Gardiner's Other Side - 5 Adventures North of Yellowstone Park

Photo courtesy Montana Office of Tourism

From Gardiner, most visitors plunge south into the Park, completely missing the under-explored wonderland to the north.

Find A Forest Frozen in Time (and Maybe Bag a Peak) in Tom Miner Basin

Half an hour north of Gardiner and down a dirt road, you’re deep in the woods—including petrified woods. Geologists argue whether there are 27 layers of petrified forests visible at Tom Miner Basin or just two, but regardless, it’s easy to find tropical tree roots up to 50 million years old alongside glassy shards of plants from a few epochs back.

Hike the 2-mile round trip Petrified Forest Interpretive Trail, where signage points you to the most obvious fossils. If you want to make it a 4.6-mile haul, keep hiking up to Buffalo Horn Pass. Up for an easy peak-bag? Stay on the trail to see multiple mountain ranges and peaks from Ramshorn Peak, 8.4 miles round trip, with a 3,000 foot elevation gain. Save this one for late July though September.

There’s a 13-site primitive campground here with big trees and private sites, if you want to make it a camping trip.

Directions: Drive 16 miles north from Gardiner on Highway 89, turning left onto Tim Miner Creek Road, and following the signs to the campground on dirt roads for another 11 miles.

Raft the Yellowstone

You can’t raft in Yellowstone National Park, but you can raft the Yellowstone River just north of it. A multitude of raft guides and outfitters will guide you on float trips ranging from 2 hours to a couple days—no experience necessary. For big water, go early in the summer, when spring runoff propels class IV rapids, and for a mellow float (and fishing), go a little later on.

Book a trip with Flying Pig Adventure Company, Montana Whitewater and Wild West Rafting, all located in Gardiner.

Horseback Riding in Paradise Valley

The same outfitters that take you rafting will also guide you on easy, safe horseback trail rides (sometimes both in the same day). Saddle up for an hour or a whole day, winding through the trails of Paradise Valley on well-trained, gentle horses.

Book a trip with Flying Pig Adventure Company, Montana Whitewater, Wild West Rafting and Hell’s A-Roarin’ Outfitters, all located in Gardiner.

Fish the Yellowstone River

If you brought fishing gear, you had the right idea. If not, no worries—there are plenty of guides ready to kit you out and show you the movie-worthy waters of the Yellowstone River, especially during the June-July Salmonfly hatch.

Find a guide and gear with Hell’s A-Roarin’ Outfitters, Park’s Fly Shop, Flying Pig Adventure Company and Montana Whitewater.

Bag Emigrant Peak

If you’ve got a few peaks under your belt and want to take the long view on Yellowstone National Park (and nearly every mountain range in the region), summit Emigrant Peak. (You’ll need basic route-finding skills and some prior peak experience.) An old, unmarked trail (8 miles round trip, 4,600 vertical feet) will take you to a superlative view at 10,921 feet.

The trail is generally clear late July through September. Be very aware of afternoon thunderstorms in the summer.

Directions: Plan on about an hour’s drive from Gardiner. At mile-marker 31, on Highway 89, turn right onto Murphy Lane/Highway 571. At 1.1 miles, turn right onto East River Road (Highway 540) and head 3.3 miles to Daily Lake Road, where you’ll take a left. Drive 5.7 miles (past the winter trailhead sign) to a split in the road, where you’ll stay left, driving .2 miles to park at the Gold Prize trailhead.

Boulder Yankee Jim Canyon

If you packed your bouldering pads, chalk and rock climbing shoes, zip up to Yankee Jim Canyon, a half-hour north of Gardiner. Here, you can literally open the car door and be at the foot of excellent bouldering (and camping), just off Highway 89.

Directions: Head north on Highway 89 for 15 miles to the sign for Yankee Jim Campground.

Take a Dogsled Tour

You can get deeper into Paradise Valley’s winter woods, enjoy a hot meal out and benefit from a friendly guide if you explore via dogsled. Mush a team of rowdy pups up Mill Creek with Absaroka Dogsled Treks, located at Chico Hot Springs, in Pray, Montana, 30 minutes north of Gardiner on Highway 89.

Directions: From Gardiner, drive 34 miles north on Highway 89, turning right onto Murphy Lane (towards Pray). Drive for 1.2 miles to a left on E. River Road, then about a mile to Chico Road. Turn right to find Chico Hot Springs in a mile and a half.

Soak It Out at Chico Hot Springs

Every adventure on this list deserves a reward—a long soak in the mineral waters of Chico Hot Springs. Float in the large warm pool or go full-therapy in the smaller hot one, then replenish electrolytes at one of Chico’s restaurants. You don’t have to stay at Chico’s historic rooms or cabins to get in a soak, but if you do, it makes it easier to sneak in a round of country swing dancing at their frequent live shows in the bar.

Directions: From Gardiner, drive 34 miles north on Highway 89, turning right onto Murphy Lane (towards Pray). Drive for 1.2 miles to a left on E. River Road, then about a mile to Chico Road. Turn right to find Chico Hot Springs in a mile and a half.

In case you were thinking the same thing we were, the answer is yes: You need to double your vacation time so you can see both Yellowstone National Park and all the treasures outside the Park’s borders, too.