We are driving from Iowa, and will probably spend 2-4 days in the area sightseeing. Is is better to take a bus trip or do it on our own.
It is always better to do it own your own so you can take your time and leisurely enjoy the beauty of the park. I would spend at least four days in Yellowstone. There are numerous hiking trails in the park to explore on your own.
And don't forget to visit Grand Teton NP, adjacent to, and south from YNP as well. Coming from the east, there are two entrances to YNP.
The east entrance coming from Cody,WY through fine nature (and Cody is worth a visit) and there is the Northeast entrance coming from Red Lodge,MT and driving Beartooth HW. This is one if the greatest mountain roads in the USA but it's slow and takes a lot of time. You can reach Red Lodge from Billings at I 90.
Like Hikeasy says, 4 days YNP and GTNP are recommendable.
Definitely do it on your own; having to stick to someone else's schedule in a place like Yellowstone will leave you very disappointed.
Definitely spend as much time as you can in the area. Remember, Yellowstone is HUGE and takes a while to cover all the major attractions, not to mention the "secondary" ones.
The way into the park all depends on if you need speed or if you want scenery. The very fastest way is to come from Livingston, MT down Hwy 89 into Gardiner and the North Entrance.
If you do come through via the East Entance from Cody, be aware that the road is only open from 8:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. due to road contstuction. It will be a very slow drive this way too due to the heavy traffic and construction work.
If you are driving west on I-90 and love incredible mountain scenery (don't mind driving on mountain roads), I would absolutely recommend coming down through the Beartooth Highway to the Northeast gate. See this web site for more information and maps http://www.beartoothhighway.com/
Then, you need to decide if you want to stay in the Park or in one of the towns surrounding it (there is a lot information in other parts of the Yellowstone forum about this).
I also recommend the Beartooth Highway , the Notheast entrance., staying overnight in Red Lodge before driving into the Park, if you possibly could.
Thank you all for your responses. If we spent the night at Cody, since it will take us 2 days to get here, would it be smart to the next morning take the Beartooth Hwy to the NE entrance, see Tower Falls, Mammoth, and then stay overnight at Gardiner or is that too much in one day? Then go to Old Faithful and back to the West Entrance for overnight, and then drive thru Idaho to Jackson Hole and back to the park through the South entrance.
Yes, but it's a long days drive. It's not the distance, but the many must sees along the route and the road is winding and steep (nothing to worry about though) at places. If you stay in Cody, a visit to the Buffalo Bill Museum is a must and if you are in summer, visit the night rodeo (reservations recommended). If you go sept/oct make sure Beartooth pass it not closed due to snow. It can be 75 F in Cody and 32 F at the pass. Gardiner has good accomodation. We stayed at the Absoroka Lodge with balconies and right at Yellowstone River. (And a stone's throw from the North Entrance.)
The second day you might visit Mammoth and Tower Roosevelt again and drive to Canon Village and to Yellowstone Lake. Back to Canyon and to Norris and Madison and stay for the night in West Yellowstone (or in the park if there's still vacancy, which i doubt.)
From West Yellowstone you can visit Old Faithful and West Thump on your way to the Tetons and Jackson next day.
Last year we left YNP via NE exit, drove Beartooth Hwy to top then doubled back down and continued on Chief Joseph Hwy to Cody. Spent a day doing the museum and rodeo in cody then returned to YNP via the east entrance. Construction at east entrance only held us up about 30 min. around 10:00 am in mid july. Felt the Chief Joseph (296) was much prettier than 14 into the east entrance, even though both are marked as scenic on the map. There's a really cool gorge and Dead Indian Pass...if you throw in the side trip up the Beartooth you've really got a winner. I'd make this drive even if it's not the most efficient way to get to the park.
We're from Bettendorf too and going to Yellowstone and Grand Teton in mid-July. Taking another week for Black Hills and Theodore Roosevelt NP in ND.
Email me at email@example.com, we can exchange notes.
I agree with Sof. Going up the Beartooth is the best entrance. It may take longer but the changing scenary from conifer to tundra vegetation, and looking down below the many glacier lakes is a gift for the traveler's soul. There's many points to stop and take fantastic pictures. Also, the road is less crowded. Just make sure you have plenty of gas before you start the trip up the mountains.