Gazing into otherworldly hot pools, watching geysers erupt, spotting enormous wildlife is an adventure into itself, as are the usual Yellowstone National Park diversions: fishing, hiking and wildlife watching. But there’s something about one adventure that gives visitors a taste for another. While Park regulations drive a few primo distractions just beyond the border, opportunities for a new experience within Yellowstone (and just outside of it) abound.
You can horseback ride within the Park, but you can get longer rides on shorter advance notice if you ride the terrain just beyond Park borders. Horseback rides pack in lovely scenery you can’t see from a car and, while it takes more work to ride a horse than you’d think, there’s an undeniable Western cachet to traveling via equestrian.
White-water rafting isn’t permitted within Park borders, but raft guides have set up shop as close as possible in Gardiner. While brochure photos tend to show the splashy action shots, know that there’s a fair bit of boat lounging with scenery and wildlife gawking on a river trip. Still, prepare to paddle to keep the raft on course—rafting is a team sport.
Wild West Rafting and several others in Gardiner will guide you down the mostly mild Yellowstone River.
The Yellowstone River’s low-key rapids just past Park borders offer the perfect starting point for a first-time kayaker, as well as stellar views for experienced paddlers who just want to soak in the Paradise Valley scenery. Book with Yellowstone Raft Company to get a boat, paddle and guidance.
Birdwatching sounds like about as much of an adventure as knitting—until you spot your first golden eagle or trumpeter swan in flight. Yellowstone National Park is nesting grounds for 150 native bird species, with another 150 visiting species commonly seen, so prepare to spot bald eagles, white pelicans, loons, osprey, sandhill cranes and (obviously) more.
Yes, you can bike in Yellowstone National Park. Roadies, watch for the week in spring when Yellowstone’s roads open to bikes a week or two before they open to cars. The rest of the warm season, you’re welcome to brave Park roads, but know that there are no shoulders and drivers may be distracted by wildlife sightings.
Mountain bikers may not get free reign of Park trails, but there are several places for them to play. Both the Old Gardiner Road and Blacktail Plateau Drive are open one-way to cars and both ways to bikes. As for trails, try the Lone Star Geyser Road or Fountain Freight Road near Old Faithful, and Bunsen Peak Road near Mammoth, just to name a few.
Rent bikes at Freeheel and Wheel in West Yellowstone.
Don’t have the patience to see the scenery on a hike or horseback ride? Cover a lot of ground quickly (without actually touching any) along a brisk zipline tour just outside the park border. Meet at Montana Whitewater in Gardiner to sail 200 feet in the air while lapping up the views, or at The Yellowstone Aerial Adventure Park in West Yellowstone to take on a ropes course along with your zipline.
No, you can’t hunt in Yellowstone National Park, but when wildlife steps a paw or hoof over park borders and into public land, it’s fair game, providing it’s in season, of course. Rely on guides like Absaroka Beartooth Outfitters and Hell’s A-Roarin Outfitters to set you up on hunts for wolf, bighorn sheep, elk, black bear, bison and moose. Note that you will need to obtain licensing and some equipment on your own.
You know what these are? Gateway adventures. Try them now, but don’t blame us if your next purchase is a mountain bike that costs more than your car, a small horse ranch, your own pack raft or a kayak. But even if you don’t take up riding or rafting, your bucket list will still be that much better for it.