Journey to Yellowstone National Park by way of Paradise. Montana’s Paradise Valley, that is. Follow the majestic meander of the Yellowstone River from Livingston to the gateway town of Gardiner along the soaring peaks of the Absaroka Mountains to the east and the picturesque Gallatin Range to the west. This aptly named panoramic Yellowstone River valley is the perfect place to soak in a natural hot spring or get knee deep in a lazy stretch of the greatest—and longest undammed—trout stream in the world.
Perfect summers and mild winters mean year-round access to one of Montana’s most scenic valleys. But it’s more than just a scenic drive…it’s a scenic adventure, with much to see and do along the way. Put a kayak, raft or canoe on the water, lace up your hiking boots, set up your camera tripod or unpack your tent. Don’t forget your binoculars and your fly rod. Pull over and stay awhile—Paradise Valley is a vacation destination all its own.
Stop at Mallard’s Rest Fishing Access Site (13 miles from Livingston at mile marker 42), for what might be the most scenic part of the drive—the ultimate Montana view.
20 miles north of Gardiner, the Gallatin Petrified Forest Interpretive Trail in the Tom Miner Basin contains 50-million-year-old trees frozen in time. The 8-mile trail to Ramshorn Peak (10,289 feet) is a pretty easy hike. NOTE: Bring your bear spray. Tom Miner Basin is prime grizzly habitat.
Soak it all in, and then literally go for a soak. Paradise Valley has several natural hot springs, including the historic Chico Hot Springs in Pray, Montana 25 miles south of Livingston.
On your way back to Livingston, take Route 540 instead of Highway 89 and stop in Pray for that soak. Route 540 offers a slower-paced drive through the valley.
ROUTE: Livingston to Gardiner
ROAD: U.S. Highway 89 S.
MILES: 53 miles
TIME: 58 minutes