Day Trips

Yellowstone Country

With as much to see and do and hear and taste and feel as Yellowstone Country affords, it’s good to establish a basecamp from which to set out on day trips and take advantage of all the region has to offer. Think of each trip as a mini vacation inside your vacation. A getaway from your getaway. Each day a new day of discovery of park wonder, small-town exploration, recreation and adventure.

Here are our recommendations for day trips that make a Yellowstone Country vacation something altogether unforgettable.

IF YOU’RE STAYING IN BOZEMAN, LIVINGSTON OR GARDINER:

Plan on about an hour and a half to make it to the Park’s northern entrance at Gardiner from Bozeman, and about an hour from Livingston. Grab breakfast or lunch in Gardiner, then spend an hour or so touring the boardwalks around Mammoth Hot Springs, where multicolored waters trickle over a slope of natural travertine fountains. If you’re into history, check out the turn-of-the-century army buildings around Mammoth, which used to be Fort Yellowstone, and the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel (rebuilt in 1937).

If you’re craving more natural splendor and get an early enough start, head towards Tower Junction, 18 miles east from Mammoth. En route, see Undine Falls, just off the road, or take a quick .5-mile stroll to Wraith Falls. To scan for deer and antelope on sagebrush prairie, turn onto the one-way, 7-mile Blacktail Plateau Drive. From Tower Junction, head 2 miles south to Tower Falls. Spend 20 minutes or so gazing at the 132-foot plunge, then double back to Gardiner for dinner, or to Chico Hot Springs for a quick dip before heading back to Bozeman or Livingston.

Lodging that adds to the experience:

Bozeman: Stay at Howler’s Inn, a wolf sanctuary.
Livingston: Sleep in cabin-comfort at River Inn Yellowstone Cabins.
Gardiner: Get away from it all (but just 10 miles away) at the remote cabins of Crevice Mountain Lodge.

IF YOU’RE STAYING IN BIG SKY OR WEST YELLOWSTONE:

Hit the Norris Geyser Basin for an easy day trip from either West Yellowstone (28 miles, about 45 minutes) or Big Sky (86 miles, or about an hour and a half). Here, a barren white landscape gives way to emerald green and sapphire blue geothermal pools, spewing geysers and seething steam vents. Easy, short boardwalk trails traverse the fragile crust, but plan on spending a couple hours stopping and gawking.

If you’ve still got time, head south to the Midway Geyser Basin to see the Great Fountain Geyser and the psychedelic-blue pond known as Grand Prismatic Spring.

You could tack on Old Faithful and the erupting Upper Geyser Basin (and of course, a tour of the timbered, stately Old Faithful Inn), but with over 250 geysers to see nearby, this area really merits its own day trip. If you go this route, plan on about 45 minutes to get there from West Yellowstone, or closer to two hours from Big Sky. Easy, flat trails wind through the Geyser Hill area, the Firehole River Loop and the Black Sand Basin, just a mile west of Old Faithful. If that doesn’t wear you out, go for a mile-long stroll at Biscuit Basin on the way back (3 miles north of Old Faithful).

Lodging that adds to the experience:

Big Sky: Stay in a mountain chalet at the 320 Guest Ranch, 12 miles south of Big Sky.
West Yellowstone: Keep it cheap with a log hostel bunk at the timber-laden Madison Hotel.

IF YOU’RE STAYING IN COOKE CITY OR SILVER GATE:

Take a safari in your own car through the Lamar Valley, one of the best wildlife-watching areas in the Park. The drive to Tower Falls should take about 45 minutes, but plan for an hour or so, in case you need to stop for wildlife. Turn south at Tower Junction for a quick peek at Tower Falls, then head 10 minutes south to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone lives up to its hyperbolic name. Warm-hued canyon walls plunge down as much as 1200 feet into a rushing, churning river with two massive waterfalls, which are audible for miles. Take the North Rim Drive to a series of canyon overlooks, all of which are worthwhile. If you only have time for one, take the half-mile trail to Brink of the Lower Falls, which puts you right on the edge of a 300-foot roaring waterfall. If you’ve got more time, hike as much of the easy North Rim Trail as you like.

Lodging that adds to the experience:

Silver Gate (just a few miles from Cooke City): Marvel at the antique touches (like vintage stoves) of the Silver Gate Cabins, built in the ’30s.

IF YOU’RE STAYING IN RED LODGE:

If there is snow on the ground and you are in red lodge, then you had better be skiing on Red Lodge Mountain. After all, Red lodge has been named as one of America's best ski towns which means great lodging and great activities. If there isn't snow on the ground, than we hope you take some time to check out their summer activities too. But if you need a bit more adventure, take a short drive to Yellowstone Park, which is about and hour and a half drive from Red Lodge to the Cooke City Silver Gate. Take the Beartooth Highway (U.S. 212) to witness one of the nations all-american scenic drives. The road runs 68 miles from Red Lodge to the northeast entrance to Yellowstone near Cooke City and Silver Gate. The drive takes you past 20 peaks of more than 12,000 feet and over the Beartooth Plateau at more than 10,900 feet. Stop at the Gardner Lake pullout for the best view of the Bear’s Tooth rock formation. An easy three-mile gravel road takes you up to Clay Butte Lookout, an old fire lookout tower; open July and August. When you get to cooke city, get a snack at Bearclaw Bakery which makes everything from scratch. Prepare to peruse the park and get close views of Yellowstone's natural residents by renting a Swarovski spotting scope from the Silver Gate Lodging general store.

Yellowstone Park offers some great hiking; but so does the Beartooth wilderness area around Red Lodge. The day-trip length West Rosebud Trail (5.7 miles), also know as the Mystic Lake Trail, starts at the Mystic Lake Hydroelectric Plant and climbs up to majestic Mystic Lake. Interested in looking at more trails? The Forest Service website lists dozens of day hikes in the Beartooth area.

Lodging that adds to the experience:

The Pollard Hotel: built in 1893 and, at the time, was the first brick structure built in Red Lodge. Famous guests, a formal dining room, a casual pub, and a health club featuring racquetball courts, a full gym, locker rooms, and saunas make this quite the experience.
Rock Creek Resort: Nine minutes outside of Red Lodge towards the park, and 14 miles from the slopes at Big Sky Resort boasts creek views and an upscale environment.

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