Yellowstone and Montana
Replies: 25 - Last Post: Oct 19, 2012 10:41 PM Last Post By: kowari
Oct 5, 2012 6:25 PM
Yellowstone and MontanaHi there. A month ago or more I was making a search on LP re. Montana and Yellowstone Park and did not find much current info. so thought I would write up a few notes on my recent trip to help the LP followers going there.
I traveled to West Yellowstone, via Rexburg from Salt Lake City, by Salt Lake City Express bus that was under contract to Greyhound bus. A lot of negative stuff is written about Greyhound buses and their bus stations but I enjoyed my trip on them across the big wide country and Salt Lake City Greyhound station is excellent. It is at the city Transit center where all the city buses and trains and Amtrack all stop. Salt Lake City's transit system really rocks.
There is only one hostel at West Yellowstone.....the small town on the west border of the park. The price of $42 a night shows it. This is at the Madison Hotel which is a cosy old log cabin style place with some hotel rooms that are let out as hostel rooms.....three people in a room. No kitchen but there is a microwave and fridge at the back door area. A small supermarket nearby. To actually tour inside the park you will need to hire a car or take a tour. I took two tours of 8 hours each.....the park is huge.....60+ X 50+ miles. The tours cost about $80 a day. They also offer one to the Tetons. Make sure you visit the Grizzly Bear and Wolf center at West Yellowstone. Also ask about the free lectures given by the park rangers there in West Yellowstone. Lots of info at the visitors center in the middle of town
From West Yellowstone I traveled by bus up to Bozeman, Montana. It is a bus run by the West Yellowstone Foundation and you need to phone them to get days of travel and to make a reservation. I had planned on staying at the Backpackers Hostel in Bozeman but found it closed down. Instead I stayed at the Ranch House Motel next door to the bus station. Aprox $50 a night. Basic motel but ok. Easy walking distance to town. Internet at the Library on the way....and check out the wonderful antique store next door to the library. Free bus around town to go to the museum.
I continued on North to Missoula via Helena by Greyhound. At Missoula I stayed at another cheap motel near the bus station there. Walk into town along the river walk.
Last town I went to in Montana was Kalispell.....I love these old country towns. The Greyhound bus clerk there recommended I stay at the Blue and White Motel across town. ( There is a motel 6 near the bus station) It was about a half hour walk to the Blue and White but well worth it. Lovely place with breakfast and a pool for under $50 a night. Check out the historic Conrad Mansion museum while you are there.
Oct 6, 2012 1:00 AM
Oct 6, 2012 7:30 AM
Oct 6, 2012 8:48 AM
I am glad you enjoyed your trip to Yellowstone National Park. I am happy that you were able to do so relying on public transportation.
It causes me anguish to think that you spent all of that time and all of that money to reach Yellowstone National Park only to spend a total of 16 hours inside the park, and that was spent in a tour at $10 hour. You don't say what you were able to see in that time. I can only cringe when I imagine how much of the park you did not see.
Please, as a favor to yourself, if you are ever able to return to Yellowstone, do it when you have more time. You must consider learning to drive (or being old enough to rent a car) as a mandatory part of your preparation for the trip. The ONLY way to see the park is with the help of a car, pick-up truck, or a touring motorcycle. Even if the park does eventually provide public transportation inside the park (something I doubt for many reasons) this advice will not change.
A motorcycle, car, or pickup truck can negotiate the roads in the park easily. They operate on YOUR schedule. If you want to stop to see what the guy with the enormous telephoto lens is photographing, you can. If you discover that he is watching a pair of bald eagles fledge three chicks, you can stay and watch as long as you (and he) like.
If you want to camp inside the park, you need a vehicle to haul all of your camping gear. Camping with a vehicle inside the park is probably cheaper than a hostel and a tour from outside the park. If you stay outside the park, the only thing that will shuttle you between the park and lodging on YOUR schedule and itinerary with all of your gear is a private vehicle. A private vehicle will still be at the trailhead when you return no matter how late that may be. Yellowstone is the sort of place where a one-hour walk can take all afternoon without you realizing it.
A private vehicle can actually help you squeeze an extra day or two out of your stay. With a reservation, you can arrive at a campsite at 2:00 AM and no one will care if you are quiet. You can also stay an extra evening and leave at 4:00 AM the next day too without any trouble.
I am happy to read that you liked West Yellowstone. That is where I usually stay when I am out there. Again, I am happy that you had an enjoyable trip. I hope you can return someday and see more of what you missed on this trip. My advice to people is that it takes a minimum of two weeks to do justice to Yellowstone. There is no penalty if you sneak down to Grand Teton for three or four of those days too if you like.
