First off, how are you coming to Yellowstone? Perhaps you are flying into one of our outlying cities, maybe you are loading up your motorhome with all the essentials and strapping your kayaks to the back just in case, or possibly your kids are loading their backpacks into the trunk while at the same time you are trying to fit the cooler to fit next to your family sized tent. However, you get here it is an essential piece to optimizing your experience and making your stay amazing.
To aid travelers we are going to touch on a number of transportation methods and the dos and don’ts of each. This way you can be prepared along the way, and have everything you need for an outstanding trip.
Recreational Vehicles (RVs)
There is a huge contrast of individuals who use airports when coming to Yellowstone. On the airplane there may be someone who looks like they just left a business meeting, and another who looks like they are ready to hit a hiking trail, and both of these individuals could be headed to the same destination. Whoever you are there are some simple pointers for each.
Bare this in mind. From doing some reading you may know that you'll want to get Bear Spray. To be prepared, you might think to buy some ahead of time and this might be a wise notion in other circumstances. Unfortunately, your checked luggage is not the right place for a pressurized canister, especially one filled with industrial strength pepper spray. If you plan to fly in, wait till you have boots on the ground before looking to purchase or rent a canister.
Be Courteous. For either paradigm of traveler, be courteous to the other. You are choosing to cram yourself into a closed space for maybe a couple hours. Perfumes and odors should be kept to a minimum or none at all. Backpackers should be aware that leaving Yellowstone they might have a musk about them or their carry-on. Wash off that sweat and bug spray before you get on the plane. Perfumes and cologne might smell great walking down the concord, but once you get on the plane it can quickly become overwhelming.
Plan before the plane. While it's always enjoyable to read a book about your destination on a plane try to have a general plan before that. Many think that the plane will be a great place to crack open a book and do some last minute college-esk cramming of what the park has to offer. Yellowstone and it's 2.2 million acres deserves better than that. It is an amazing landscape with so much to offer. Prepare for your trip ahead of time and then the plan can be a relaxing refresher.
Pack it in, pack it out. Luggage will be covered elsewhere, but keep in mind that traveling through the airport you want to know your airlines weight requirements (usually 50 lbs). Leave about five to ten pounds for souvenirs. Even if you have trouble zipping up on the way to Yellowstone, will you later be able to fit the gifts for nieces and nephews on the way out? If you area reading this too late, don't worry. Most Yellowstone gift shops do have mailing options.
When coming to National Parks, some make the mistake of assuming there is a public transit that can get you from one place to another. They step off the plane and get out their Uber app, and will even take an Uber or taxi all the way into one of Yellowstone's Gateway cities. This mistake happens to a few travelers to Yellowstone each year and can be an easy trap to be unprepared for.
Circumventing this is easy enough but keep in mind that some of the cities around Yellowstone are small and getting a Rental may be difficult. In example, if you fly in to Jackson Wyoming, which is South of Yellowstone and right outside of the Grand Tetons, you would be flying into a resort town with a modest population of 11,000. This pleasant population is often taxed throughout the summer by the surge of visitors coming to visit either of the outstanding parks. Similarly, those spending their first night in Gardiner, Cooke City, or West Yellowstone sometimes think there will be a Rental facility when they get there, but these quaint towns are as remote as they are popular. This being said, to remedy any transportation concerns, it is often best to prepare your vehicle rental ahead of time.
For most this is a no-brainer. Should you bring your own car to mosey around Yellowstone? For those living near by, of course, but once you get a state away you need to decide if this is going to become a prolonged road-trip or not? What else do you want to see along the way, or is it just more financially viable then flights, hotels, etc. These are great questions which we'll hit here shortly.
There is a bigger question though, do you feel comfortable on Yellowstone's roads? Every so often we get someone to Yellowstone who has an issue with heights and traversing mountains roads for the first time can be a frightening experience. People have come up to me with fear in their eyes hoping the road ahead might be milder, when they just came over one of our easier passes. The roads here can be tight in places, with other motorists passing quickly and in over-sized RVs or busses. Those who are trepid towards heights and tight places, may want to avoid driving Yellowstone's roads. In those cases, you either want to be the co-pilot, or maybe consider a guided tour.
