Yellowstone transit from BZN
July 13, 2016 1:45 PM   Subscribe

Yellowstone: any affordable direct daytrip (from BZN airport area) that's not a "bus tour"?

This single day will be my first Yellowstone visit (and only visit for years). So it's worth it not to do public transit, and cabs seem not very expensive. I'm posting to see whether a plain old cab roundtrip is my best option or if there's some hybrid I'm missing.

The bus tours I've found do provide direct transit but they assume you want to hit all the photogenic points for half an hour each and spend time on a sit-down lunch.

What I want is morning transit directly from a residential address several miles west of BZN (just off I-90 in Belgrade) to some central point in Yellowstone Park from which I can do my own thing alone for the day, then return transit to that same address in the evening. This will be on a weekday, a couple weeks from now.

I don't care about geysers – I care about beautiful trails (easy to moderate), vistas, and rivers/waterfalls.
posted by kalapierson to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total)
I would recommend renting a car. Yellowstone is big, and if you want to see more than one area, you will probably want to drive rather than walk along the road from place to place. Yellowstone Falls is a must see if you want beautiful water, and it's pretty far from a lot of other stuff, most notably, the areas that bison hang out.

I can't say how hitchhiking is within the park, but it might be worth a try because lord knows there are A LOT OF CARS on the road.

The cheapest car rental place is one in the airport, Hertz, I think.
posted by Grandysaur at 2:13 PM on July 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks (and thanks for your awesome pm!) – I should've mentioned I need to do this without car rental
posted by kalapierson at 2:40 PM on July 13, 2016

Hi! I traditionally make the trip up every summer to Bozeman and the Belgrade region to go and visit family, and have been to Yellowstone a good few times. My opinion is that a basic tour of Yellowstone's experiences, unfortunately, just might not be capable without an inexpensive and reliable mode of transportation (i.e., a bus tour, or someone you already know with a vehicle who's willing to drive). The reason being? There's so much to see from the road in this massive park, and not really so much of a 'central area' to be selected without sorely diminishing the variety of all that's there - I'd be at a loss to recommend it.

Especially because you're not so interested in geysers. That would be the selling point; that'll be where you'll find most 'hikes.'

Instead, what I would recommend, if you'll permit me, is to have a look at going to Hyalite Canyon, just 30 minutes south of Bozeman by car. It's absolutely stunning - surprisingly mountainous, for being so nearby, full of rivers and meadows and lakes with views and great fishing and day-hikes - it could provide very much of what you might want to see with regards to scenery. (It also does not have the remains of the very sad and arguably un-scenic Yellowstone fire that happened a few decades ago... and also would not be swarmed by the throngs of tourists I've always seen at the Park during these summer months.)

If you do choose to go to Hyalite, by, say, scheduling a cab to pick you up from the airport and retrieve you at a set point in the evening, I think you'll find yourself feeling much more satisfied and free at the end of the day. You also get the added benefit of getting to avoid the thousands upon thousands of tourists you'll see in Yellowstone - it's one of the most popular international destinations in the states, believe it or not, and you'll see what I mean should you go there in during the summer months.

Feel free to PM me for more details! I'd be glad to talk to family up there for recommendations to help plan if you'd like.
posted by a good beginning at 3:25 PM on July 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

Definitely rent a car. I see you said that's not possible. Realistically, though, it is your only reasonable option.
posted by so fucking future at 3:41 PM on July 13, 2016

Just want to mention that Yellowstone is BIG. Maybe I'm in the naive minority, but having lived in the midwest, I really couldn't fathom how big Yellowstone was. In my mind, we would enter the park on the east, at Cody, and cut through the park, and exit at Gardner. We'd see a quick corner of the park, and it would be neat. In reality, that little cut through, with little sight-seeing, took at least 2 hours driving. There's no 'central area' any more than there's a central area of the state of Rhode Island. A quick check confirms - Yellowstone is larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined.

Although touristy, I'd recommend re-considering a tour. It would be great to have someone show you around, and shuttle you around to a few sites. Take the lunch hour to wander off for a bit.
posted by hydra77 at 4:05 PM on July 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Just chiming in to say getting a cab in Bozeman is incredibly expensive and difficult. There is no Uber in Montana yet. Yes, hylite is more beautiful and way less crowded than Yellowstone. Tour busing may be your only viablr option if you can't rent a car. I'd rent a car if at all possible.
posted by Kalmya at 4:43 PM on July 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Really appreciate the help – I wasn't getting Yellowstone's scale *or* its throngs. My experience is east coast parks (easier, more compact, WAY less crowded).

Car rental's not an option – I never learned to drive – but I might be taking up an awesome mefite on a pm'd offer to drive me for a lot less than a cab's cost (initially I radically mis-googled both the length and the cost of cab to Yosemite), either to Yellowstone or to Hyalite...
posted by kalapierson at 8:18 PM on July 13, 2016

Response by poster: (By "Yosemite" I of course mean "Yellowstone." Need to slowwwwww downnnnnnn today.)
posted by kalapierson at 8:48 PM on July 13, 2016

+1 for Hyalite Canyon, which is literally one of my favorite spots on earth. If you're in good shape, you can bike there. I did it when I was 90 lbs and had only been biking for a year. There should be a place to rent mountain bikes - check Northern Lights Trading Company, which is the local indie version of REI. They will know. They will also have suggestions on how to get to Yellowstone/Hyalite and maps. I knew several freelance tour guides that worked there part time.

I would also check with the Montana State University rec department. It's likely there's a college kid going down there that would love to make a few bucks, and it'd be way cheaper than a cab (do they even have taxis in BZN???). Maybe find one on Craigslist.

Get bear bells and bug spray!!
posted by AFABulous at 7:17 AM on July 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Another place to go hiking is Sypes Canyon, which is bikeable from the city. Beautiful views of the Gallatin Valley, though no lake like there is in Hyalite. Bring your lunch, hike up, and eat it while you gaze at the view. IIRC, Hyalite has easier trails though. Neither has actual climbing.

But for real, the people Northern Lights can answer absolutely any question you have about the area and they'll know current conditions. I worked there for a couple of years.

Ugh, I am so jealous. You'll have a blast.

One random note - if you're from the east coast and haven't been to the Rockies before, you'll be surprised by the relative lack of oxygen. Hiking is going to be harder than it will back east, especially if you only have a day or two to acclimate. But you'll be fine & you'll love it. It's amaaazing.
posted by AFABulous at 7:28 AM on July 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

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