If you want to experience sheer, jaw-dropping American beauty, take a guided tour of the remarkably diverse Yellowstone National Park. With wildlife at almost every turn, Yellowston is one of the world's foremost wildlife sanctuaries. After visiting, you'll undoubtedly have a new appreciation of nature and wildlife. Have your camera ready to capture bison, moose, osprey, elk, coyotes and river otters, not to mention frequently seen black bears and grizzlies. Along with wildlife sightings, the most popular park visits include the geysers and hot springs, Yellowstone Lake, Upper and Lower Falls, and, of course, Old Faithful.
During the turn of the 20th century, most visitors to Yellowstone arrived by train and toured the park by stagecoach or on horseback. During the 1930s, motor vehicles became more common and visitors began arriving in their own cars. Buses replaced the horses and became the new mode of exploring the park. By the mid-1930s, the park service standardized touring buses, and the White Motor Company was the winner featuring a rollback canvas convertible top. Designed by industrial stylist Alexis de Sakhoffsky, each row of seats in the bus had its own door for easy in-and-out access. Yellowstone's buses were, of course, yellow. After World War II, visitors preferred exploring the park in their own cars.
Historic Yellow Bus Tour
Step back in history and take a guided tour in a long low-slung, bus-like 13-passenger touring vehicle from Xanterra Parks and Resorts. The original touring vehicles, built by the White Motor Company, started transporting Yellowstone visitors in 1936. The Model 706s were used throughout the 1940s, but in the 1950s private vehicle usage increased exponentially. The bus-style vehicles were sold, but in 2007, eight luxurious, refurbished buses returned to the park. Xanterra offers a variety of daily yellow bus tours ranging from one hour to a full day. Choose from Picture Perfect Photo Safari, Evening Wildlife Encounters, Geyser Gazers and the eight- to 10-hour Circle of Fire Tour.
Other Tour Options
To see Yellowstone Park in one day, take a full-day interpretive tour with a naturalist at Yellowstone Safari Company. The route passes through Mammouth Hot Springs and the Upper Geyser Basin, which is home to Old Faithful. You will cross the Continental Divide to Yellowstone Lake then wind through wild meadows toward the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. For a self-guided tour of Yellowstone in your own car, visit Hayden and Lamar Valley to look for wildlife and explore the Upper Geyser Basin, which includes the most recently developed mud pot. To step back in time, head into the back country where 950 miles of trails lead into the wilderness. Pack extra food and water, and watch out for bears.
Xanterra Parks and Resorts is Yellowstone's principal concessionaire. With decades of experience, they provide summer operations, which include all nine lodging facilities in the park, four campgrounds, restaurants, interpretive tours, an RV park and Yellowstone Lake's marina. Arrange for bicycle rentals at Old Faithful Snow Lodge as well as photography workshops. Horseback trail rides are available and last from one to two hours with a minimum age of eight; reservations are recommended and book at any hotel's activity center.
When to Visit
To really enjoy Yellowstone, spend a minimum of three days. Summer is the busiest time of year to visit; the park becomes overcrowded with choking traffic. Avoid crowds by visiting in late September to mid-October when the Aspen leaves look like gold coins fluttering in the breeze and days are cool. Also, avoid visiting in April and May; it is still winter with harsh weather and common late-season snowstorms. If you have your heart set on summer, visit in mid-June when flowers are blooming and before droves of tourists show in late June.
Of course, the longest season is winter (which may begin in late October), and although the park becomes a fairytale environment with a massive amount of snow, the average temperature hovers around 0 during the day. Only one route (56 miles) remains open from Mammoth Hot Springs to the northeast entrance; most of the other park roads are closed between November and May.