Northeast US to Yellowstone Logistical Difficulties in Planning

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Well-known member
Aug 5, 2010
Hello, all...and thanks for your time and consideration. 

I'm in the process of planning a 3-week loop from the US Northeast (Pittsburgh area) to Yellowstone for June 2021, and running into logistical difficulties.  I'd appreciate any experience/insights. 

(Disclaimer: I know that is one of the most posted-about topics one can find online...I've done my homework...and still running into issues.) 

(Disclaimer 2: I have a very real fear of heights.  It's not a matter of "focusing on the road" or of "manning up"'s a matter of choosing a route that will make me the safe driver that my family deserves.  This rules out routes over the Big Horn Mountains, Beartooth Highway, etc.  Especially when towing 6,000+ lbs.) 

The logical route is for us to come in on either 94 or 90, down into Yellowstone on 89 through Gardiner, down into the Tetons, from Jackson to Rock Springs on 191 looks like the easiest way, and home on 80. 

My issue is that we're interested in both 94 (Roosevelt National Park looks tailor-made for our family) and 90 (Wall, Deadwood, Black Hills, Badlands, etc) as well. 

It seems sort of ludicrous (and vacation-time-squandering) to come in on 94, down into Yellowstone via Gardiner, down into Yellowstone (we hope to split time between 2 campgrounds in the park), down to Tetons/Jackson, then back up through Gardiner again to come home on 90.  A lot of slow going overlap there. 

The fact that I want to avoid the East entrance to the park, the routes over the Big Horn Mountains, etc...complicates things a bit. 

I'd appreciate your thoughts...come in on 90, don't worry about 94, and home on 80? 

Do what you want to do (both 90 and 94), burn an extra day or two doing the overlap, and see what you want to see? 


Looking for a well-balanced trip featuring natural beauty, wildlife, towns, arts/crafts/food, shopping/antiques, and whatever else we're lucky enough to come across. 

Thanks!  :)

    Getting to Jackson from within Yellowstone is a snap, however you do not want to go into or out of Jackson over HWY 89 or 191, it is a steep long grade.

You have some trade offs, one thing you don't seem to be considering is the road conditions inside the park, the upper loop is far more challenging driving with an RV than the lower loop, narrower, more switch backs, poorly angled pavement, steep drop offs with no shoulder, or rails etc.  Given this I would choose to enter Yellowstone at the East, South or West Entrance, the one to avoid is the North East Entrance, and of course with the north entrance you have to drive the upper loop road.  The east Entrance from Cody is not bad at all.
Thank you...great points.  I hadn't considered going out the East entrance from Fishing Bridge on our way out because of all the roads over that way that I read not to take...maybe that's an option for us. 

Maybe we should consider coming in and out via West Yellowstone?

I don't do well with "steep drop-offs" and the like.  Going up Cadillac Mountain in Acadia and the steep part of the Blue Ridge Parkway near Cherokee, NC were more than enough for me. 

If you are willing to drive several hundred extra miles, it is possible to go from Pittsburgh to Yellowstone and avoid the mountains. However, since

you don't do well with steep drop-offs and the like, don't venture into Yellowstone. It is loaded with them.

The road over Craig pass (between Grant and Old Faithful) is high and steep, but at least the curves aren't too sharp, and there aren't any terribly steep drop-offs. Sylvan pass (between the East Entrance and Fishing Bridge) is steeper, has sharper curves, and steeper drop-offs. Dunraven pass (between Canyon and Tower) is worse. While not as long, the steepness, curves, and precipitous drop-offs are comparable to the Big Horns or Beartooth.

There just is no way to see Yellowstone without encountering mountain roads.

