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Exploring Yellowstone by RV

Navigating Your RV Safely Inside America's Oldest National Park
Article Date: May, 2011


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Yellowstone is America's first national park. It's large enough that it's actually found in three state - Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. This expansive area is surrounded by mountains and many RVers are not quite sure about how safe travel is in these areas. Couple that with the fact that travelers approaching from the east also have to content with the Bighorn Mountains and you have some real questions about just where to drive and still be safe.

We've been traveling to Yellowstone in various vehicles over the last 25 years and have made countless trips to this area in a number of different sized RVs as well as SUVs. I'll offer up some advice here based on my insight into the various routes that we've experienced. This information will not be geared to travelers in passenger cars or other lighter vehicles because there's really no limits as to which roads they can take. Instead, I'll gear this information towards RVers driving large motorhomes because that's where the unique personalities of the various routes come into play and have some serious affect.

The Park

Mention Yellowstone and the first thoughts that come to mind are bears and Old Faithful. While Old Faithful is certainly the most popular attraction in Yellowstone, it's merely one element of a huge thermal area. In fact, one fourth of the world's geysers are found in Yellowstone. But, the park is much more than geysers, hot springs, and boiling mud pots. Yellowstone Lake is the largest mountain lake in the United States.

Snow runoff feeds the lake and a number of streams and rivers, which flow into the lower areas. These valleys are host to a plethora of fauna, including bison, elk, grizzly bears, bighorn sheep, and more than 100 different species of birds. Anyone who has stood at the brink of the Yellowstone River's 308-foot-tall Lower Falls will never forget the view down the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

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Bull elk can be found in a number of areas. The fall rut is the best time to see them as they gather harems and spar with other males.

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The elevation gain encountered in the mountains approaching Yellowstone.

How Big Is It?

Yellowstone encompasses more than 2.2-million acres. Mostly in Wyoming, it overflows into Montana and Idaho. In 1891, the Army Corps of Engineers constructed Yellowstone's roads in a figure-eight pattern. Today's roads basically follow those same routes and are known as the Grand Loop, which is 154 miles long.

Mention Yellowstone and the first thoughts that come to mind are bears and Old Faithful. While Old Faithful is certainly the most popular attraction in Yellowstone, it's merely one element of a huge thermal area. In fact, one fourth of the world's geysers are found in Yellowstone. But, the park is much more than geysers, hot springs, and boiling mud pots. Yellowstone Lake is the largest mountain lake in the United States.

Five Entrances

Yellowstone has 5 entrances and can be approached from virtually any direction. In addition, there are three routes over the Bighorn Mountains that need to be fully appreciated before an RVer makes his choice as to which one to take. I'll give my perspective on all of these routes and attempt to illustrate with pictures whenever possible. Hopefully this will give you some good information to help you plan your trip. The main thing to remember is that Yellowstone is spectacular! There is no reason for any RVer to avoid going there. If you plan your route accordingly you'll find this to be one of the greatest RV trips you've ever taken. Hopefully this web page will help you make the decisions that will lead to an enjoyable time for all.

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Yellowstone's roads are laid out in a figure-eight loop design. Five spurs connect the Grand Loop with the gateway communities.

Yellowstone is basically a large squarish shaped park with a total of five entrance gates, one on each edge of the park plus one coming in at the northeast corner. These spur roads allow visitor access from virtually any direction. But, each entrance has a totally different character than the others because of it's unique geography at that edge of the park. Some routes are very scenic but have lots of steep grades and curves while some are fairly flat and just plain boring. Furthermore, once you're in Yellowstone there are a number of key areas to see and places to base camp from. Each has a unique ambiance in it's own so that further affects your decision on which route to take. The interior roads have undergone extensive remodeling in recent years, making them more RV friendly. Following is a description of each particular entrance.


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