Calgary to Yellowstone National Park
The technical writer in me values an ‘Executive Summary’ so I can decide what I really want to read about. So if you landed here just looking for info on driving from Calgary to Yellowstone National Park, here’s the Coles Notes version, a detailed review of our journey is below:
- The drive from Calgary to West Yellowstone can be completed in a single day, budget 8-10 hours.
- You can stop in Waterton Lakes National Park on the way and cross the border at Chief Mountain between May 15 and September 30, otherwise the crossing is at Carway. Add a few hours to your trip for the Waterton Lakes stopover.
- The Carway crossing is not busy in early May.
- The drive along Highway 89 to the I-15 in Montana is spectacular – bring a driving buddy so you can take turns viewing the Rocky Mountains that stick with you the entire way 🙂
- Consider buying the Roadside Geology of Montana (Roadside Geology Series)
Driving from Calgary to Yellowstone
Our road trip from Calgary to Texas started out as a beautiful drive on Highway 2 through southern Alberta toward the US border. We had originally intended to visit Waterton Lakes National Park on the way to West Yellowstone, but as we started our drive west on Route 5 out of Cardston, we saw signs that the Chief Mountain Border Crossing along Route 6 was closed – apparently it doesn’t open until May 15, so much for my epic planning!
Given that Waterton is a good half-hour drive from Cardston, and we would need several hours to just ‘explore’ the park, we decided to abandon that dream and head for the border crossing at Carway (we have both been to Waterton before, it’s amazing). If we had left earlier in the day we probably would have still gone, but we were out celebrating a birthday the night before and didn’t leave Calgary until around 10am. It would of course be better to spend a night in Waterton, but we were aiming to get to Yellowstone in one day.
The crossing at Carway was a breeze. Driving to Montana on a Sunday in early May is apparently quite uncommon, we didn’t see a single other vehicle crossing in either direction. I love traveling to the US, the border agents are usually very friendly and seem to be genuinely happy you are coming down to spend money. We had a brief chat with the border agent, he asked us to explain what was stacked up in the SUV and had a good chuckle about how much stuff we had in the car when he had a look through it: camping gear takes up so much space, plus Amanda had to pack multiple suitcases for her extended trip to Guatemala, it was probably a good thing
I decided not to Amanda suggested I don’t bring my golf clubs.
Once we entered the US at Carway we were traveling on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. The drive south along Highway 89 to Browning was spectacular, the road parallels Lower Saint Mary Lake to the west which makes for wonderful scenery for the front seat passenger. The town of St. Mary is the starting/ending point to the Going-To-The-Sun Road which traverses Glacier National Park and spits you out in West Glacier – apparently it’s amazing – unfortunately it doesn’t open until late May, another trip to explore Glacier is certainly in order. From St. Mary we began our ascent over to Browning, the road is winding and the views are outstanding. A forest fire has completely decimated the forest here, I’m uncertain if it was related to the Reynolds Creek Forest Fire last year, but new growth was readily apparent at the base of the burnt trees. This drive is highly recommended.
As we entered Browning I couldn’t help but compare and contrast the Blackfeet native land here in the Montana versus the Blood land we had just driven through in Alberta. I have no interest in getting political on my geo-travel blog, but visually, the differences were remarkable. From Browning the road is relatively flat with some nice turns through some canyons outside Wolf Creek, and so we cruised south eventually reaching the I-15 to Helena before stopping for supper. The countryside is so beautiful here with incredible views of the Rocky Mountains to the west – if you take this drive I suggest being the passenger (I also wish I had pre-planned our supper, the Taco Treat in Helena was a poor decision all around).
We reached West Yellowstone late in the evening and it was below freezing so finding a campground and setting up a tent wasn’t entirely appealing to us. We grabbed a room at the Best Western and crashed after a nice day of driving. All in, driving to Yellowstone from Calgary is relatively straightforward, and even with our extended scenic route through Carway we still arrived within 10 hours. I had considered entering Yellowstone from the north out of Gardiner, but the drive is less beautiful and accommodation is pricey as you pretty much have to stay in the park. The entrance to the park at West Yellowstone opens late April which was perfectly timed for our May 1st arrival. This was my second time driving from Calgary to Yellowstone National Park but my first time crossing at Carway. Previously I have crossed at Sweet Grass and drove the I-15, which may have been faster but certainly less scenic. I was also happy to have the a Roadside Geology book, which proved useful for nerding it up in the car. Grab a buddy and take Highway 89, it’s worth it!