Friday, March 30, 2018

Bridge Bay Marina Boat Rentals - Yellowstone National Park

If you are looking to make your visit to Yellowstone extra special you may want to consider paying to participating in one of the many adventures offered through Yellowstone Lodges. One of the most cost effective activities is to rent a motor boat for a trip on Yellowstone Lake.  You'll gain a whole new appreciation for the lake by spending an hour or two on the water.

Location: Boat Rentals are available from the Bridge Bay Marina on the east side of the lower loop of the Grand Loop Road.

Cost: 2018 prices are $57 per hour.  Time is billed in 15 minute increments after the first hour.  Boats are available on a first come first serve basis.

Operating Hours and Seasons: Rentals are available from June 11th to September 1st.  Rentals start at 10:00 am. You can rent the boat for 1 to 8 hours.

Official Website:

Date of Visit: Thursday August 10, 2017

In the summer of 2017 I received a job with Xanterra Parks and Resorts in Yellowstone National Park. I moved there with my husband and our four young children. We lived in a 25 foot RV and spent all our free time exploring the park. This is one of many posts that I will write about specific features within Yellowstone National Park. Be sure to check out my other posts for more tips for your Yellowstone visit.

The activities in Yellowstone's aren't exactly what you would consider 51 cent adventures.  Some can be downright pricey.  But there are a few that are worth the money. During our summer in Yellowstone my family purchased two activities.  In July we went on the Stage Coach Ride at Roosevelt Lodge. And in August we rented a motor boat and took it on Yellowstone Lake.

There are several options for how to see the lake. You can rent a row boat, you can rent a boat with an outboard motor, you can charter a private fishing tour, or you can go on a boat tour. When I did the math I realized it was about the same cost to rent the motor boat as it would be for the 6 of us to go on the tour. Brandon told me he'd rather drive a boat than go on a tour so the motor boat won out.

Still, I kept debating about whether or not we should go. Our finances have always been tight and I don't have a job lined up for after Yellowstone so I wasn't sure if spending $60-80 on a boat ride was prudent. But in the end I decided that we should do the boat ride. The kids had been looking forward to this for months and I didn't know when we'd be back in Yellowstone with time for a boat ride. I told myself, "I can always make more money, we can't always go on this boat ride." (And it helped that I got a 20% discount as a Xanterra employee so that made me feel better about the whole thing.)

I'm so glad we decided to do this activity. From the moment we stepped on the dock the kids were so excited. We put a life preserver on my 3 year old and she started jumping up and down and yelling, "I love this."
We gave the kids a quick talk about settling down and paying attention, and then we listened to the rental employee talk about boat safety. He showed Brandon how to operate the boat and helped us all into the boat. Then we were off.
Brandon loved driving the boat. For a split second I was like, "will he be able to handle it?" and then I was like, "oh never mind he's flown airplanes and helicopters, he'll be fine."
He expertly maneuvered the boat out of the marina slip and through the calm waters of the Bridge Bay Marina.  We had to go slow until we made it passed the third buoy on the other side of the bridge.
I was more worried about how my son would handle the boat ride.  He doesn't like to feel unsteady on land, so I wondered what he'd do in a rocking boat. I also wondered if the noise from the motor would bother him.  He wasn't bothered by the rocking boat, but the noise from the motor did make him cover his ears at first. However, the motor wasn't terribly loud and he soon took his hands off his ears.
As soon as we passed the last buoy Brandon pushed the throttle all the way forward and we raced across the water. Everyone loved the speed. One of the twins is always trying to stick her head out the car window so she can feel the wind in her hair. She kept yelling, "I've always wanted to do this!" The three year old added a few more yells of "I love this." And the other two kids laughed and cheered too.
There is a limited area where you can take the boat on the lake, but it's still a pretty good area.  We passed several landmarks that we'd previously visited on land. It was cool to get a different perspective on everything. Here is the Lake Hotel.  It's the oldest hotel in the park. It has stood on this lakeside location since 1891, and was expanded in 1903.
The next landmark we passed was Storm Point.  We'd hiked to this rocky out-cropping weeks earlier on the first day of summer. 
The next landmark was probably the most interesting.  Steamboat Point is on the northeastern shore of Lake Yellowstone. This rocky peninsula has several fumaroles (steam vents) that send up columns of steam. When the air is chilly the steam is very impressive. The North-East Entrance Road runs above steamboat point, and there is a pull out on the road where you can view the columns of steam.  However, the view from the water is even better.  Seeing Steamboat Point from this vantage point was one of the best parts of the boat ride.  
Occasionally we would pass other rented motor boats.  Their wakes would rock our boat and the kids would laugh with delight.
Stevenson Island sits in the middle of the most northern part of the lake.  We were able to navigate around it, but no one is allowed to dock there.
One of the movies we'd introduced to the kids when we had movie nights in the RV was Sahara with Matthew McConaughey and Steve Zahn.  Despite it's reputation as perhaps the biggest block-buster flop of all time, it's one of our favorite action movies.  As we sped around on the water we kept yelling quotes from the movie like, "I think it's time we did a Panama." The kids thought that was hilarious.  Here's the scene from the movie so you know what I'm talking about. 

