By Craig Royal
Yellowstone is one of the most magical places on Earth. It’s like going to a zoo, but the animals roam free and the background scenery is straight out of a movie. It might be 70 degrees outside, but you can still get a picture with a snow capped mountain and bison in the background.
I was lucky enough to spend about five weeks there this summer. We stayed in the employee RV lot near Fishing Bridge. We were heading to the park from Wisconsin, so I did a little research on the best way to get into the park. I was looking for the safest, the most scenic, and the fastest! I have four small kids, so I’m not afforded too much time for scenic drives 🙂
I was driving a 39-foot Class A diesel pusher motorhome and towing a 5,000 pound car behind me. So obviously steep inclines, declines, and tight turns are always something to be aware of.
During our stay in Yellowstone, we made a point of seeing as much of the park as possible, which included driving to each of the park entrances. Here is some information on what you can see at each entrance as well as what to look out for during your travels.
This is the original entrance into Yellowstone. You’ll drive through the small town of Gardiner, Mont., to get to the entrance. When driving in, you’ll see the Roosevelt Arch, which provides a great photo op!
If you are staying in or visiting Mammoth Hot Springs, this entrance is the closest to that village.
This entrance is open to wheeled vehicles all year round, so if you are visiting in the winter or early spring months (November – April), plan on using this entrance.
Some say this entrance is the most scenic. Getting to the park, you will drive through the Beartooth Mountains on Hwy 212, also known as Beartooth Highway. All of my research said this highway was do-able with an RV, but it definitely seemed like it was the most dangerous. We chose to avoid this one in the RV.
Once you get into the park, you will drive through Lamar Valley. This is the one of the best animal spotting places in the park. In the spring, there is a chance you will see wolves here, since they like to hunt in the valley. There is also no shortage of bison here and the sprawling expanse of the valley allows for tons of pictures.
This is the entrance we used both in and out of the park. The drive in from Cody, Wyo., is possible my favorite stretch in the entire Yellowstone area. The drive takes you through a tunnel in a mountain, through Buffalo Bill State Park, and along the Shoshone River.
Once inside the park, you have about 20 miles from the entrance to get to Fishing Bridge village. There are definitely some inclines heading in. A few 7 percent grades that stretch a couple of miles. Be aware of this if driving an RV or pulling a trailer. It’s a bit of a winding road, but is manageable if you go slow and carefully.
The other thing to be aware of if you plan on coming from the east is the Bighorn Mountains. This mountain range is about 150 miles east of Cody. There are two options to go through the Bighorn Mountains — the northern route and the southern route. In reality, if you’re driving an RV or pulling a trailer, there is only one option – the southern route via U.S. Hwy. 16.
If you choose to go the northern route, on U.S. Hwy. 14, the road will split to Hwy. 14 and and Hwy. 14A. In my opinion, neither of these are a good options for RVers. U.S. Hwy. 14A consists of a 10 mile stretch with 10 percent grades and very sharp curves. US Hwy. 14 has 5 to 7 percent grades with big switchbacks. White-knuckle driving is no way to travel!
We took the southern route on U.S. Hwy. 16 and really took our time on this stretch. There are quite a few steep downhill grades, most at 7 percent, so I stayed in a low gear as well as using my engine brake several times. This kept me in control and safe during my drive. On a few of the inclines, I had the pedal to the floor and crept along at about 20 mph even with a 350-hp Cummins motor.
The south entrance comes up from Jackson, Wyo. Here you’ll find the Grand Tetons, which is the most beautiful mountain range in the Yellowstone area. There is a lot to do in this area, including hiking, skiing, and even shopping.
Driving into Yellowstone from the Jackson Hole area is a very easy drive. There are no steep hills or tight turns to worry about, so you can enjoy this one. You’ll head into the park and soon come upon Grant Village.
Just outside of Yellowstone is the city of West Yellowstone. West Yellowstone has plenty of restaurants, shopping and lodging. The RV parks inside of Yellowstone fill up quickly, so West Yellowstone would be a good second choice if you’re looking to stay near the park. We didn’t get too far outside the park on the west end, so I can’t comment too much on the roadways west of West Yellowstone, but once you’re in the park there should be no problems navigating your rig.
Yellowstone National Park does a good job of updating its website with information on their roads. Since the road inside the park is a figure eight shape, and is two lanes, traffic can be a problem. There are bear jams and bison jams to go along with road construction, which can add quite a bit to your drive time. My advice is to plan on your travel time to take around 30 minutes more than expected. Then, use that time to sit back and enjoy the sights of the park.
Here are a couple of links to the Yellowstone National Park website that give more information on their roads:
www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/roadclosures.htm will give you information on road construction and possible road closures.
www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/parkroads.htm will give you information on which roads are open depending on the time of year you will be visiting.
Also, a very important thing to remember when in the park, keep a safe distance from all animals you see. Bison may look like big teddy bears, but they are unpredictable and can be very dangerous. Here are Yellowstone’s guidelines on how to view wildlife safely. www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/viewanim.htm
The most useful resource I found when planning my route to and inside Yellowstone was this website www.rvtechmag.com. It details all entrance roads and what to look out for with your RV. Be sure to plan your route carefully so you can truly enjoy all the beauty Yellowstone has to offer.
If you are looking for more information on what to do during your trip to Yellowstone, be sure to check out the Yellowstone page on our blog for some ideas and sign up for our free guide to 10 Unique Adventures To Do With Kids in Yellowstone. www.crazyfamilyadventure.com/yellowstone-national-park