By Tori Peglar
If you want a Yellowstone experience that goes beyond viewing the incredible landscapes and wildlife through your windshield, check out Flying Pig Adventure Co.
“When people come to Yellowstone National Park, they want to interact and engage with the landscape, and they don’t always know how to do it since it’s a wild place,” says Sandy Bierle, owner of the Flying Pig Adventure Co., and a former marine biologist “We make this place accessible to people off the beaten path, and it enriches their whole perspective on the park.”
Raft the Yellowstone River
A great way to experience the area is via raft on the Yellowstone River. With Flying Pig, you can literally walk to the river from the company’s headquarters. The Yellowstone is not a class V river, Bierle says, so while there are fun rapids, a big part of your rafting experience is being on the river, seeing the rolling landscape and viewing wildlife.
“I love getting people out there and trying something new to show how fun it is," Bierle says. "There are amazing and fun rapids, but it’s the experience of being on the water and seeing the peaks and landscape. It’s not just about adrenaline and whitewater rafting.”
Plus, rafting is all about connecting with your family and with nature, Bierle says.
"I see it all the time with our guests as families put down their phones and really connect with each other while rafting," Bierle says. "It's also about connecting with Yellowstone and nature. It's really important, more now than ever, for people to care about Yellowstone."
You can choose between several different types of rafting trips with varying lengths. The 8-mile river trip that takes about 1.5-2 hours and departs five times per day while the 18-mile trip takes you 10 additional miles beyond the 8-miler, carrying you through a stunning canyon. It departs at 9:30 a.m. and includes lunch at a stop on the banks of the Yellowstone River.
"The Yellowstone River is a real family friendly river, but it's not boring," says Bierle. "It's a bit of a rollercoaster of waves and you get splashed, but it's not highly technical where you are dodging boulders. There's plenty of time to jump in the water, see the natural hot springs, spot wildlife and look at the scenery."
For those looking to really fall into the rhythms of river life, you can go on the Flying Pig's overnight rafting trip that floats the same 18-miles stretch as the day trip. It's limited to 12 people, so you really can get away from the crowds and meet other travelers in an intimate setting. The bonus? Your talented guide doubles as a cook, preparing three impressive hot meals. As night falls, drift off to sleep under a canopy of stars in a tented platform camp. Your sleeping bag and pillows are provided.
Mountain Bike in Yellowstone or the Surrounding Area
For avid bikers, Bierle and her team offer guided mountain biking tours or just mountain bike rentals, if you’d rather do the guiding yourself. Mountain bikes can be rented at Flying Pig's off-site office at Chico Hot Springs Resort.
For those wanting to bike in the park, Flying Pig has a permit to operate mountain biking tours in Yellowstone. Going with Bierle's guides gives you a rare opportunity to see the park on trails via two wheels.
Saddle Up to See Yellowstone
Flying Pig Adventure Company and its partners, the Johnson Family Ranch, have guided thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds on horseback outings north of Yellowstone. See into Yellowstone from on top of horse to get a whole new perspective on the park and its stunning landscapes and wildlife. Choose from an one hour or two-hour ride or opt for the paddle-to-saddle option, which enables you to raft and ride a horse on the same day.
Gear up at Flying Pig Camp Store and Fly Shop
Forget your rain coat or need a baseball hat to shield your face from the West's strong sun? Stop by the Flying Pig Camp Store and Fly Shop to pick up camping items, including hiking guides, backpacks and speciality items like local honey. The store also stocks bear spray, which you'll want to have with you while hiking in Yellowstone.
Tori Peglar is editor-in-chief of National Park Trips Media and thinks one of the best ways to explore the West is on its rivers via raft.
Local Lowdown: Sandy and Steve Bierle, owners of Flying Pig Adventure Company
By Dina Mishev
Sandy and Steve Bierle, both wildlife biologists, went to college in Missoula and “fell in love with Montana,” Sandy says. But after graduation, they couldn’t find year-round jobs in the state. “With wildlife degrees, the work is often seasonal,” Sandy says. The couple ended up in South Dakota and “throughout our time there we were gunning to get back to Montana,” says Sandy, who’s originally from the Midwest. Thanks to family connections, they learned the Faerbers who had founded Flying Pig Adventure Company in Gardiner were looking to sell their business, so the Bierles bought it in 2011. Steve died in 2015 and Sandy now runs the business herself, with the help of the Gardiner community, “the best staff in the world,” and her three tween/teenage sons.
Q: Was buying the business and moving to Gardiner a difficult choice?”
Sandy Bierle: Since we had three boys, we wanted to make sure it was a good fit. Gardiner is a bit unusual. When we came out for a visit though, one night we were sitting in the Boiling River, the full moon was coming up and it just all came together. We knew we wanted this epic for our kids.
Q: Did you think about selling the business and leaving after Steve’s death?
SB: Never. I was like 100 percent “no.” The town of Gardiner—it’s quirky and full of characters and it’s not always pleasant, but it’s full of the best people. I didn’t want to be anywhere else. It was after Steve died that I decided to put down roots and get a home here. I built a house on the river with my architect brother.
Q: Were you a big rafting person before you bought the business?
SB: Being a marine biologist, I was always in love with the water. I wasn’t a skilled technician in terms of whitewater rafting, but we loved it. Steve added the guided fishing.
Q: What about your boys?
SB: They’re sort of river rats. They spend all their days on the water.
Q: Do they work at Flying Pig?
SB: The shop becomes our home base in the summer. We’re there all the time with our extended family—the guides and staff. I work with all of these kids in their twenties and they’ve just been a lifeline to me. When Steve died, so many came back because they wanted to contribute. I hire people with different backgrounds and this gives my kids exposure to people from all over the world who share a common passion.
Q: Is rafting the Yellowstone River scary?
SB: The main trip we do is not really extreme in terms of rapids; it works very well for families and people who want to get a little wet but don’t want the adrenaline rush of big water. We do a longer trip once a day—or as an overnight—that goes through Yankee Jim Canyon and that section has some higher waves—some upper Class III and once in a while low IV rapids. It’s a little more exciting and more intense.
Dina Mishev is a freelance writer based in Jackson, Wyo., and wrote the book On the Road Yellowstone to be published January 2018.
For more information:
Flying Pig Adventure Company