Yellowstone Country

Yellowstone Country, or south central Montana, is a place of rugged beauty, with its roaring rivers and snow capped peaks, and is considered by many to be one of the most naturally beautiful places on Earth. It also encompasses cultured cities and historic towns. It is partly in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which is one of the last remaining large, nearly intact ecosystems in the northern temperate zone of the Earth. It serves as a gateway for visitors to Yellowstone National Park and as a major migration route for animals coming in and out of the higher areas of the park. Much of the area appears the same as it did when Lewis and Clark explored the area.

Fly fishing the Yellowstone River with Electric Peak in the background



Yellowstone Country offers a variety of cities and towns as a welcome relief from exploring the areas rugged wilderness. From the bustling Bozeman with its many museums and convenient airport to the quaint Cooke City which isn't much more than a convenient place to dine, refuel and perhaps spend the night after exploring Yellowstone.

Other destinations

National parks

The Roosevelt Arch in Gardiner Montana, named after President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, in 1903. The top of the arch is inscribed with a quote from the Organic Act of 1872, the legislation which created Yellowstone, which reads "For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People."

Yellowstone National Park is a United States National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was the world's first national park, set aside in 1872 to preserve the vast number of geysers, hot springs, and other thermal areas, as well as to protect the incredible wildlife and rugged beauty of the area. The park contains 3,472 square miles (8,987 km2), and 3 of the main 5 entrances to the park are in Montana at Cooke City, Gardiner (Montana) and West Yellowstone.

National forests

There are two large National Forests in Yellowstone Country helping to complete the greater Yellowstone ecosystem.

Wilderness areas

State parks

Ski areas

Skiing at Red Lodge

There are four different public ski resorts in the area, each with their own unique terrain and character. Check individual websites for current conditions and pricing. The mountains usually open around mid-late December and remain open into April, sometimes May. There are also options for backcountry and heli-skiing.

Private ski areas

Major rivers

President Barack Obama fly fishing the Gallatin River

The areas rivers are famous world wide for their blue ribbon trout fishing and water sports.

Hot springs

Boiling River in Yellowstone.


Although English is the primary language spoken in the area tourists come from all over the world to see the natural beauty of the area and its not unusual to hear dozens of languages being spoken in public.

Get in

By plane

Don't expect a dazzling array of services available from larger airports, just the basics means short waits and not much else. Several smaller landing strips dot the area provide space for small private planes and a few may offer private tours. In a few areas such as Chico Hot Springs the road seconds as a runway so be prepared to pull over as planes obviously have the right of way.

By car

There was a short time when Montana experimented with eliminating its speed limits to help cope with the long distances between towns. This proved to be too risky as drivers that were unfamiliar with the area were taking unnecessary risks. The good news is that its almost impossible to find an area that does not provide breath taking views of staggering natural beauty including the Beartooth Highway which is the section of U.S. Highway 212 between Red Lodge, Montana and Cooke City, Montana. An official National Scenic Byways All-American Road, it traces a series of steep zigzags and switchbacks, along the Montana-Wyoming border to the 10,947 ft (3,337 m) high Beartooth Pass that has been called "the most beautiful drive in America," by late CBS correspondent Charles Kuralt.

By foot

The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (in short Continental Divide Trail) is a United States National Scenic Trail running 3,100 miles between Mexico and Canada. It follows the Continental Divide of the Americas along the Rocky Mountains and traverses five U.S. states; Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico.

By bus

Get around

classic tour buses are available to tour Yellowstone National Park

By car

It can be a long way between towns in the area so make sure you are aware of your fuel level and weather conditions before heading on the road. Even major roadways can be treacherous due to animals on the roadway so use extreme caution at night. Car rentals are available near major airports for those not driving into the area. The road between Gardiner and Cooke City is the only road open to cars during the winter

By bus

Xanterra Resorts provides bus tours within the park during the summer season. The Grand Loop Tour departs from Gardiner and Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel to tour the entire park in one day. During the winter season snowcoach tours are provided from various locations. Call (307) 344-7311 for information or reservations.

By bicycle

Cycling in area can be a very rewarding experience, but due to the great distances between towns and extensive mountain terrain some additional planning is necessary to ensure that lodging is available each night. Yellowstone National Park reserves a number of campsites for cyclists, but during the busy summer season it is probably best to reserve sites in advance wherever possible.


Black Bear are a common sight in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem.

Although Yellowstone Country is known as the northern gateway to Yellowstone National Park and Gardiner Montana is the only entrance to the park accessible by road year round. There are many other wilderness areas locally including Gallatin National Forest which offer many similar hiking and backpacking experiences that are available in Yellowstone but without all of the crowds.

