Yellowstone guide services and commercial bus tours abound, based both inside the park and in the gateway towns. Concessionaire Xanterra (tel. 307/344-7311; www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com) operates the in-park tours, many of them in historic yellow tour buses, a throwback to tourism of yesteryear. The most intensive option whirls you to the major highlights on Grand Loop Road, an all-day affair taking off from Old Faithful, Mammoth, and Gardiner ($114–$121 adult). Other trips are shorter and more specialized, focusing on wildlife-watching, geyser basins, photography, and more. These tours range from 2 to 6 hours and cost $28 to $93 for adults. When the snow flies, snowcoach tours take over for the buses.
Xanterra’s tours don’t stop at the water’s edge, either: You can also hop on a Yellowstone Lake Scenicruise for a boat trip around Stevenson Island, complete with historic tales from the boat’s skipper. The cruise lasts an hour and costs $18 for adults. Guides will also take you out on chartered fishing and sightseeing rides on a 22-foot powerboat ($94/hour). Chefs at some of the park restaurants will even cook up your fresh-caught lake trout for you.
Several standout tours begin outside the park. Buffalo Bus Touring Company (tel. 877/600-4308; www.yellowstonevacations.com) is one favorite out of West Yellowstone: Choose from an upper loop or lower loop tour, or combine the two, and visit park hotspots with a certified naturalist. Single-loop trips are $75, and doubles cost $140. Yellowstone Alpen Guides (tel. 406/646-9591; www.yellowstoneguides.com), also out of West Yellowstone, offers evening wildlife tours and private photo tours along with a general lower loop trip; expect most tours to last 8 hours and cost $90 for adults. If you’d rather hand over trip-planning entirely, Adventure Bus (tel. 909/633-7225; www.adventurebus.com) will whisk you from Salt Lake City through Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Jackson on a 7-day tour, including hiking excursions and camping nights ($995 per person, most food included).
One of the best ways to really get to know Yellowstone is through the park’s nonprofit partner, Yellowstone Forever ★★★ (tel. 406/848-2400; www.yellowstone.org), formerly the Yellowstone Association. The group runs a staggering number of day and multiday courses on wildlife, geology, hiking, photography, fishing, and more. Field Seminars base you out of the Lamar Buffalo Ranch Field Campus in the Lamar Valley or the Yellowstone Overlook Field Campus in Gardiner, both excellent perks of participating. Lodging & Learning programs are even more inclusive, including nights in park hotels and most meals.