Yellowstone National Park is tucked away in the northwest corner of Wyoming, about 300 miles (6 hours) from Salt Lake City. The closest regional airport is in Bozeman, Montana, approximately 100 miles north of Mammoth Hot Springs and about 90 miles from West Yellowstone. The five airlines serving Bozeman’s Gallatin Field offer a total of 18 or more daily flights during the winter season, with additional flights scheduled during the holiday season and winter break. Renting a car will be your best bet as transportation to and from the park in winter is limited. Most major car rental agencies have on-airport locations and offer a full range of vehicles and services.
Another option will be to fly into Idaho Falls, which is a little over 100 miles south of West Yellowstone. Served by three airlines with a total of 13 daily flights, there are fewer options, but if you’re headed to the south entrance at Flagg Ranch, this is an alternative to flying directly into Jackson, Wyoming. Several rental car companies offer a wide range of vehicles on-site.
Note: The West Yellowstone Airport is closed in winter. Jackson Hole Airport should only be used if you are going to Yellowstone through Flagg Ranch.
For those who don’t mind driving the extra 400 miles round-trip, flying into Salt Lake City will provide more choices and cheaper fares. Round-trip fares to Salt Lake City start at $139, with flights from the East Coast starting around $199. Comparatively, fares for flights into Idaho Falls average over $300, while you may be able to catch a break into Bozeman with fares in the $225 range from the Midwest and $350 from the East Coast. During the snowy winter season, flying into Bozeman may be your best choice if you want to avoid excess driving in inclement weather. Route 20 coming into West Yellowstone from the south can be a bit treacherous at times. However, both West Yellowstone and Mammoth Hot Springs are fairly easy two-hour drives from Bozeman.
When choosing a rental car, make sure that you take into consideration all of the bulky winter clothing and any equipment (skis, snowshoes, etc.) that you’ll be carrying. In addition, you may want to select a vehicle, such as an SUV, that will perform better in the winter weather. While the roads leading to Mammoth Hot Springs are kept fairly clear, if you plan on driving the road to Cooke City, you’ll want a heavier vehicle with front-wheel or four-wheel drive. If you’re venturing down to West Yellowstone, be aware that the roads in the area are often covered with a light snowpack to allow easy access to snowmobiles. There is an extensive trail system in the West Yellowstone area that is outside of the park, so you’ll likely encounter lots of snowmobile traffic in and around town.
If you decide to do this trip without a rental car, which I don’t recommend with kids, you can take a once daily shuttle to Mammoth or four times daily shuttle to West Yellowstone from the Bozeman airport. Karst Stage offers round-trip service to West Yellowstone for $92.90 (1/2 price ages 3-12 and free for under 3) and to Mammoth for $110.25 per person based upon 3-4 passengers (1/2 price ages 3-12 and free for under 3). If you’re really adventurous and don’t mind 7 hours on a bus, Salt Lake Express offers shuttle service from the Salt Lake City Airport to West Yellowstone at 10AM daily (leaves downtown at 9:30AM) for about $120 round-trip ($10 less for ages 2-12 and free under 2). There is no practical shuttle service from Idaho Falls.
If you’re staying in Bozeman for a few days, there is a free shuttle system called Streamline that will get you to most places that you want to go. Getting around Mammoth, however, will require a bit of walking. Although everything is within walking distance, you may want to use your car on cold days and when hiking the terraces (beware – parking can be a challenge). Snowmobiles are not available for local rental in Mammoth, so unless you have your own, you’ll be walking.
In West Yellowstone, you’ll have several transportation choices. Snowmobile is the most common form of transportation, but you can easily walk to restaurants, shops and attractions if you’ve chosen a centrally located hotel. Finding parking will be relatively easy and taxis are available if you’re without a vehicle. West Yellowstone will offer the most services and opportunities for tours into the park.
Transportation into the park will only be by a guided snowmobile tour or snowcoach. Once inside the park, you’ll be limited to one of these transportation options or cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or walking. There is no motorized transportation within the park other than “group” tours.
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