Oct 6, 2012 11:51 AM
4Yes Zeldasdad......next time when I have lots of time I will think of renting a car and spending more time at yellowstone. This trip I was glad to just finally see the place and get a good introduction to the place. I did think long and hard about doing it myself in a car but I know that I really like just being a passenger and watching the scenery better. Plus in a bus you are up higher and have a much better view. After going on the two tours I would still heartly recommend them. It was a small bus with a wonderful driver/tour guide. Both days they were full of information that I would not have got on my own. The bus often pulled over to look at places and animals with short walks involved to scenic points. The first day we did the upper loop and the second the lower loop. We also had a picnic meal in the woods both days.
Oct 6, 2012 12:19 PM
5What causes me much more anguish is compliant acceptance of the fact that a car is a must for one of the iconic national parks in the country ... it's quite incredible really ... but I'm not sure what came first - addiction to automobiles or an absence of public transport.
Whatever, Yellowstone is totally suited to a system of jaunty hop on hop off shuttle buses (like Zion NP), or even a very quiet, very efficient light rail network ... it would be wonderful to heavily reduce or even prohibit private vehicles in some areas. And the public transport could be integrated with the provision of affordable cabins and campgrounds.
But perhaps that is all too Bolshie for American tastes ... which is a pity.
And yes ... 16 hours in the Park is a bit skinny, and I think you need four full days (not two weeks however) to do the place justice, and more importantly, justify the time and expense of getting there in the first place,
And it does seem tragic that you missed Grand Teton NP and Glacier NP when you were so close to both ... but hopefully there'll be another time.
Oct 6, 2012 8:52 PM
6Ian....there was some kind of experimental shuttle service started up in the park during this past summer but it had closed for the season by the time I got there. Maybe they will do it next year. It certainly would help the park but of course cost to run is the final line these days.
I have traveled around many countries using local transport. I was interested to see how it would go in car dependent America. It is doable but you have to be more flexible and be ready to go to plan B of C.. I had hoped to make it to Glacier national park but by then my money was running low and I would have had to rent a car for a few days as the road across the park was closed for work. Yellowstone was my priority....and to see something of Montana........
Actually I did get over to Jackson from Idaho with friends I stopped with on the way north...but that is another story. :O). As for cost getting there .......it helps to have standby flying priviledges from a son who works for the airlines. :O) :O)
Oct 7, 2012 2:45 PM
7Not that it's bad in any way, mind you, but just that they don't think it ought to be as much of a key destination as people make it out to be.
Funny you should say that ... I was flayed alive and dragged over broken glass on Yellowstone.net for admitting that we were a little "disappointed" in YNP. This is decidedly relative of course - the place is wonderful - but not quite as outstanding and iconic as every National Geographic since 1952 has been telling me.
I mean, the Lower Falls of the Grand Canyon were superb, and Old Faithful was impressive, but the mountains do not match Grand Teton or Glacier, the geothermal features are no better than New Zealand, and the wildlife was scarce indeed ... we did not think spending hours on the side of the road in Lamar Valley, with a super-scope to see something 600 yards away, counted as a good experience.
A momma grizzly bear and two cubs did wander nonchalantly past our car a few feet away ... that was neat.
Overall, certainly worth it, especially if it's part of a longer trip - we arrived via Red Fish Lake, Wilson, Grand Teton NP, and then spent five days in the Park, exiting again via US89 South - without visiting West Yellowstone (we had no reason to). We travelled US212 only east as far as the NE Entrance ... again it was nice, but not spectacular - but I understand further east it is very good.
Oct 7, 2012 4:58 PM
8ian, I think I recall advising you against going to Yellowstone on the grounds that it was too far out of your way and didn't really justify the effort to get there. I am thinking of writing another FAQ post for foreigners about traveling in the Western United States, but before I give a lukewarm review to Yellowstone I want to try to be sure that my route through the place just happened to be the worst possible one, and that in fact it's much more spectacular than I had thought.
It's unlikely that this would be the case, but not impossible by any stretch. There are parts of the West where, if you take "Route A," you'll roll your eyes and wonder why anyone recommended it so highly, but if you take "Route B" through the same place, you'll be raving about the scenery. Hence my inquiry to others who've been there.
Thanks for the information about U.S. 212, by the way. I've always been curious, but for one reason or another never got around to taking that road. Funny about the wildlife. At one point as I drove through Yellowstone, my car was surrounded by bison. I was a little nervous.
Oct 7, 2012 5:33 PM
9West Yellowstone is not pretty but is utilitarian at the edge of the park.
Plenty of rooms and mediocre eateries, an Imax screen theater.
Competing outfitters for snowmobiles in the winter.
