During summer, most people come into Yellowstone in private cars or RVs, but there are other ways of getting around.
An interpretive bus tour provides a quick overview of the park while leaving the driving to an expert. This is especially true for RVers, who can park at Fishing Bridge RV Park or Bridge Bay Campground and then don’t need to worry about traveling on narrow park roads.
Unfortunately, public transportation—other than the tours—does not exist within Yellowstone. There is, however, daily van service to West Yellowstone and Jackson Hole from Salt Lake City, and winter-only service between Bozeman and West Yellowstone.
From mid-May-late September, Xanterra Parks and Resorts (307/344-7311 or 866/439-7375, www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com) guides full-day bus tours from Canyon Lodge, Lake Yellowstone Hotel, Old Faithful Inn, Fishing Bridge RV Park, Bridge Bay Campground, and Grant Village. Tours of the lower loop road are $63 adults or $32 ages 3-11 (free for younger kids).
A longer “Yellowstone in a Day” tour (not recommended unless you’re into sensory overload and more than nine hours of riding around) costs $70 for adults or $35 for kids. The in-a-day tour is available only from Mammoth or Gardiner.
Also available are professionally taught four-hour Photo Safaris ($81 adults, $41 kids) daily out of Old Faithful Inn and Lake Hotel.
The most distinctive park tour offerings are classic Historic Yellow Bus tours. Built in the 1930s, these lovingly refurbished vehicles get almost as much attention as the scenery; the top of the buses open for safari-style wildlife viewing. Tours head in a multitude of directions throughout the day, including half-day “Wake up to Wildlife” tours ($75 adults, $38 kids) in search of Lamar Valley wolves, and two-hour “Twilight on the Firehole” tours ($32 adults, $16 kids) of the Old Faithful area.
Other Park Tours
Upper or lower loop tours are available out of West Yellowstone from Buffalo Bus Touring Co. (406/646-9564 or 800/426-7669, www.yellowstonevacations.com, $65 adults or $49 kids for the lower loop, $120 adults or $98 kids for both loops). Park entrance fees are extra.
Summertime bus tours of Yellowstone are available several times a week from Gray Line of Jackson Hole/Alltrans (307/733-3135 or 800/443-6133, www.graylinejh.com). Tours last 11 hours and cost $115 (rates for kids are half-price) plus a $12 park entrance fee.
Karst Stage (406/388-2293 or 800/287-4759, www.karststage.com) has summertime tours departing from Livingston, Montana and continuing to Bozeman, Old Faithful, Lake Hotel, Canyon Village, Mammoth, Gardiner, and Emigrant, before returning to Livingston. The cost is $85 per person, with a four-person minimum. Call at least three days ahead of your travel date.
A multitude of other companies—at least 75 at last count—provide guided park tours from West Yellowstone, Cody, Jackson Hole, and other towns. The Yellowstone National Park website (www.nps.gov/yell) has a complete listing of permitted tour operators.
Natural History Tours
In addition to traditional classes, the Yellowstone Association Institute (406/848-2400, www.yellowstoneassociation.org) leads a popular series of Lodging and Learning packages. These four- to six-day programs blend education, recreation, and comfortable lodging. Naturalist guides from the association lead excursions, and participants are provided accommodations in park hotels, plus breakfasts and lunches. The programs include special ones for families, winter ski treks, winter wildlife, and hiking. For the private touch, the institute offers Yellowstone Ed-Ventures, where a wildlife biologist accompanies you in your own vehicle. It’s sort of like having a personal trainer for Yellowstone.
For a listing of licensed tour operators offering wildlife, natural history, and photography tours in the park, contact the Park Service (307/344-7381, www.nps.gov/yell).
Operated by the highly respected Teton Science School, Wildlife Expeditions (307/733-2623 or 888/945-3567, www.wildlifeexpeditions.org) leads a variety of wildlife-viewing safaris throughout the region, including multi-day wildlife tours into Yellowstone.
Also highly recommended are naturalist Carl Swoboda’s Safari Yellowstone (800/723-2747, www.safariyellowstone.com), geologist Dr. Keith Watts of Earth Tours (307/733-4261, www.earth-tours.com), and Tory and Meredith Taylor (307/455-2161), who lead personalized wolf-viewing tours in the winter.
Other companies with guided van tours into Yellowstone include:
- Ana’s Grand Excursions
- Brushbuck Guide Services
- Callowishus Park Touring Company
- EcoTour Adventures
- Upstream Anglers and Outdoor Adventures
307/739-9443 or 800/642-8979
- The Hole Hiking Experience
307/690-4453 or 866/733-4453
- Yellowstone Safari Co.
406/586-1155 or 866/586-1155
- Yellowstone Yearround Adventures
- Yellowstone Country Adventures
© Don Pitcher from Moon Yellowstone & Grand Teton, 5th Edition