Coming into Yellowstone from 94 has 3 routes and all of them have narrow roads with little or no shoulders, drop offs to rivers or other and are winding with tight turns and are typical mountain roads. 
as was said before there is no way to Yellowstone without mountain roads.
What is mentioned above is true, however that extra 6-12 inches of shoulder on the lower part of the Yellowstone loop road is a plus, so is the more level lanes, that are not leaning back and forth like much of the upper loop.  Personally I did not find the east entrance or the south entrance bad when we were there in 2017, and I certainly would not go all the way around to the west entrance if approaching from the eastern US just to avoid the Yellowstone roads unless I was in a very large RV.  The other problem inside Yellowstone with its narrow roads, is all the rental RV drivers that don't know where there side of the double yellow line is.
I've driven that east side route from Cody to Fishing Bridge in my current 38' rig and in my previous 45' Beaver, both with toad, and found no problems. It's decent road. Granted there are a few steep spots.
The road between Grant and the south entrance has some pretty steep drop offs as well.  The entire West is full of mountains, grades, drop offs etc.  The road south from north entrance to Madison is under construction again.  Maybe 90 till 191, down through the Gallatin Canyon and in the West Entrance.
I made the trip from Indy to Yellowstone in 2017. I took I-94, because I wanted to see North Dakota, not much there, but miles and miles of miles and miles, but it was a bucket list thing to be in all fifty states. I saw T.R. national park, and it is worth seeing, then came west thru Billings to US 310 and south to Deaver WY., then west again on WY114 to US14A to Cody. No bad roads there, 2 lane highways are nearly 4 lanes wide with broad shoulders, and 14A is nearly all 4 lanes, no mountains, hills, or sharp turns to negotiate. I'm a bit acrophobic myself, but never felt challenged thru the East Entrance to Yellowstone. When you cross the pass above Lake Yellowstone, you are on the inside (mountain side) of the roadway and should be ok, down to Fishing Bridge. I left Yellowstone thru the west entrance and can't comment on the north-south routes in and out, but would not hesitate to go back thru the east-west routes.
Some general information about YNP (some general items apply to GTNP also)

YNP is BIG!, about 45 miles E/W and about 65 miles N/S (2.2 mil. Acres total). The ?figure 8 grand loop? road inside the park is about 140 miles around. The lower loop is 96 miles and the upper loop is 70 miles around and yes, it is bigger than the states of Rhode Island and Delaware combined.

Whatever time that you think you will need to see YNP you better double it, or to say it another way is that you will see one half as much as you planned on in the allotted time. The Bison think that they own the road (they do!) and will slow down the traffic to walking speed or stop all traffic for 1/4 mile or more blocking both directions of travel, the thermal attractions also tie up traffic and with a 5 month long summer tourist season that coincides with a 5 month long road construction season and a 45 MPH radar controlled speed limit it will take about a full day to see each loop and then you will only see the main attractions. In addition to the occasional construction delays they will also sometimes close whole sections of road (for uninterrupted night construction) between 10 PM and 8 AM in the morning, if you are running late and get caught at night in the wrong area it CAN be a LONG way around to your CG! (The entrance stations will have current construction information or go on line to check it out)

Then there is the elevation- YNP ranges from a low at Mammoth- 6239 ft to 7784 ft at Fishing Bridge or higher if you go hiking and there are passes on the grand loop road that are close to 8000 ft or so! Drink plenty of liquids and pace yourself when walking.

I recommend that you get up EARLY, leave the CG and be back by 4 or 6 PM have dinner and be sitting in your recliner drinking a cool one when your neighbor drags himself back to the CG at 8-10 PM. Remember that from mid May to mid July in YNP the sun doesn't set until about 9:30- 9:45 PM then there is a long twilight.

Cell Phone Service- Only at the major visitor centers, otherwise non-existent!

Clothing- Especially in the early or late season it is not unusual to have a 30 or even the occasional 40 degree temperature change throughout the day. Dress with easily shed layers of clothing. Also dress in bright easily seen clothing. I am sure that we all have been to a sporting event, parade or Disney World etc. and we blink our eyes and our partner/child has disappeared. My DIL was born and raised in HI, you guessed it, every Xmas, b-day or Father's Day I receive a Hawaiian shirt. One of them is  shiny black with 4-5 inch dia. bright flowers. Not many of them in Wyoming and in YSNP, that is what I wear. If your partner has on a Violet blouse and a Orange scarf with a Pink hat I guarantee that she will be the only one within the boundaries of either NP. It can save you a few anxious moments.