Wildlife viewing

The greater Yellowstone ecosystem home to the largest concentration of mammals in the lower 48 states. Sixty-seven different mammals live here, including grizzly bears and black bears. Gray wolves were restored in 1995. Wolverine and lynx, which require large expanses of undisturbed habitat, are also found in the Yellowstone ecosystem. Seven native ungulate species - elk, mule deer, bison, moose, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, and white - tailed deer live here. Non-native mountain goats have colonized some areas and numerous small mammals are found throughout the area. Paradise Valley south of Livingston is a major migratory route for animals coming and going seasonally to the higher elevations in Yellowstone National Park.

Bird watching

Records of bird sightings have been kept in Yellowstone National Park since its establishment in 1872; these records document 330 species of birds to date, of which approximately 148 species are known to nest in the park. The variation in elevation and broad array of habitat types found within the park contributes to the region's relatively high diversity.

Museums and cultural centers

A display at the Museum of the Rockies.


Yellowstone Country is cowboy country and rodeos are a natural extension of local pride. Cowboys are a common site in the area and although they are more likely to drive a four wheel drive ATV these days rather than a horse, rodeos are a great time to get together and show off their skills and compete with other riders.


Dude ranches

Although the OTO Guest Ranch near Gardiner has not been in business for over 50 years, it none the less can claim being the first Dude Ranch anywhere as the whole concept of Guest Ranches was developed in Yellowstone Country. A Yellowstone Country dude ranch vacation is a quintessential Western experience. Some are working ranches where guests participate in cattle drives and perform daily chores. Others provide a completely different experience, one with less labor and more glam camping involved. No matter what type experience you choose, there is sure to be a range of fun activities: horseback riding for people of all abilities, fishing trips, archery, cookouts, swimming, hiking, square dancing and much more.

driftboat fly fishing on the Yellowstone River


World famous area for fly fishing, outfitters can be found in most cities and many towns and rural areas. Ask at local fly shops and check river conditions online. June is high water month due to snow melting at higher elevations so can make rivers treacherous and water muddy and difficult to fish.

Kayaking, rafting

Most towns along major rivers will have a variety of rafting outfitters that can provide a safe trip down river. Gardiner Montana has an especially broad range of services for the Yellowstone Rivers Class III rapids.


Trout Lake in the Gallatin National Forest

Yellowstone Country offers some of the best hiking and wilderness backpacking in the United States. Check with local forest service offices for details and trail conditions before heading out and maybe more importantly remember to report back to them if you see something noteworthy. A fresh elk kill on the trail could mean that a bear is nearby for example. Know the 10 basics needed for all back country camping and that cell phones are not one of them, cell phones often don't work in rural mountainous areas. Topo maps are also available in local camping and fishing stores.

Regional forest service offices

Horseback riding

Its difficult to imagine a more appropriate place than Yellowstone Country to go horseback riding. If only for an afternoon of riding around a high mountain prairie or a weeks long camping adventure deep in the Montana wilderness Yellowstone Country offers plenty of opportunities to ride a horse. Various National Forest trails are designated for horseback and outfitters and ranches that cater to tourists can be found across the region.


Yellowstone Country is cattle country and meat is on the menu. Search out restaurants that offer wild game such as elk and trout, but beef and buffalo is commonly raised in the area, not the easiest area of the country to find vegetarian options but they do exist especially in larger cities and tourist areas. See individual city listings for particular food recommendations.

Regional food

Look for these locally made foods.


Although Montana is not known for its sophisticated variety of drinks, there are a few great regional micro breweries and bars hold an important part of local culture. Even small towns have been known to have several bars available and they often serve as a community hub for the latest news and fishing reports. See individual town pages for specific listings.

Regional breweries


The campgrounds within Yellowstone National Park are wonderful but often crowded and over booked during peak season. A nice alternative is some of the many state campgrounds located near the park. Here is a list with their mileage from the various park entrances.

Stay safe

Bison on the road in Yellowstone Park

Visiting Yellowstone Country is a safe and rewarding experience if common sense and good judgment are followed. Unfortunately this is not always the case so please take the following guidelines to heart.




Hiking and camping

Beartooth Mountains

There's no reason to fear the mountains, as long as you approach them with proper respect and preparation. As with anywhere else, recklessness and a lack of forethought can get you into trouble, especially in Montana's vast back country.

1. Navigation 2. Hydration & Nutrition 3. Pocket Knife 4. Sun Protection 5. Insulation 6. Fire! 7. Lighting 8. First Aid 9. Shelter 10. Whistle


Go next

Yellowstone National Park is to the south.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Thursday, March 24, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.