This is a fantastic tour. It is in a large passenger van that travels over plowed roads. The road from the "North Entrance" (near Mammoth) is plowed year round to Cooke City which is straight to the east at the "Northeast Entrance". This van has tires and is not a tracked vehicle like the ones that go to Old Faithful.
Everyone meets very early in the morning when it is still dark. I am not much of a breakfast person but I have to get lots of coffee. The hotel has complimentary coffee that starts at 5:30 AM. There were seven of us including the driver. I went with my 15 year old son. He and I each got our own bench in the van. It was all very casual. I think that the tour guides name was Jason. He was very friendly. We all waited in the lobby of the hotel and then he came in and got us. We could bring coffee on the trip if we had poured it already from the lobby.
The sun came up as we drove east. The farthest we went on the trip was to the "Tower Roosevelt" area. We got about half way out there when the sun came up. It was very beautiful. It is possible to drive this yourself since the road is plowed but this was much more fun. Everyone was friendly and we were all talking about all sorts of things and then Jason would refocus the conversation on something to look at.
He would park the van whenever anyone wanted to get out and take a photo. There were no binoculars in the car so bring these if you have them. Also, these tour guides are always talking with each other and they have a good idea about where things are going on. We got lots of photos of bison. We also saw bighorn sheep. The remains of an elk that had been eaten and lots of live elk. There were also bald eagles.
One of the highlights was seeing wolves. There is an organization that tracks them and they were pulled over and had their spotting scopes out. They really enjoyed having us look through them to see the wolves. These had almost become extinct in the Continental US.
At the pull ins the tour guide would open the back of the van and hand out the boxes with muffins and juices. Then he made us coffee just the way we would like it, black, cream and sugar, etc. There was also hot water for tea. I drink a lot of coffee so Rest Stops are very important for me. They were available about every twenty minutes or so. This was a very casual tour and he would always stop if anyone needed to use one.
There are very few visitors in Yellowstone at this time of year and it was fabulous. We did not see any private vehicles on the road except for an SUV that had slid off the road and into a drift. Leave the driving to the pros! I drove from Bozeman Airport to Mammoth and that drive is extremely easy.
If you go on this tour then you are probably staying at Mammoth Hotel but if you are not then please make sure to go inside and see the "Map Room". It is a perfectly maintained early twentieth century room. Also walk or drive up the road to see the "Liberty Cap'. The town itself is fun for a twenty minute walk.
Getting up early for this tour and then staying for lunch in the dining room is a great way to spend the day.
Most people tipped the tour guide ten dollars per person.
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