Roosevelt Arch, Gardiner Montana Photo by Andy Austin


By Melynda Harrison

In June, a 500-year flood of the Yellowstone River washed away sections of road, bridges, and homes in Gardiner, Paradise Valley, and Livingston. While much has been repaired in a remarkably fast manner, repair work on the road between Gardiner and Mammoth continues.

Just because the North Entrance to Yellowstone National Park is closed to vehicles doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do in the area. In fact, right now with fewer crowds and gorgeous weather, might be the best time to visit the northern gateway to Yellowstone from Livingston through the Paradise Valley to Gardiner.

The Custer Gallatin National Forest is an extension of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and offers the same (or more!) big mountains, rushing streams, and abundant wildlife as does the park. The towns of Gardiner and Livingston are open and full of options for dining, shopping, and viewing art and theater.

 

Go Horseback Riding


Climb on the back of a friendly, safe steed and soak in the scenery. A horseback trail ride is a unique way to get to know the area while having a real Western experience.

Pine Creek Falls, Paradise Valley, Montana Pine Creek Falls, Photo by Enchanted Forest

Hike To a Waterfall


Pine Creek Falls and Passage Creek Falls are both gorgeous cascades that spring from the Absaroka Mountains.

Pine Creek Falls is a popular 2.3-mile (round trip) hike to a lacy waterfall. Most of the hike is easy to moderate as it follows Pine Creek and the last section gets steep as it climbs to the waterfall.

Getting to Pine Creek Falls: From Livingston, drive 4 miles south to State Hwy 540 (East River Road) and turn left. Continue 7.7 miles and turn left onto Luccock Park Rd. Follow for 2.7 miles to the Pine Creek Lake Trailhead at the end of the Pine Creek Campground.

The trail to Passage Creek Falls is easy and flat as it crosses Mill Creek and Passage Creek, then skirts the edge of a scree field. Follow Passage Creek through meadows and woods. Then it’s up and over a short, steep hill to the thunderous waterfall at 2.1 miles.

Getting to Passage Creek Falls: From Livingston, drive 15.7 miles south on Highway 89. Turn left at Mill Creek Road. Drive 14 miles to the Wallace Creek trailhead on the right.

 

Walk Through a Petrified Forest


Take a journey back in time to see a forest of trees preserved in stone along the Gallatin Petrified Forest Interpretive Trail. The petrified trees here date to 50 million years ago when living trees were covered in ash from the Yellowstone volcano.

The 2.3-mile trail is marked with interpretive signs so you can better understand the long history of the place and the process of petrification. While the trail is short, it does gain 1,020 feet and is steep in places.

In addition to petrified trees and crystals, there is an abundance of wildlife in the area including grizzly bears (bring your bear spray!), black bears, elk, moose, wolves, foxes, eagles, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and lots of smaller critters.

It is unlawful to remove any petrified wood, rocks, or crystals.

The trail starts in the Tom Minor Campground at the end of Tom Minor Basin. Use the Old Yellowstone Trail to access it as the Tom Minor Bridge washed out in the flood.

Man and dog mountain biking. Photo by Andy Austin

Ride a Bike


From mountain biking in the National Forest to gravel rides on one of the many dirt roads leaving the valley, to paved bike/walk paths, there are plenty of places to spin two wheels.

With the proper motivation, one could ride a bike from Livingston to Gardiner along the Old Yellowstone Trail. Those of us with less drive can ride a shorter section or other trails in and around Livingston and Gardiner.

For a good climb, ride up the Jardine Road, Crevice Mountain Road, and Bear Creek Road from Gardiner to Timber Camp. Around Livingston, string together the city trails  to get to know the town.

If you don’t have your own bike, rent from:

 

Dine at Creative and Innovative Restaurants from Gardiner to Livingston


For small towns, Livingston, Paradise Valley, and Gardiner have a lot of good restaurants. From tapas, to BBQ, to farm-to-table, to food trucks, there’s something for everyone. Fine dining? We’ve got it. Casual local foods? We have that too.

If a restaurant takes reservations, it’s a good idea to make one, but many places are first come, first served. Call ahead to be sure the restaurant you want to eat at is open or wander around town until some place catches your eye.

 

Hear Live Music


There is so much good music in Yellowstone Country. You could see live music almost every night of summer.

