Yellowstone Tour Guides – Rules and Regulations

Guide Card for 2020

I am excited and very proud to announce that for the fourth consecutive year, I will be providing photography workshops and tours in Yellowstone National Park.

Because I consider being a guide in Yellowstone to be a privilege, I work very hard to abide by the rules and regulations of the national park but often become confused because these rules don’t seem to be applied evenly, to all guides. Regardless, I do my best and thought it would be a good idea to let all prospective clients, and park visitors, know what is expected of guides when they take clients out for a day in Yellowstone.

A couple of days ago, a long-time guide informed me and their clients that it was legal to stop in the road for viewing and photographing wildlife. This is not true and I became concerned that this person’s clients might get themselves in trouble for parking in the road, based on this information, and so am posting the rules as I understand them. Emphasis are placed by me on the rules that are not often followed by some guides. We have not been allowed to park in the road for three years, but certain local guide companies have continued doing so and do so today, which is unfair to the many guides and visitors who attempt to follow the rules.

Specific CUA rules are spelled out below but a few items of particular interest are: No guides are allowed to stop in the road to allow their clients to take photos, or to drop them off. Guides are not allowed to save or block parking spaces by parking across several parking spaces or setting up tripods or other items in a space that would be used for parking. Slow moving vehicles MUST use pull-outs and parking areas to allow others to pass. ie, if you are going 35 in a 45, move over and let people pass. Vehicles can not be left idling in parking spaces. Maximum time at pullouts in Lamar or Hayden is two hours. Again, NO SAVING OF PARKING SPACES.

First of all – if you are paying someone to take you into the park for the day, or whatever arrangements you have made, for a tour, workshop (painting or photography), fishing, cycling, boating (motorized or non-motorized), day hiking, overnight backcountry trips and road based interpretive/photo tours, they must be permitted and authorized by Yellowstone. I recommend confirming this before booking time in the park, because if you get here and your guide is caught operating without a permit, you could lose out on your tour/workshop.

Secondlyno one is allowed to solicit business for anything while in the park. They may give you a business card, if you ask for it, but they can not walk up and hand you a card, asking for your business. No one is allowed to sell or rent any products while in the park, such as tours, scopes, binoculars, photographs, looks into someone’s scope or payment for wildlife information, burritos, towing, or any other product or service.

“The holder will not advertise, solicit business, collect any fees, or sell any goods or services on lands owned and controlled by the United States Government. All advertisements, including brochures, rack cards, and websites must include a statement that the holder is an authorized permittee of the National Park Service.”

Thirdly EVERYONE is required to follow NPS rules. Please make sure you know what the regs are before starting out and do not put your guide in a bad position by asking them to break the rules, or by just ignoring them. I will include the law about wildlife encounters at the end of this post. I have been told that permitted guides are supposed to be held to a higher standard of behavior than visitors. Unfortunately, for everyone, there are some guides or regulars who do not feel as though these rules apply to them. Hold your guide to that higher standard – this is about being good stewards of our national park.


I will focus this information on Interpretive guide and Photography workshop guides and the rules they are required to follow. I did not include all rules, as many probably wouldn’t interest you. Any emphasis or capitalization is my interpretation of what is important.

  • CUA holders and employees are prohibited from possessing firearms while on duty within the park.
  • The CUA holder may use legally obtained plant, animal, geological and cultural specimens for guest educational purposes only. Clients must be advised that possessing, destroying, removing or disturbing specimens in a National Park is strictly prohibited. To comply with park policy, all such specimens or parts thereof must remain inside the vehicle while operating in Yellowstone National Park. All wildlife parts such as antlers, pelts or feathers, must remain out of sight of all other (non-client) visitors while within park boundaries. While in the park, holders of a CUA must have documentation or knowledge of the legal means by which all specimens in possession were obtained.
  • Guides must be at least 18 years of age and trained in basic safety, resource protection, Leave No Trace principles, park rules and regulations, and the requirements of the CUA terms and conditions.
  • At a minimum, one guide on each trip must be currently certified in standard first aid and CPR and carry a first aid kit. Wilderness first aid or wilderness first responder certification is recommended and may be required for day hiking, overnight backcountry trips, non-motorized boating, stream & shoreline fishing, guided bicycle tours, and guided skiing & snowshoeing. Refer to specific activity operating plan.
  • While in Yellowstone, the CUA holder or guide is responsible for their clients for the guided portion of the trip.
  • The CUA holder will ensure that clients and guides are properly clothed and equipped for the authorized activity.
  • The CUA holder must ensure that all clients and guides maintain a distance of at least 100 yards from bears and wolves. A distance of 25 yards is required from bison, elk, and other animals. If an animal approaches your group, you are responsible for maintaining these distances. Regardless of any distance, if any wild animal changes its behavior due to your group’s presence, you are too close.
  • The CUA holder or guide shall provide all clients with an orientation prior to the trip which emphasizes safe practices while hiking in bear habitat, Leave No Trace ethics, park rules and regulations, and specific nature, demands, and dangers of the particular trip.
  • This authorization DOES NOT CONFER EXCLUSIVE — USE of any area in the park. All groups must HONOR THE RIGHTS OF OTHERS and conduct themselves in an orderly manner at all times.
  • “Foot travel in all thermal areas and within the Yellowstone Canyon between the Upper Falls and Inspiration Point must be confined to boardwalks or trails that are maintained for such travel and are marked by official signs.” 36 CFR, Ch1, se. 7.13(i) No off-trail travel is allowed; stay on designated boardwalks and trails.
  • The CUA holder must provide all visitor services in a manner that is consistent with and supportive of the interpretative goals and objectives of the park.
  • All vehicles transporting clients and conducting tours under a Road-Based Interpretive/Photo Tour CUA must display the following information on their vehicles (step-on guides are exempt from this requirement): • Company name that the CUA is issued under • DOT number if required • Markings must appear on both sides of the vehicle • Letters must contrast sharply in color with the background on which the letters are placed • Markings must be legible, during daylight hours, from a distance of 50 feet with the vehicle stationary. (vehicle sign not required for photography workshops)
  • …be required to display the name of the CUA holder’s company on their person while providing tours/guide services within the park. Guides can meet this requirement by wearing, at a minimum, one of the following: nametag, shirt, or hat.
  • If handling and preparing food during tours/trips, guides may require ServeSafe certifications. Please contact the Concessions Management Office for additional information.


