In the early days of Yellowstone National Park, most people visiting the park didn't drive their own car. They would take package tours, arriving by train at Gardiner, Montana and later West Yellowstone, Montana. At first stagecoaches transported guests around to the various sights. But by the 1910's bus transportation replaced the stages. They peaked in the late 1930's when the Yellowstone Park Transportation Company operated a fleet of 106 yellow park busses. A few of these are still around today.
Parked outside the Lake Hotel is one of the busses from 1937. It still operates a morning Photo Tour, and an evening Sunset Tour. Just outside the park at West Yellowstone, the Yellowstone Museum has a beautifully restored park bus. The National Park Service also has a large collection of early park vehicles. The collection is not currently open to the public. However, they do have a web site describing the collection.
Getting to Yellowstone in Winter may be daunting. While the roads to West Yellowstone are kept pretty well plowed, when you get to town you really don't need a car. A cheaper route, for those flying to Bozeman, the closest airport, may be by shuttle.
Karst Stage operates out of Bozeman and is a great ride from the airport to your hotel front door. Prices vary by season but are extremely affordable. A couple can take a round trip bus from Bozeman to West Yellowstone for about $150. That's a lot less than renting a 4WD vehicle and sweating over the roads.
Yellowstone National Park is a vast piece of land and many of the things you will want to do will necessitate you having a vehicle at your disposal. Getting around the park even then is a bit of a chore and getting to spots in the early morning to view wildlife just about impossible. It is a park you almost have to move your accommodation around or you will spend way more time than you will like driving back and forth.
The park is located about 100 miles from its sister park, Grand Teton National Park to the south and that little jaunt will take 2.5 hours. Of course, that depends on where you leave from in vast Yellowstone! It is about 400 miles or 8 hours to Glacier National Park in Montana. Salt Lake City is 300 miles or 5.5 hours. Idaho Falls is the closest fair sized town at 90 miles or 2.5 hours.
Yellowstone National Park charges $25 per car load for a visit of up to a week. Individuals pay $12 for the same privilege. We were traveling with the America The Beautiful Pass which cost $80 and allows a car load of people into every national park or federally administered lands for a period of one year. Now, that's a bargain even I could never refuse!
Sadly, when we arrived at the north entrance the sun was shinning towards us for the classic sign shot we had got in over 25 other national parks in the summer of 2008. I figured we would backtrack to get it on another day but the park's vast size made that unreasonable. The south entrance sign was under construction on our way out so we never got another chance. :( Well, I guess we have a reason to go back one day.
Yellowstone Lake is a thing of beauty and grandeur. Lying at an elevation of 7,733 foot, it is 14 miles across and 20 miles long, with an area of 236 square miles. This makes it North America’s largest mountain lake. The average depth is 140 feet with a maximum depth of 430 feet. The water is cold, with an average summer water temperature of 45 degrees F. (7 degrees C) and 60 degrees F on the surface. If you were to take a tour along the shoreline, you would travel 110 miles. If you enter through our entrance, the East Gate, you will find part of your route will take you along the northern end of the lake. Any visitor who drives the main road from Fishing Bridge, past Lake Village and Bridge Bay, to West Thumb will have grand views of Yellowstone Lake from the road and the pull offs where you can stop to take some photos. Short hikes such as Pelican Creek and Storm Point will also offer you stunning views of the lake. One of the best ways to view this wonderful lake is to take the Yellowstone Lake Scenic Cruise. On this one hour trip you will motor out toward Stevenson Island on the northern part of the lake, where if you are lucky you may see moose or eagles. You will also have grand views of the Absaroka Mountains, and the Lake Hotel. Your guide will tell you about the colorful park histories and mysteries of the park. The cruise begins at Bridge Bay Marina and depending on weather, usually runs from early June to Mid September.
Okay, so driving around is a great way to see the park, but I still say that the best way to "get around" in YNP, without ruining your reputation, is to go hiking. I prefer backpacking trips, but day hikes are GREAT too. Some of my favorite overnighters: Hellroaring along Yellowstone River to Blacktail Cabin, Mary Mountain Trail (20 miles, East to West), Slough Creek, and Shoshone Lake. Favorite day hikes: Avalance Peak, Elephan Back, Osprey Falls, Bunsen Peak, Beaver Ponds, Mt. Sepulchre (12m loop), and Lone Star Geyser.
North Rim Drive, Wyoming, United States
Good for: Solo
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