Pine Creek Lodge is an intimate outdoor venue with bands several nights a week and during Sunday brunch. Dance beneath the pines, grab a drink, and enjoy an easy meal.

The Old Saloon has “Live music all summer long. Good food, booze, and great stories year-round.”

The Shane Center’s Summer Outdoor Concert Series is free and lively every Thursday evening. Food and beverages can be purchased, but bring your own chair.

Music Ranch Montana showcases mostly country music, dancing, and dinner.

 

Shop at Livingston's Farmers Market


The Livingston Farmers Market is more than just produce (although the local produce is great!) it’s a gathering place for locals and visitors every Wednesday from 4:30-7:30 pm in the summer.

Food trucks supply dinner and desserts and local breweries sell their craft beer while live music plays on the stage.

 

Soak in a Hot Spring


There are two public hot springs to soak away any stress.

Chico Hot Springs Resort

One of the most well known Montana hot springs resorts, Chico Hot Springs Resort, is a turn-of-the-century, rustic, retreat snuggled into the Absaroka Mountains. Chico features an outdoor swimming pool and an attached, covered soaking pool. Chico is known for gourmet food—much of which is grown in the onsite gardens and year round greenhouse—great local bands, and luxurious spa services.

Yellowstone Hot Springs

Yellowstone Hot Springs is about ten minutes north of Gardiner and sits above the Yellowstone River with terrific views of the mountains on both sides. There are 4,000 square feet of mineral hot springs divided into a big pool with two smaller pools inside it and a kneipp walk. There are small, clean changing rooms. They sell a few snacks, but you can picnic outside, near the pools with your own food. No alcohol is allowed.

People sitting at the historic Murray Bar, Livingston, Montana. The Murray Bar, Livingston, Montana. Photo by Andy Austin

Sip at Local Breweries and Historic Bars


There are no shortage of watering holes in Yellowstone Country. Stop by for lunch, and apres-activity drink, or a night on the town.

Whether you are looking for a craft beer brewery such as Neptune’s Brewery or Katabatic Brewing Company, or a historic saloon for drinks and food, you will find it here.

Walk downtown in Livingston or Gardiner, look for a brick building with a Western front and you’ll likely have found a saloon. The Mint Bar and Grill, The Murray Bar, The Owl Lounge, Glenn’s Food and Spirits, and others in Livingston offer great food along with libations.

In Gardiner, check out Iron Horse Bar and Grill, Red’s Blue Goose Saloon (now a group of food and drink trucks), and the Antler Pub and Grill in Gardiner quench thirsts and fill bellies.

In the Paradise Valley, don’t miss Sage Lodge, Chico Hot Springs Resort, Emigrant Outpost, Old Saloon, or Pine Creek Lodge.

Many of the saloons have live music, too. All of the bars and breweries are family-friendly until 8 pm.

 

Stroll Galleries and Boutique Shops in Gardiner and Livingston


Gardiner and Livingston are full of Montana small town charm and a lot of that comes from the art galleries, shops, and theaters that line their downtowns.

Galleries showcase Western and modern art, wildlife and avant-garde subjects, and local and international artists.

 

Explore a Museum


Learning more about the place you are visiting leads to a more meaningful trip and a deeper connection. There are several museums in the region that focus on local history, train history, and Yellowstone.

Yellowstone Gateway Museum

The Yellowstone Gateway Museum’s permanent exhibits interpret the area’s native cultures, early expeditions (including the Corps of Discovery and Lewis and Clark), the railway’s role in bringing visitors to Yellowstone National Park, and the stories and artifacts of early-day communities. Outdoor exhibits include a one-room schoolhouse, blacksmith shop, and a fleet of transportation vehicles, including a caboose.

Livingston Depot Museum

Each summer the Livingston Depot Center opens its seasonal museum with a different exhibit related to the town and its history. The museum is housed in the original launching point for travel to Yellowstone National Park. The historic Livingston Depot was built in 1902 and was designed by Reed & Stem, the original architects for New York City's Grand Central Station.

Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center, Gardiner

Yellowstone’s collections document the cultural and natural history of the world’s first national park and the conditions of its resources. It is a branch of the National Archives and is used for research. The main and upper floor lobbies include small rotating exhibits for public viewing. Topics vary from history, culture, art, and natural history. Free public behind-the-scenes tours are offered Wednesdays from 4:00-5:00 PM between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Space is limited, please call 307-344-2264 to register.