West of town the Island Park area is famous for winter snowmobiling.
Henrys Lake is great fishing. River rafting and hunting, on and on.
The town is a good base for activities.
Oct 7, 2012 6:07 PM
10#10, thanks much for that. It's what I had thought, but I wanted to make sure. I thought Yellowstone was beautiful, by the way. I saw it about a week before the park closed for the season in 2003, so there weren't many people around. And I made sure to drive around inside for a couple hundred miles. I know that the backcountry there is better, but what I saw just didn't make me want to jump out of the car and kiss the ground like some of the other places I've been in the wide-open American West.
About three weeks ago, I ran into some European tourists who had flown to Seattle and then driven to Yellowstone and back via mostly the Interstates. I didn't say anything bad to them. They were going to leave for home in two days, and only a real jerk tells someone what they "should" have done on a trip. But I couldn't help but think that they'd made a real mistake.
As a practical matter, Yellowstone to Seattle and back is four long days, and that's if you don't see anything along the way. So, in essence, they took a week to go there and back. Hey, it's their trip and not mine, but geez, I can easily think of better ways to have spent that time. So, at some point, that's my next FAQ. Not some anti-Yellowstone screech, but more along the lines of "three weeks in the wide open West from Seattle or Portland."
Oct 7, 2012 6:49 PM
11Willie.....the road up to Bozeman from West Yellowstone....traveling just outside the parks west boundry was very nice. Of course I live on a tropical island so this was exotic country for me. It was up through a beautiful narrow valley with horse ranches...... and high rock peaked moutains above us.....going along side of a river. I mentioned to somebody in Bozeman, what a lovely ride up it was, but that guy said the road to Bozeman from the north entrance of Yellowstone was even better.
As already stated.....the town of West Yellowstone is utilitarian....although the ranger station/visitors center is a must and so is the Grizzly and Wolf center. The little museum in the old railway station is interesting. The road from the West Entrance to the park until the road loops is very beautiful country....especially with the autumn colors that were coming out while I was there. It runs along side of a river and we always had animal viewing along the way....also eagles.
Oct 7, 2012 7:07 PM
12Willy! First, welcome back from Oblivion. You owe us a travelogue at the least.
I don't think Kuralt did as much traveling as his long-running series would lead one to believe. US-212, the Bear Tooth Highway, is certainly scenic but I would not describe it as the "most beautiful" west of the Mississippi. Of course both roads and old memories change with time and "beauty" is subjective. Some of my favorite drives west of the Mississippi are listed below in no particular order. Each is so different from the others that I can't imagine any basis for ranking them.
2. The Alcan as it passes Kluane National Park in Yukon Territory, Canada
3. Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
4. I-70 across the San Rafael Swell
5. I-15 through the Virgin River Gorge (especially in a roadster when the cops are on a donut break!)
6. The road up Pikes Peak
8. The road over the Island in the Sky in Canyonlands
9. SD-87 the Needles Highway
10. The northern branch of US-14 across the Bighorn Mountains (On the way to Yellowstone for me)
11. US-395 through the Owens Valley
12. US-287 across Wyoming
13. CA-190 across Death Valley
If I thought about it longer, I could name several dozen more.
I also find the idea of defending Yellowstone National park as a primary destination if not the sole destination for a trip from anywhere else a little disconcerting.
Yellowstone is a geologic wonderland. There is nothing else like it anywhere in the world. It would greatly increase anyone’s enjoyment of the park to learn a little about the geology before visiting the park. The geysers, hot springs, and paint pots are endless in numbers and varieties. The geologic processes that created the park read like science fiction. If you understand what you are looking at, you can see it in the cliff faces.
The park is also the largest collection of large North American animals outside of the wilder parts of Alaska.
Grand Teton National Park adjoins Yellowstone National Park. The Grand Teton Mountains are as scenic as any mountains in the world. I regard the two parks as a package so I take umbrage at describing the mountains of “Yellowstone” as “ho-hum.” There was a time when mountains as majestic as the Tetons existed in Yellowstone National Park. The volcanic explosion that created the park blew pieces of them as far away as Texas.
If none of this interests you, please stay away from Yellowstone and the Tetons. They are too crowded as it is and people who don’t see the point of going there just clutter it up for the rest of us.
Anyway, welcome back.
Oct 7, 2012 7:09 PM
13I'm pretty sure I took U.S. 20 to U.S. 89 on my exit, then U.S. 89 up to Livingston. Bozeman looks like it'd be U.S. 191. Can you compare the scenery on U.S. 191 to the scenery on U.S. 89, or to put it a different way, the scenery between the park and Livingston to the scenery between the park and Bozeman?
Oct 7, 2012 7:48 PM
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