Fortunately, we didn't have to do any Panamas. We stayed out on the water for about an hour.  I was hoping that we could make it back to the dock within the hour, but we had to go slowly when we made it back to the marina so that extended our time by 15 minutes.  They charge in 15 minute increments after your first hour so the extra time didn't cost us that much. 

When we returned to land my children all said that riding in the boat had been their favorite thing they did in Yellowstone. Even now, months later, we all have great memories of this boat ride.  It was worth every penny. 

If you aren't interested in renting a motor boat there are several other options for how to see Yellowstone Lake.  

You can ride aboard the Lake Queen on the popular Scenic Cruise. In 2018 this tour costs $18 per adult and $10.50 per child.  Children under three are free.  This is a good deal for a one hour tour, especially since the driver is also a tour guide and will tell you interesting stories about the lake.  But personally, I don't like the look of the boat.  The boat can hold up to 60 passengers and it seems like things could get a bit squishy on the inside. 
Another option is renting a row boat.  These are only $10 an hour, but what you save in money you'll pay for in manual labor.  The row boats aren't allowed to venture very far past the bridge, and most people we saw spent quite a bit of time just trying to paddle out of the marina.
A final option is renting a chartered sightseeing/fishing boat.  These are $95 per hour and require you to book a minimum of 2 hours. Considering the boats can hold a party of 6 people this is still a very cost-effective activity by Yellowstone standards.  If this is in your price range, then go for it.

If you have your own boat you can also take that on Yellowstone Lake.  There are fees and regulations to keep in mind when you do that.  So make sure you read about what you can and can't do on the lake.

Recommendation: Renting a motor-boat is probably the most cost-effective activity offered by Yellowstone National Park Lodges.  This is especially true if you have a group of people. The boats hold up to 8 people, and they are rented out per hour instead of per person like all the other activities. So if you have a group of 6-8 people, then renting a boat is very affordable.  If you want to do an activity in Yellowstone, and you have the time for a boat ride I highly recommend spending your money here.

Directions: Bridge Bay Marina is located on the East side of the Lower half of the Grand Loop Road.  It is 4 miles south of Fishing Bridge where the North East Entrance Road meets the Grand Loop Road.  It is roughly half way between Old Faithful and Canyon Village.  There is a large parking lot where you can leave your car while you go on an adventure on the water.

Places Nearby: Bridge Bay is also the location for the trail head for Natural Bridge.  Rent a boat in the morning and then spend the afternoon hiking to the Natural Bridge.

Want more Yellowstone Vacation Ideas? Visit my list of Things you can't miss and hidden gems along the way.

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I would love to hear what you think. Did I get it right, or was I dead wrong? What was your experience like?


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