- Beartooth Highway: Speaking of winding roads! The Beartooth highway is not for the feint of heart. It is full of hairpin turns and a 3,000 foot elevation clime, but it makes up for this with high mountain lakes, outstanding vistas, trail heads for the backpackers, and four-wheel vehicle roads for the adventurers. It really is an amazing place for anyone who can stomach the drive.
- Quake & Hebgen Lakes: Just outside West Yellowstone are to fantastic lakes with some recent history. Hebgen lake was just a normal lake, and well known for being a go-to place for fun water activities. Then on the tragic night of August 17th, 1959 at 11:37 pm, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake hit which tilted Hebgen Lake by eight feet, destroying roads, flooding homes, and causing landslides. The last of these had the most effect. Miles down river at a quiet Campground, a landslide moved 80 million tons, both burying 28 people and damning the river. Those passing by can visit roadside historic sites and the visitor center at Quake Lake. While there, take a moment to remember the people who died and stand in awe of the power of Mother Nature.
- Grand Tetons: A must see for those traveling by is another National Park which stands on par with Yellowstone. Just south of Yellowstone lies the Grand Teton Mountain Range, which actually only takes up about 40 miles in length, but also stand as a serrated blade against the sky. The contrast of the the Grand Tetons against Wyoming's flat plains can be seen here as they rise from around 4,000 feet to 13,775 feet. Under these monoliths, the area is rich with wildlife and water sports alike. Fisherman, hikers, boaters, and photographers rush to the Tetons to take in what it has to offer.
- Heart Mountain Interment Camp: Just outside Cody Wyoming is a touching place to stand in memory of those who have walked those grounds. During World War II and after Pearl Harbor, the United States relocated as many as 14,000 people of Asian descent to Heart Mountain in Wyoming. This was done outside their constitutional rights, and against their free will. This location has been lovingly been preserved for visitors so we will hopefully never forget the crime that was done due to fear.
- Outlying Cities: All around Yellowstone are some of the neatest small towns in the country. Really you can't go wrong when choosing between from West Yellowstone's fun atmosphere to Cooke City's quite one. Gardiner is an amazing spot to plant yourself for everything from river rafting to wildlife watching while Cody Wyoming is there to bring the Cowboy out of all of us. Of course we cannot forget Jackson in the south which is a mecca for artists and musicians from across the country.
Now if you are comfortable with winding mountain roads, and are coming from a distance what else can you see along the way? There are many other wonders nearby Yellowstone which would be great to see as well!
There are a ton more sights you can see along your trip depending on which direction you are coming from, but feel free to reach out to us for help! In the end you will have to decide what works best for you. And often that key to that is figuring out your finances. You might have an epic plan from coast to coast with Yellowstone as the highlight just to realize the cost of gas alone goes over your allotted budget. In those cases, maybe flying in would be the better option. Others less plans might find that flying in, getting a rental, booking hotels, and buying meals is too pricey. It all comes down to figuring your budget and then working from there. So whether you need help with figuring out your finances, what to see along the way, or if you should forgo your own car and fly in, feel free to reach out to one of our agents to help you get your plans in order.
Bringing a Motorcycling or a similar alternative vehicle to Yellowstone can result in a great time, and epic trip. There are a few things to keep in mind in addition to the segment on bringing your own personal vehicle. First and foremost is the fact that you will be on an open vehicle around wildlife. Never forget that the animals in Yellowstone are not domesticated. They are never handled and humans will often make them nervous. They have been known to charge vehicles and people when they feel threatened or even just annoyed. Be careful on your motorcycle about getting too close and irritating them. Do not rev your motor when wildlife are nearby and if you have a passenger, and never be so close to an animal that you can touch them. The general rule for distance is 25 yards for non-predators, and 75 yards for predators.
Protect your saddlebags! In the park we see ravens opening zippers and buckles, deer and elk will pound on a saddle bag to get to what smells good, and a bear will just tare it open. You may want to invest in a hard plastic saddlebag or just carry yours with you when you'll be away from your bike for over an hour. If you have food or things that smell, keep them in a backpack or purse so they can easily be removed and not be tempting to the wildlife. Even doing all that, you may still want to cover your bike in some way. Birds have been known to peck at seats to get material to build nests.
Be careful when passing through traffic. This is something all cyclists know, but it is doubly true in Yellowstone. People may be stopped due to a bear walking between vehicles. Also when people stop in Yellowstone they are even more likely to get out of their car than from rush hour traffic. Be aware of your surroundings and take it slower than you usually might.