YELLOWSTONE: THE BIG MISTAKE
My route home to Florida from Washington took me through Yellowstone National Park, which I’d always wanted to see. So I got off Interstate 90 between Missoula and Butte, Montana and headed south on Route 287 for the park. It was Wednesday and I frankly did not know what to expect. Would there be a lot of people? Yellowstone is out in the northwest corner of Wyoming, after all; how crowded could it be?
Route 287 is a nice, scenic, lightly-traveled two-lane road that winds its way down through Montana, following the Madison River for a good stretch. The scenery is awesome, as you might imagine if you’ve heard anything at all about Montana. It makes you want to stop just to drink it all in. And there were times when I did just that: Sat by the side of the road and listened to the nothingness. Sadly, I didn't have enough time to tarry. But even when you’re in a hurry, seeing the country on a motorcycle is pretty cool; you have unrestricted visibility in most directions. In a place like Montana that comes in handy.
Traffic picks up as you continue down Route 191 to a point where Montana, Idaho and Wyoming all come together. Then all of a sudden you're in the town of West Yellowstone which sits at the west gate of the park. It’s one of these impossibly crowded tourist trap towns – “impossibly” because it’s out IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE! I wondered: How did all these people get here?
At the entrance to the park, the ranger took my $20 and wished me a good trip. I said, “Yeah, I’ll probably get stuck in a conga line of slow-moving RV’s.” He winced and said, “Yeah…probably.” Not exactly what I waned to hear, but that’s exactly what happened.
When you buy a new or used RV, they must make you sign an agreement that you WILL take it to Yellowstone. I’m not quite sure why everyone gravitates there. It’s not “wilderness” per se. Not when you’re on a tiny road traveling bumper-to-bumper with a zillion others just like you…and the odd motorcyclist stuck in between. Most of the campground signs I saw said, “Full.” On a Wednesday.
You pop out of Yellowstone and run smack dab into Grand Teton National Park.
The Tetons are an amazing mountain range…well worth seeing. But the number of cars and level of traffic here too was just depressing. Yep, load up the RV and get away from it all!
Between the slow traffic and the road construction, the trip through the two parks was anything but enjoyable. In fact, I didn’t even stop at Old Faithful because the traffic turning into the parking lot was too bad. The number of people in the park was literally astonishing.
In the end, Yellowstone was a big disappointment. Traffic was bad going in, horrible going through, and bad coming out. It was perhaps the worst decision I’d made on the trip…perhaps in my life. I’m sorry I went. If you're out on the road in your "camper," save yourself the same fate and go somewhere else – anywhere else. You’ll be glad you did. But if you must go, take your RV and drive through Manhattan at rush-hour. That ought to prepare you for the "fun" that is Yellowstone National Park.