  • Hiking more than 1/2 mile from the road is not allowed, no is boating or fishing. These activities require a separate CUA.
  • Group size limited to 15, including guides. Multiple groups must be dispersed and may not congregate at a destination.
  • Visitors may not be asked to move and areas may not be closed to accommodate painting and photography workshops.
  • Groups must utilize areas in a way that allows for the free flow of other traffic on roads, boardwalks, and trails. VEHICLES MAY NOT STOP VEHICLES IN THE ROADWAY TO ALLOW CLIENTS TO TAKE PICTURES OF ANIMALS OR LOAD AND UNLOAD PASSENGERS. Clients participating in workshops must not conflict with the public’s normal use of park areas.
  • CUA holders and their vehicles are permitted to occupy pull-out in Hayden Valley and Lamar Valley for a maximum of 2 hours. Parking spaces in pull-outs are available on a first-come first-served basis and cannot be blocked or saved. CUA holders may not use pull-outs or parking spots to stage their equipment if it blocks other users.
  • All individuals are required to comply as directed by NPS staff engaged in administering wildlife management operations or managing wildlife viewing opportunities.

ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION TOURS REGULATIONS (this would be everyday wildlife and photography tours, as well as hiking)

  • The Environmental Education Tour CUA allows CUA holders to conduct interpretive road-based tours, day hiking, non-instructional photography tours, and act as a step-on guide on park roads with visits to facilities and services.
  • Environmental education tours are limited to a maximum group size of 15 clients, excluding the guides. Each group must be dispersed a minimum of 60 minutes apart and groups may not congregate at a destination.
  • Interpretive road-based tours and photography tours may occupy the parking lots or vehicle pull-outs in Hayden Valley and Lamar Valley for a maximum of 2 hours.
  • Slow moving vehicles must use roadside pull-outs and parking areas to allow free flow of other traffic. Vehicles may not stop vehicles in the roadway to allow clients to take pictures of animals or load and unload passengers.
  • Vehicles shall not be left idling in parking areas or park across multiple parking spaces.  Loading zones must not be occupied longer than necessary to load and unload passengers.
  • Must display company name and ODOT (if required)


SC16. To protect park wildlife, the following are prohibited:(a) Willfully approaching, remaining, viewing or engaging in any activity:
(1) Within 25 yards of any wildlife, except bears and wolves or when completely inside a legally positioned motor vehicle.

(2) Within 100 yards of bears and wolves, except when completely inside a legally positioned motor vehicle.

(3) Within any distance that displaces or interferes with the free unimpeded movement of any wildlife.

(4) Within any distance that creates or contributes to a potentially hazardous condition or situation.

(5) Failing to remove oneself to prescribed distances during inadvertent, accidental or surprise encounters with wildlife.

THESE REGULATIONS MEAN THAT DRIVING TO WHERE AN ANIMAL WANTS TO CROSS THE ROAD, AND INTERFERING WITH THE ANIMAL, IN ORDER TO TAKE A PHOTO, WHILE PARKED IN THE ROAD, IS ILLEGAL. Amongst other behaviors that would interfere with the animal. This also means that it is legal to view and photograph wildlife while in your legally parked vehicle.

From my own personal experience, I very much believe that we should all be required to follow the same rules and that we should do so out of respect for the park. I also believe that we should all be treated fairly and that no one should have special access to park resources that other visitors do not have. My reason for emphasizing compliance to the rules is very simple, I was accused of wrong doing from day one by people who routinely broke the rules – it was a do as I say, not as I do atmosphere that still exists today. I, of course, made some mistakes, as everyone does, but have never done anything wrong in an intentional and malicious way. Three years ago, I was told I could not park in the road and quit doing so. Today, locals and regulars continue to park in the road without consequences, while attempting to get those they don’t like in trouble for made up offenses. I believe that we all have a right to enjoy our park and to do so unmolested by a bunch of people who somehow came to believe this place belongs to them. So, I have fought back and been required to stand up for myself. Not my choice but they forced it on me and then turned around and labeled me a trouble maker. Speaking up for fairness for all park visitors, and standing up for myself when lied about, does not make me a trouble maker. If we all followed the rules and got the exact same information and privileges, there would be no issues. So, it is those who think that they are special that are causing the problems, not you and I.

Get out in the park and have a ton of fun!

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