Water- Now I will have to contradict myself, at the altitude of YNP yes, drink lots of water!    HOWEVER, be aware that the flush toilet restrooms are are in the major tourist areas- Mammoth, Canyon, Fishing Bridge, Lake Hotel, Bridge Bay, Grant Village, Old Faithful, Madison Junction etc. The geyser basins and other thermal attractions areas only have pit toilets. I have seen the pit toilet line at the lower Geyser Basin (2 R/Rs) 25 or more feet long (bless the tour buses) So be smart about drinking your water and use the major tourist area R/Rs before leaving the area! I.e. ?Never pass up a flush toilet!?

Sun- At YSNP altitude the Sun is intense (uv)have and apply sunscreen, wear that old floppy wide brim sun hat, wear Sunglasses!

If your luck is like mine Old Faithful will have just erupted when you get there and you will have up to a hour and 10 to 15 minutes wait for the next one. Tour tour the O/F Geyser basin while waiting. O/F INN is a must see, reportedly the largest LOG building in the U.S. (Meals in the O/F Inn dinning room are ?A OK? also.

We have lived about 110 miles from West Yellowstone, MT since 1964, go to YSNP 3-4 times a summer (normally before Memorial Day and after Labor Day) and haven't seen it all yet! So don?t be discouraged that you didn?t have the time to see all of it. Just plan on coming back another time!

I honestly don?t mean to scare or discourage you but to give you a heads up as to what to expect! After all there was 4.1 million visitors in 2015! As far as I know we didn?t lose one of them. Except those who by their own stupidity step off the board walks into BOILING HOT water and ignoring the warnings about the WILD ANIMALS! That is called purifying the gene pool!

Note I have seen on this blog and others about folks ?day tripping? from YSNP to GTNP, it is done all the time (myself included) however remember this is BIG country and with the speed limits, animals and thermal attractions you will be doing a LOT of driving. From Grant Village Visitor Center (extreme S/E corner of the lower loop road) to Jackson, WY is about 80 miles with Coulter Bay being about 1/2 way then from Grant Village you have to add the distance to your CG it will be a Long days trip!

A point of Coulter Bay (GTNP) clarification- there are two (2) CG?s at Coulter Bay, One the ?Coulter Bay RV Park? a full service ?RV Park? with FHU?S that takes reservations. The other is the ?Coulter Bay Campground ? has no hookups and doesn?t take reservations. Both have about 300 sites and are basically across the road from each other.

When in the Jackson area I highly recommend seeing the Bar J Chuckwagon dinner show! If you go, MAKE RESERVATIONS and BE THERE EARLY TO PICK UP YOUR MEAL TICKETS/ TABLE SEATING ASSIGNMENTS! They seat you by when you show up to get your tickets NOT by your reservation number. Tim, their fiddle player has won the "Idaho state old time fiddle contest 7 times and the US open fiddle championship twice".  If you decide to go you will sit at picnic type of bench seats/table, they get pretty hard, I recommend that you take along a blanket/pads to sit on. We day trip it there 2-4 times every summer just to see them! Disclaimer- We have no financial or other interest in the Bar J only that it will be the best $$ value for your money on your trip! Check out their website.

Also in Jackson check out the ?COWBOY? bar, the bar stools are saddles and the # of Silver Dollars in the bar. The Wort Hotel Bar (just around the corner from the Cowboy Bar) also has Silver Dollars imbedded in the Bar
steelmooch said:
Thank you...great points.  I hadn't considered going out the East entrance from Fishing Bridge on our way out because of all the roads over that way that I read not to take...maybe that's an option for us. 

Maybe we should consider coming in and out via West Yellowstone?

I don't do well with "steep drop-offs" and the like.  Going up Cadillac Mountain in Acadia and the steep part of the Blue Ridge Parkway near Cherokee, NC were more than enough for me. 

