For many visiting Yellowstone National Park, Bozeman is the natural "home base." Thanks to the town’s plentiful lodging options, array of cafes and restaurants, and easy airport access, it’s quite common for Yellowstone-bound visitors to stay in Bozeman and venture down into the park every day, returning to Bozeman in time for dinner, drinks and a bit of relaxation away from the press of national park tourists. Keep reading for tips on how to plan the perfect day trip to Yellowstone National Park from Bozeman.
Bozeman'S Proximity to Yellowstone
The town is conveniently located between Yellowstone’s north entrance at Gardiner, Montana, and the west entrance in West Yellowstone, Montana. Basing in Bozeman provides the perfect opportunity to experience both entrances, even focusing in-park activities to attractions close to each entrance without having to traverse busy Park roads. For those ready to commit a full day, it also makes for a compelling full loop, driving in one entrance, traveling through Yellowstone and coming out the other before driving back to Bozeman.
Transportation to Yellowstone
For those arriving by air, the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport is home to a fleet of rental car services, including several specialty rental agencies who can provide outdoor-specific vehicles and even camping gear for rent. If you’d prefer to kick back and enjoy the drive to Yellowstone, bus and van tours are available from several locations in Bozeman.
Entering Through the West Entrance
Those traveling to the west entrance in West Yellowstone will meander down breathtaking U.S-191 S through the Gallatin Canyon and past the town of Big Sky, passing the famous Gallatin River and winding through steep canyon walls then broad, lush mountain meadows. The drive covers 91 miles and takes an average of 1 hour, 40 minutes. Plan for a longer drive in the winter months, as traffic can slow in snowy conditions, but take advantage of the change of pace to kick back and enjoy a veritable winter wonderland. In the summer, keep an eye on the river for whitewater rafting groups and fly anglers; this is a favorite recreation zone for locals and visitors alike.
Entering Through the North Entrance
Heading to the north entrance in Gardiner? Take I-90 E to the Western town of Livingston and then pick up U.S.-89 S to Gardiner. The drive is a little shorter than the path to West Yellowstone; expect roughly 78 miles and about 1 hour, 20 minutes. Once you turn south from Livingston, you’ll enter the aptly named Paradise Valley, home to craggy cliffs and working cattle ranches. This is the West as the writers of old penned it—big and bold. Once in Gardiner, pass through the famous Roosevelt Arch and then head for the Boiling River (stop for a soak), Mammoth Hot Springs, and the Lamar Valley, home to many of the Park’s most active wolf packs.
Whichever direction you choose to travel in, stop at National Park Service visitor’s centers to take in a bit of the area’s culture and ongoing conservation efforts. Friendly uniformed park rangers can help direct you to must-see sights, including the park’s many geothermal features, wildlife-spotting hubs and boardwalk hikes. Active-minded visitors will find hikes and walks to suit any fitness level, while those seeking a bit of relaxation time can kick back and simply soak in the stunning sights.
Back in Bozeman After a Day Exploring
And after a busy day exploring the United States’ first national park, leave the crowds behind and head back to Bozeman for a bit of rest and relaxation. Local restaurants do an admirable job of representing Montana culturally, and many feature area suppliers and their products in recipes. For savvy locals, a long day on the river or the road means a stop at Montana Ale Works, a bustling, award-winning restaurant and bar housed in a retro-industrial railroad freight house. With a lively, well-stocked bar, pool tables, darts and televisions for sports, it’s the perfect place to rendezvous with friends and discuss the day’s adventures.
Cruise around vibrant downtown for a broad array of restaurants—from fine dining to bar burgers—then stop by the old-school soda fountain and chocolate shop Chocolate Moose for a bit of candy or Wilcoxson’s ice cream, made just down the road in Livingston. Looking for something a little stronger to wrap up your day? Wine lovers can stop by Plonk, a favorite local wine bar/restaurant and take advantage of their sidewalk seating for a bit of people watching. Those looking for the true Western bar experience should drop in the Rocking R Bar and the Cannery, both downtown, for a taste of Bozeman’s finest.
The perfect hub for your Yellowstone adventure, Bozeman is a unique collision of Old West, global ski culture and innovative industry. It’s a true mountain melting pot, situated amid national parks, national forests and seemingly boundless outdoor recreational opportunities. You’re likely to see dusty cowboy boots and Carhartts bellied up to the bar next to oxfords and a tie, and that’s just part of what makes Bozeman, Bozeman.
Originally written by RootsRated Media for Bozeman Tourism.
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