The automobile is the main method of transport within the park. You won't find any trains or buses with regular schedules, although many tour operators use buses. Bikes are a common sight on park roads, but both riders and drivers should exercise extreme caution here: Roads are twisty and rife with wildlife, pulled-over vehicles, and jaw-dropping scenery.
The closest airport to Yellowstone is Yellowstone Airport (406/646-7631; www.yellowstoneairport.org), just 1 mile north of the town of West Yellowstone, Montana (and 2 miles north of the west entrance to the park), on U.S. 191. The airport has commercial flights seasonally, late May through the end of September only, on Delta Airlines, connecting through Salt Lake City.
American Airlines, Delta, SkyWest, and United all have flights to and from Jackson Hole Airport (307/733-7682; www.jacksonholeairport.com), which is right in Grand Teton National Park in Jackson, Wyoming, and only 56 miles of scenic driving from the southern entrance of Yellowstone.
To the north, Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (406/388-8321; www.bozemanairport.com) in Bozeman, Montana, provides service via Alaska, Allegiant, American Airlines, Delta, Frontier, and United, as well as private jet service through Jet Suite. From Bozeman, you can drive 87 miles on U.S. 191 to the West Yellowstone entrance, or you can drive 20 miles east on I-90 to Livingston and then 53 miles south on U.S. 89 to the Gardiner entrance.
Also to the north, Billings Logan International Airport (406/247-8609; www.flybillings.com), Montana’s busiest airport, is only 2 miles north of downtown Billings, Montana. Service is provided by Allegiant, Alaska, Delta, Cape Air, and United. From Billings, it’s a 65-mile drive south on U.S. 212 to Red Lodge, and then 30 miles on the Beartooth Highway to the northeast Yellowstone entrance in Cooke City.
Yellowstone Regional Airport (307/587-5096; www.flyyra.com) in Cody, Wyoming, serves the Bighorn Basin as well as the east and northeast entrances of Yellowstone with year-round commercial flights via Delta/SkyWest and United Express. From Cody, it’s a gorgeous 53-mile drive west along U.S. 14/16/20 to the east entrance of Yellowstone.
Airfares to the small airports surrounding the parks can be pricey, so if you like to drive, consider flying into Salt Lake City, Utah, and driving about 300 miles to Grand Teton National Park, a route that has some nice scenic stretches. Even Denver, a drive of roughly 500 miles, is an alternative, although the route is not nearly as scenic.
If interstate highways and international airports are the measure of accessibility, then Yellowstone is as remote as Alaska’s Denali National Park. But more than four million people make it here every year, on tour buses, in family vans, on bicycles, and astride snowmobiles—even from the other side of the world. Car is the most common method of travel in and around the park, and the most convenient. Public transportation is sparse in these parts, and the lack of trains makes it nearly impossible to even get near the park without a vehicle.
Grand Teton’s gateways are from the north, south, and east. Drivers naturally enter from whichever side they approach the parks. From the west, U.S. 20 or U.S. 191 takes you to West Yellowstone, Montana. From the south, U.S. 191 runs through Jackson and the length of Jackson Hole before entering Yellowstone. From the east, U.S. 20 bisects Cody, Wyoming, and continues west 53 miles to the east entrance of Yellowstone. The northeast entrance of Yellowstone is accessible from U.S. 212 via Cooke City, Montana. Finally, the north entrance is just outside Gardiner, Montana, on U.S. 89.
Most of the major auto-rental agencies have operations in the gateway city airports. Visit each airport’s rental car page for details, national reservation phone numbers, and local rental desk phone numbers. Also consider using a third-party booker such as Hotwire (www.hotwire.com) or Kayak (www.kayak.com) for substantial savings on your rates. You’ll find the most car rental companies at Billings Logan International (www.flybillings.com/815/car-rentals) and Bozeman Yellowstone International (www.bozemanairport.com), with eight each. Jackson Hole Airport and the town of Jackson together host eight options, with three at the airport itself (www.jacksonholeairport.com/airport-guide). Five outfits operate out of Cody’s Yellowstone Regional Airport (www.flyyra.com/parking-transportation), and three are based in West Yellowstone’s Yellowstone Airport (www.yellowstoneairport.org/airport-info.shtml).
One U.S. gallon equals 3.8 liters or .85 imperial gallons. Gasoline is sold in the gateway cities, but at only a select few locations in the park; fill up well before empty. International visitors should note that insurance and taxes are almost never included in quoted rental car rates in the U.S. Be sure to ask your rental agency about additional fees for these. They can add a significant cost to your car rental.
Driving Distances to Yellowstone National Park
Salt Lake City: 390 miles
Denver: 563 miles
Las Vegas: 809 miles
Seattle: 827 miles
Portland: 869 miles
Omaha: 946 miles
Washington, D.C.: 2,081 miles
By Bus or Shuttle
Public transportation options are fairly limited around the parks, but there are a few companies that will haul you from selected airports to gateway towns. For long-distance bus travel, check Greyhound (800/231-2222; www.greyhound.com) schedules for Bozeman, Jackson, and Idaho Falls. From the Bozeman airport, you can catch a ride to West Yellowstone with Karst Stage (406/556-3500; www.karststage.com) for $95 one-way (prices drop if you have more passengers) or Yellowstone Roadrunner (406/640-0631; www.yellowstoneroadrunner.com). The latter also serves Jackson and Idaho Falls; call for rates. And in winter, Xanterra Parks & Resorts (307/344-7311; www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com) runs a daily shuttle from Bozeman airport to Mammoth for $75 one-way (advance booking required).
Tips for RVers
You love ‘em, or you hate ‘em—the large, lumbering vehicles that serve some travelers as both transport and home. There are some retirees, self-named “full-timers,” who sell their homes and most of their possessions and spend the rest of their lives chasing comfortable weather down the highway. Others might see it as a cost-saving way to vacation in the West—by renting a rolling room for the whole family at perhaps $1,000 per week plus gas. Is that a better deal than an economy car and inexpensive motels? You do the math.
You don’t have to carry your bags, or even unpack them, and you’ll sleep in campgrounds instead of motels, hear the sounds of the night outside, and have great flexibility in planning your itinerary. The trade-off is horrid gas mileage, making your own beds, and preparing your own meals most of the time.
A few years back, Yellowstone officials considered closing the RV campground at Fishing Bridge, on the north end of Yellowstone Lake. The outcry was enormous, testimony to the immense popularity of RV travel, so the Fishing Bridge facility remains open today. You can drive most of the major roads in both parks with an RV or a trailer; but there will be some areas where large vehicles are prohibited, and most of the camping areas don’t provide hookups—Colter Bay, Flagg Ranch, and Fishing Bridge are the exceptions.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.