OK.  You went up Cadillac Mt in Acadia.  I doubt you did it in a good sized RV.  In a car/truck, yeah, it is nerve racking, but you did it.  Can you build on that?

All the roads in and out of Yellowstone are normal width US highways.  Even the roads inside Yellowstone are normal width highways.  Are you able to focus on the fact that you drive your rig in 2 lane normal width highways on level ground w/o a problem?  Including going around curves?  Keep in mind you will be going (or should be) much slower in the mountains than you would if you were on level ground. 

You bring up "routes over the Big Horn Mountains, Beartooth Highway".  OK you have selected the most difficult routes, especially Beartoooth Hwy.  It is not fair to compare the routes in and out of Yellowstone, or the hwy to the Tetons to either of those.

This is not a case of "man up".  Some people have really strong reactions to driving on a hwy with little or no shoulder.

You are from the Pittsburgh area.  There should be lots of normal width US labeled highways through the hills and mountains there.  You have almost 2 years until your trip.  Will you take your RV out by yourself (not being concerned about your family) and drive on some of those routes to help you feel more comfortable?

BYW, if you will dry camp (no elect hookups), I strongly recommend you stay inside the park at Yellowstone.  If you have no experience dry camping, then take your RV  out and learn how.  Just conserve on everything you use.  (Of course there may be family member who won't do w/o unlimited water/elect/water).  For a family experience I recommend Madison CG inside the park.

The reservation system for Yellowstone campgrounds opens the first of May 2020 for the 2021 season.  Make your reservations when the system opens.

Additionally, with only 3 weeks for this trip, bypass everything in route to Yellowstone and back from the Tetons.  There is so much to see and experience inside the parks that you want to spend all the time you can inside the park.
AStravelers  x2


Something that I forgot to mention that some folks are confused about.

Some say that large trucks are not allowed inside the parks! NOT TRUE! They just don?t read the whole sign. Commercial trucks can?t go THRU the park!

When you look at the number of visitors/ hotel rooms/ campers/ grocery stores/ souvenir shops/ gas stations (automobile and boat fuel at the lake) there are trucks and 18 wheelers constantly going IN/OUT of the park making delivery?s. Then also there are the 10 wheel 48 passenger tour buses, if they can negotiate the roads then you can also negotiate the same roads.

BTW- I don?t know where you got your information, unless I am wrong, only the Beartooth Road of the 5 entrance roads is not advisable for RVs even though almost every time that I have been on it we see a RV or two!

My son and his wife in the summer of 2014 on their year long trip around the US even rode their peddle bikes over the Beartooth on their way to Idaho. They started in Portland, ME and 14 months later they finished there. We met up with them in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument the late winter of 2015 for a few days of camping together.
Thanks "AS" and everyone else. 

I really appreciate your feedback. 

I have a very strong aversion to vertical drop-offs...the fear actually (as least, as I perceive it) affects my coordination, temperament, etc. 

I was fine (with and without the TT behind us) throughout Vermont's Green Mountains and New Hampshire's White Mountains.  They're no "Rockies", but those highways (including the Kancamagus Hwy) wind among those 6,000+ ft peaks pretty well. 

It's stuff like the Blue Ridge Parkway near Cherokee, NC...4 feet of grass berm, then a drop...that upsets me.  The road up Cadillac Mountain in Acadia...some little granite boulders that my 7,000+ lb van would push aside with ease, followed by a looooong roll...that gives me pause. 

I've Google Earth road-viewed the trip from Canyon to Tower a click at a time, including Dunraven Pass, and it looks like long, grassy slopes descending from the side of the road...nothing that particularly scary to me.  (Unless I'm mistaken, except for the wild roads like Beartooth, isn't this section supposed to be one of the steeper/scarier for people afraid of heights?).

Am I missing something?  An issue with "perspective" here? 

There are definitely some places near Tower Junction that scare me a little bit...especially the places that still show construction and alternating traffic...some big drops there. 

Am I mistaken about the Google trip from Canyon up to Tower?  Or does my comfort with what I saw bode well? 


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