By Jessianne Wright EBS Contributor
BIG SKY – For Big Sky residents Laura Callaghan and Mikala Kearney the best part of Yellowstone National Park is showing it to others.
After seven years guiding tours for outfitters in the park, as well as locations in Montana, Tennessee and North Carolina, Callaghan is leading tours under the business name Yellowstone Scenic Tours this summer. Callaghan and Kearney, her business partner, celebrated a ribbon cutting with the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce on May 13 to kick off their new start-up, having taken their very first tour on May 9.
“I’m excited to be in the park more,” said Kearney, who enjoys watching wildlife and has a personal goal to visit all 58 National Parks in the United States. To date, she has visited 14. “I want to teach people to love the park as much as I do,” she said.
Yellowstone Scenic Tours, which is certified by the Department of Transportation as a woman-owned small business, will offer group or private tours of up to 10 guests, who will pile into a 2017 Ford Transit Passenger Wagon to tour the park’s lower or upper loop.
Alternatively, guests can opt for a fully customized trip that could integrate less driving time and more walking in order to see areas of the park beyond Old Faithful and Mammoth Hot Springs. The small group size allows Yellowstone Scenic Tours to access locations that many tour buses cannot.
The Lower Loop tour takes visitors through the largest geyser basins of Yellowstone National Park, and includes the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Hayden Valley, Lake Hotel, Old Faithful, Fountain and Artist Paint Pots and Grand Prismatic Spring. This tour is approximately 270 miles roundtrip, Callaghan said.
The Upper Loop traverses the northern region of the park. Offered as a private tour option, the Upper Loop highlights Norris Geyser Basin, Mammoth Hot Springs, Lamar Valley, Tower Fall and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
Tours are scheduled as a full day of sightseeing and are available seven days a week, May through October.
The duo picks up their clients at any location in Big Sky or West Yellowstone, coming directly to their doorsteps, and every trip includes a picnic sack lunch. “Everybody wants to have a picnic in the park,” Kearney said.
Already an experienced guide, Callaghan is excited to be more involved with the entire process, she said. “I’m looking forward to being there at every step of the tour, including booking.”
Prior to the scheduled trip, Callaghan and Kearney will speak with their clients in order to plan a trip that meets client goals and expectations. They have also been doing their homework, so to speak, and are prepared to share stories about the park’s history, attractions and wildlife.
“There’s always something new to learn [about Yellowstone]” Callaghan said. “Most people who come to the park know nothing about it.”
Both women have taken the five-day Yellowstone Forever course, A Guide’s Guide to Yellowstone, which is taught by area experts and covers the geology, wildlife and human history associated with many of the attractions in the park.
Kearney said so far Yellowstone Scenic Tours has been well-received, and while the business certainly isn’t booked for the season, Kearney and Callaghan know that visitors to the area may not book their tours until actually getting to Big Sky or West Yellowstone.
To learn more about Big Sky’s new tour company, Yellowstone Scenic Tours, visit yellowstonescenictours.biz.