Do I need a car to tour Yellowstone? How long does it take to drive the Grand Loop?

Bison on the road near Yellowstone National Park

During the summer season, cars are the best option for taking a trip around Yellowstone unless you are riding with a bus tour or concessionaire that provides transportation. Yellowstone has no shuttle service and local bus service is limited to the Jackson Hole area.

Many cycling enthusiasts ride their bikes in Yellowstone but there are no bike lanes and often no safe shoulders. Also, vehicle drivers may be distracted by animals and other roadside attractions. Other than on a few paved trails open to bicyclists, recreational bicycle riders may find Yellowstone’s roads unsafe to ride.

Yellowstone’s main road is the Grand Loop, and it is a difficult drive to tackle in one day. To get to the loop, drive one of the five surrounding entrance roads, which can take an hour in themselves. The Grand Loop serpentines 142 miles around Yellowstone like an inscribed circle closed in on the very heart of the park. This loop connects visitors to every classic gem, from Mammoth Hot Springs near the North Entrance to Fountain Pots and Old Faithful near the West and South Entrances. Simply driving the entire distance, whether going clockwise or counter, could take four to seven hours. And even if the speed limit is 45 mph, you’ll want to take your sweet time, especially around the winding turns, epic scenery and stopped traffic due to wildlife in or near the road.

The Grand Loop Road, however, is also set up like a figure eight allowing for drivers to at least take in half of the attractions along this circular road. For road trips, you can pick a side—any side—of the loop, taking three to four hours of driving and stopping by lakes, canyons, falls and hot springs.

Yellowstone Road Map

Click on map to enlarge

Download a park map with mileage indicated between points

During the winter season, most of Yellowstone’s roads are closed to wheeled vehicles. The park can still be accessed through the North Entrance by car, or other entrances by snowmobiles, cross-country skis, or snowcoaches.

How Far is it To…?

From Mammoth to
Madison Junction – 35 miles
Old Faithful – 51 miles
Lake Village – 49 miles
Tower – 18 miles

From Madison Junction to
Mammoth – 35 miles
Old Faithful – 16 miles
Lake Village – 42 miles
Tower – 45 miles

From Old Faithful to
Mammoth – 51 miles
Madison Junction – 16 miles
Lake Village – 38 miles
Tower – 61 miles

From Lake Village to
Mammoth – 49 miles
Madison Junction – 42 miles
Old Faithful – 38 miles
Tower – 35 miles

From Tower to
Mammoth – 18 miles
Madison Junction – 45 miles
Old Faithful – 61 miles
Lake Village – 35 miles

From Cody, Wyo., to the East Entrance – 52 miles

From Jackson, Wyo., to the South Entrance – 58 miles through Grand Teton National Park and the John D. Rockfeller Jr. Memorial Parkway. Visitors should allow one and a half to two hours for this drive.

From Gardiner, Mont., to North Entrance – 0 miles

From West Yellowstone, Mont., to West Entrance – Less than 1 mile

From Cooke City, Mont., to NE Entrance – 4 miles

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J Scott Donahue, Yellowstone Expert Answers Your QuestionsJ. Scott Donahue is a freelance writer and essayist with a passion for alpine climbing, trail running and other hard things. He writes for YellowstonePark.com and Sierra Club and graduated with an MFA in nonfiction writing.