small Puma. It didn't start well, as we had a blowout within 500 miles. Replaced all the tires. The only problems since then were the sink drains. I had to tighten them by hand when they started leaking, then apparently tightened one too tight and it broke. Took me 5 minutes to replace it. That's it. Nine years. Wanna buy it? ;)
I'd still bet you've worked through most of the problems you'll have in the first 5 years. I hope so! Good luck!!
I've made many, many camping trips to Yellowstone and very seldom make reservations ahead of time. As other have stated, some of the FS campgrounds outside the park are outstanding (no hookups) and we prefer to use them, maybe half the time. Inside the park, if we can get there at check out time, we've usually had good luck. Your rig will make a difference. Big ones are harder to find spots for.
When you enter a gate in the morning, ask where there are spaces available. They keep an updated list.
We do it this way because we don't live that far from the park and usually go on the "spur of the moment."
With 45+ years of mountain driving behind me, it wouldn't bother me, but I doubt I'd enjoy it much either. I drove it both directions with a 30-foot motorhome 20 years ago. It was a pleasant drive, but I was constantly pulling over to let cars pass me, and that was 30 feet total, not 50+ feet.
Bear Tooth is currently closed due to recent snows. They just got it opened last Friday, and now the whole state/area is getting dumped on with rain in the valleys and snow in the mountains! I haven't heard when it'll be reopened, but I'd expect it to clear again in a couple days. Wind River Canyon (south of Thermopolis) is also closed due to mudslides, along with a few other highways in Wyoming. For anyone headed this way right now, check ahead. This has been the wettest May since '78.
For the years you're considering, I'd probably hope to find a nice F350 dually diesel, but if I found a GM first, that would be just fine. I'm not partial to Dodge due to their cars from YEARS ago, but I'd probably go against my prejudice if I found the right one at the right price. I certainly wouldn't mind the the engine, and I honestly don't think there's much difference among the big three. I'd be looking for low miles and something highway driven.
FWIW, my last pickup was a 2000 F250 diesel that I drove for 15 years. After about 13 years and 120K miles, it did start giving me a few mechanical problems, and at the end, with 150K miles on it, I finally traded it off due to several mechanical problems. (I was driving it 30K miles per year at that point, and it was "nickel and diming" me into the poor house!) Overall, however, I did like it. I miss it!