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Yellowstone: Leave the Driving to Them


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Tour the park on one of its historic and iconic yellow buses

Posted by: Yellowstone National Park on June 15, 2018

The yellow touring buses are as big a hit as they were when they first rolled onto Yellowstone’s byways in the 1920s.

Early visitors to Yellowstone explored the wonders of the park in all sorts of vehicles, from stagecoaches to surreys to snow planes (a precursor to the snowmobile).

Those transportation modes were long ago eclipsed by more modern conveyances. But one early model, the park’s yellow touring buses, remains a staple. And they’re as big a hit as they were when they first rolled onto Yellowstone’s byways in the 1920s.

These days, a fleet of eight vintage White Motor Co. buses ferry visitors on guided wildlife-watching tours, photo safaris, sunset tours, and more. The distinctive antique yellow vehicles have retractable canvas roofs and panoramic windows, making them ideal for sightseeing. Plus, they’re really cool to ride around in.

At the height of their popularity within Yellowstone in the mid-1920s, more than 400 of the vehicles operated in the park.

Yellow Bus Tour

“Yellowstone loved to brag that they had a bus for every day of the year,” says Leslie Quinn, an interpretive specialist for the Xanterra Travel Collection, the park’s primary concessionaire. “Yellowstone had the second largest bus fleet in the country in the mid-20s, second only to Greyhound.”

As more visitors arrived in private vehicles and explored the park on their own power, the yellow tour buses were gradually sold off. But in 2002, Xanterra purchased eight of the vehicles from the Skagway Streetcar Co., which had used them for touring the historic Alaska mining town. In 2006, the vehicles were refurbished to meet modern safety and mechanical standards and in 2007, Xanterra returned the buses to service in the park.They also added basic amenities like heaters. The bodies sit on 2007 Ford E450 van frames and motors, but the exteriors of the 13-passenger vehicles maintain their original appearance.

The Skagway Motor Co. had acquired these historic buses from around the country, where they’d served various duties. Each of the eight Yellowstone vehicles has a nickname related to its past life. Look for the name posted on the right-hand side above the windshield. For instance, there are “Big Rocky” and “Little Rocky,” named for their stints in Rocky Mountain National Park. “Monty” once belonged to a collector from Vermont. And “Hollywood” appeared in an episode of M*A*S*H and in the movie Big Trouble in Little China, Quinn says.
Regularly scheduled themed tours depart from Old Faithful, Mammoth Hot Springs, and Lake Hotel from late May to October. And one of the buses can even be rented for private tours.

But wherever they roam, Yellowstone’s historic yellow buses are certain to cause a stir among onlookers.

“If we had a nickel for every person who wants their picture taken in front of the bus, we’d make a fortune,” Quinn says. “They’re just the coolest little buggies on the planet.”

How to Explore

With nine unique lodging options, including the renowned historic Lake Yellowstone Hotel, Yellowstone National Park Lodges allows you to have the ultimate park experience. Staying in the park is the best way for visitors to experience all it has to offer, including the exciting wildlife watching. Once the day-visitors leave, Yellowstone remains for the in-park overnight guests alone. Yellowstone National Park Lodges offer tours and activities guided by Certified Interpretive Guides that help create memorable experiences. For more information on lodging, tours, and vacation packages, visit yellowstonenationalparklodges.com or call 307-344-7311.

For a multi-day visit of Yellowstone, consider the six-day guided walking tour from Country Walkers, “Montana & Wyoming: Yellowstone,” or the six-day walking tour from VBT, “Yellowstone & Grand Teton: Walking America’s First National Park.”

For more than 39 years, Country Walkers has provided active and immersive travel experiences on five continents. They offer two distinct ways to explore: scheduled, small-group Guided Walking Adventures and independent Self-Guided Walking Adventures. On tour, guests enjoy superb local cuisine, first-class guides, fine accommodations, and authentic cultural and natural encounters. Visit countrywalkers.com or call 800-234-6900 for more information.

VBT Bicycling and Walking Vacations is the value leader in active biking vacations and has been rated among the “World’s Best Tour Operators” by the readers of Travel + Leisure for six years. VBT offers more than 55 deluxe, small-group bicycling, walking, and barge & sail vacations in 29 different countries and 10 U.S. states. Unlike other companies, VBT also includes round-trip international airfare from more than 30 U.S. cities and select Canadian cities for all overseas vacations. Visit VBT.com or call 800-245-3868 for more information.

For more travel experiences to Beautiful Places on Earth™ available from the Xanterra Travel Collection and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore.

Written by: Jayne Clark

Washington, DC-based freelance travel writer Jayne Clark has been a travel reporter at USA TODAY and several other daily newspapers.

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