Many visitors to Yellowstone will come here by car in the first place, either because they are driving from elsewhere in the United States and Canada using their own car, or because they are visiting Yellowstone as part of a wider road trip around America’s great west.
If your plan is to do the latter, then popular places to pick up a rental car to do this include Salt Lake City in Utah or Denver in Colorado. This of course depends on how wide you want to cast your net – you could start this sort of trip anywhere from Chicago in Illinois through to Seattle on the Pacific coast, and at various other places in between, there is no shortage of different itineraries which could be spun to include the Yellowstone National Park.
Yet if you are travelling around the USA but generally aren’t planning on hiring a car, quite possibly because you are looking at travelling with an Amtrak pass, or because you are generally flying between the major cities, then Yellowstone can actually be quite a difficult place to reach, both in terms of getting here in the first place, and then getting around the national park.
If you are looking at flights to Yellowstone, then this is where everything gets confusing, with 3 different airports to choose from, all needing some sort of transfer to get to the entrance of the national park. Sometimes these transfers are going to have to be in a shared van, rather than by scheduled bus. As well as the price of the flights themselves, which tend to be operated by regional commuter jets, be prepared for expensive add-ons to actually get into the park.
Unsurprisingly, Yellowstone car rental services are available at each of the 3 airports which serve the national park, but bear in mind that some of the car hire facilities are situated off airport. Depending on which so-called “Yellowstone airport” you are using, you might well be arriving on the only commercial flight of the day, so it’s certainly best to make sure that a hire car (or other onward transport option) is booked well in advance.
On balance, we think it’s generally better to rent a car somewhere else and then drive to Yellowstone, taking advantage of the scenery on the way, as you are really spoilt for choice here, whichever direction you come from. This is also likely to give you a better value Yellowstone car hire package when compared to paying for the more expensive local flights and car rental services.
- Yellowstone National Park isn’t just rural in itself – it’s a long way from any major city.
- No rail services remotely nearby.
- Poor bus services – very limited options.
For the stubbornly independent minded who really do want to avoid getting a hire car, then the best option would be to take a bus transfer from Salt Lake City. The bus will drop you off at the western entrance to the national park, and you can then hike into Yellowstone from there. There are various different accommodation options around the park which make this sort of trip just about workable, but it isn’t particularly appealing if you are travelling around with large bags.
- Various options to visit Yellowstone as part of an inclusive package – but less so using scheduled services.
- Without a car, you can get to the edge of the park and hike, but options are still severely limited.
So do you need a rental car to visit Yellowstone? Absolutely! Do not make the mistake of thinking that Yellowstone is remotely similar to a destination like the Grand Canyon, which you can visit quite comofrtably without a car. However, if you are still planning arriving directly into Yellowstone by air, then it still makes a lot of sense to hire a car for your visit to Yellowstone, rather than trying in vain to get around without one.
For European visitors looking at combining Yellowstone into a much greater American West road trip, then we would suggest comparing flights and car hire options into destinations further afield, such as Las Vegas or San Francisco, where a much wider choice of inward flights is available when compared with either Salt Lake City (limited Delta hub with no flights from Europe) or Denver (served by only a handful of flights from Europe).