Yellowstone National Park was founded in 1872 as the United States’ first national park. The park’s uniqueness comes from the numbers and varieties of geysers and other hydrothermal features located in the park. In fact, Yellowstone contains approximately one-half of the world’s hydrothermal features.
Unfortunately, Yellowstone National Park lost its nearby Amtrak service in 1979. The only low fare airlines to the area fly directly to Denver and the Southwest. Therefore, utilizing a combination of Amtrak trains and buses is the cheapest way for many people to travel to the Yellowstone area. Here are five tips/hints for effectively traveling to/from Yellowstone by land:
One: You must know the park entrances available to you at the time of the year you are traveling. During the peak travel months of mid-May to early November, all five entrances are open: North near Gardiner, MT; West near West Yellowstone, MT; South near Jackson, WY; East near Cody, WY and Northeast near Silver Gate, MT. Starting in mid-November, only the North Entrance is open until spring.
Two: If you are traveling to Yellowstone via Amtrak when all of the entrances are open, riding the California Zephyr to Salt Lake City is the train line of choice. If you are coming from San Francisco or anywhere in the west, the train arrives in Salt Lake City at 4:05 am. You can catch the Salt Lake Express bus to Jackson, WY at 7:30 am. You will want to disembark at Jackson’s airport at 2:15 pm so you can take advantage of the airport’s car rental facilities. To go back west, you can take the 11:30 am Salt Lake Express bus to catch the 11:30 pm Amtrak departure.
If you are coming from Chicago or anywhere in the east, the California Zephyr arrives in Salt Lake City at 11:00 pm. You may wish to rent a hotel room for the night, since the Salt Lake Express bus doesn’t leave until 7:30 am (as noted above.) To go back east, you must take the same 11:30 am bus described above. Since it arrives at 6:15 pm in Salt Lake City and your train departure is not until 4:30 am, you may wish to book a hotel room for the night.
Three: In the winter, you must use the Empire Builder to get to Yellowstone National Park’s North Entrance. The best way to connect with the Empire Builder is through Spokane, Washington. Greyhound Lines has a convenient schedule that works well with Amtrak’s. Part of the beauty of connecting through Spokane is that the trains arrive and depart in the early morning from both directions. Thus, if you are going to Yellowstone, your train will arrive in Spokane no later than 2:00 am. You can take the 5:05 am Greyhound bus and arrive in Bozeman, MT at 12:50 pm. From Bozeman, there is a 4:50 pm bus that arrives in Spokane at 12:35 am. The earliest train leaves Spokane at 1:15 am. Connecting in Spokane is easy since Greyhound uses the Spokane train station as its depot. Since the connections take place in the middle of the night, this is very convenient. Also, this connection works well year-round if you are coming from Seattle, Portland or anywhere in the Northwest.
Four: If you are planning to drive to Yellowstone from Bozeman, you should use one of the rental car facilities at the airport. Although there are some rental car offices in town, they have limited hours, especially on weekends. Some of the airport rental car facilities will pick you up at the Bozeman Amtrak station at no additional charge for added convenience.
Five: Both the Empire Builder and California Zephyr are all-reserved trains. Whether you are experiencing Amtrak’s coach service or the Superliner sleeping accommodations, you must make advanced reservations. By buying your tickets in advance for both Amtrak and bus services, you may be able to receive discounted advance purchase fares and special fares for students and seniors.