From the outdoor recreation hub of Bozeman to the heart of the park, this iconic trip is bursting with high-alpine roads, trout-rich rivers, geothermal marvels, and incredible dining
Established in 1872 as the world’s first national park, there’s no question 3,471-square-mile Yellowstone deserves its iconic status, with its wolves, elk, moose, bison, and bears, unique geothermal activity, 10,000-foot peaks, and waterfalls that cascade more than 300 feet. The park feels massive but is really just part of what makes this chunk of the state so enticing. What lies outside the park on this nearly 500-mile road trip is equally compelling, from the mountain views along the Beartooth Pass to the world-class fly-fishing around Livingston to the hiking, cycling, and mountain biking around Bozeman.
This leafy enclave, filled with coffee shops, brewpubs, gear stores, and art galleries, is cradled between four major mountain ranges: the Gallatin, Absaroka, Bridger, and Madison. Hike, mountain bike, climb, fly-fish, or cycle in any direction, but for easy access, head to Bozeman Creek Trail, an old logging road that terminates ten miles later at Mystic Lake. Back in town, visit the Museum of the Rockies, a world-renowned, Smithsonian-affiliated museum that has an entire T. rex skeleton and an accurate replica of a late-1800s Montana homestead.
EAT & STAY: Housed in an Airstream trailer off Main Street, Victory Taco is perfect for a quick summer bite. For dinner, Blackbird serves up homemade pastas and wood-fired pizzas. The LARK, a fantastically rehabbed motor inn with a massive outdoor fireplace and patio, gourmet coffee on tap for breakfast, and comfortable rooms featuring work by local artists, is just down the street.
On the banks of the Yellowstone River, this old railroad town 55 miles north of Yellowstone’s North Entrance is the epicenter of Montana fly-fishing. Sign up with one of the top-notch experts at Montana Fly Fishing Guides for a half-, full- or multi-day fishing trip—floating, walking, or wading on one of seven nearby rivers, private spring creeks, or trophy lakes.
EAT & STAY: Hit the Livingston Bodega and Bakery in the morning, when their pastry case is freshly stocked with sticky buns, currant scones, and apple cider doughnuts. Live like a local and stay at the Red House, a charming rehabbed Victorian four blocks from Sacajawea Park and the Yellowstone River
On the north end of the 68-mile-long Beartooth Highway, Red Lodge makes the ideal place to hunker down for a night or two to explore the wilds on the northeast edge of Yellowstone, like 12,799-foot Granite Peak, the highest mountain in Montana. In summer, Adventure Whitewater offers a Paddle N’ Saddle trip, where guests ride horses in the morning and float the family-friendly Lower Stillwater River in the afternoon. Back in town, U.S. flags fly on every corner, offering up a slice of pure Americana. Kids’ eyes will bug out in the Montana Candy Emporium, with barrels full of every kind of sweet imaginable. Adults will appreciate the legendary margaritas a few doors down at Bogart’s.
EAT & STAY: The Carbon County Steakhouse gets high marks for its casual atmosphere combined with an award-winning menu that includes “Gallagher’s Cut of the Day,” a prime cut of regionally sourced beef. Three blocks from downtown, the townhomes at the Island at Rock Creek lodge have creek-side hot tubs and panoramic views of the Beartooth Mountains.
There are five entrances into the park, three of which are in Montana, with the Northeast Entrance being one of the most dramatic ways to access it. In Cooke City, stop at the historic Cooke City Store, which houses a new fly shop and sells fishing licenses. Its guides have excellent advice on which trailheads access the best trout-fishing lakes and streams in the park. In the Lamar Valley, watch the bison herds wander—oftentimes across the road. The trailhead leading to 10,243-foot Mount Washburn is just off the park road, and the smooth doubletrack to the top is ideal for hiking families. Mammoth Hot Springs’s ever-changing travertine formations are one of the park’s more unique formations—and should not be missed. Old Faithful, the world’s most renowned geyser, is another must-see, erupting at intervals of 40 to 126 minutes.
While waiting for Old Faithful to blow, step inside the iconic A-framed Old Faithful Inn. The post-and-beam construction of the four-story foyer is not only an inspirational reminder of the glory days of the national park system, it’s also the largest log structure in the world. Check out the handcrafted copper clock and the massive stone fireplace, and if you still have time before the next geyser show, stop off for a cold brew on the second-floor deck of the Old Faithful Inn’s lounge.
In winter, the only way to access the park is by snowcoach, snowmobile, cross-country skiing, or snowshoeing. Based out of West Yellowstone, Backcountry Adventures and Alpen Guides offer several different interpretive tours in their heated snowcoaches.
EAT & STAY: Time your layover at Old Faithful to hit lunch at Old Faithful Inn. The Western Buffet includes pulled pork, wild game sausage, mac and cheese, corn bread muffins, and more. Outside the park, the 15 cabins at Campfire Lodge Resort, on the Madison River north of West Yellowstone, have a family-friendly summer camp vibe.