On a Steel Horse, We Ride

Kate Emmerich's picture

An anniversary weekend in Paradise Valley.

For the 11th Anniversary, “steel” is the intended gift for one’s beloved. Aside from cookware and yard tools, the only thing I could think of was a train. So, for our 11th wedding anniversary, I set out to secure a family weekend experience involving a train. Four weeks, several emails, and one secret later, we found ourselves at the Centennial Inn, a few miles outside of Livingston, and only a 30-minute drive from our home in Bozeman.

Centennial Inn, Livingston, Yellowstone River

Now we're a van-driving, VRBO-finding, car-camping family of four. We haven’t always been this way, but since we have two small children, we need access to running water, bathrooms, and snacks at all times. Our sense of adventure, however, continues to grow, and it's something we try to foster and encourage in our family; we plan short getaways and weekend excursions as much as we can in an effort to remind ourselves that we are surrounded by a natural playground.

Cue the Centennial Inn— a "true step back in time.” Sitting on 1,000 feet of Yellowstone River frontage with a private sandy beach, the inn's 13.5 acres can accommodate your every fishing fantasy. Access is a short walk from the train car, complete with green arbors of trees and tall lush grass. Bring boots. It can be a damp trek across the muddy bog to reach the river. That said, it's well worth it.

Admittedly, I can count the number of fish I have caught on one hand. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to fish, and the inn seemed like the perfect basecamp for this fall adventure. Other than fishing the Yellowstone, we also wanted to explore the Park. So why visit Yellowstone in the fall? Crowds, or the lack thereof. The number of visitors decreases dramatically, by over 280,000 people per day. This translates to less traffic, more personal space, and a more relaxed drive. We planned a day trip, and made the 50-mile drive easily. We wanted the most bang for our buck, so we avoided Old Faithful and headed straight for the scenic, big-animal-laden Lamar Valley toward the northeast entrance. The Albright Visitor Center is a must stop, simply due to the amount of elk lounging in the grassy areas, between cars and visitors. From there, there are multiple opportunities to get out, stretch your legs, take a short hike, and get lots of great photos.

Lamar Valley, Bison, Yellowstone National Park
At home on the range

By evening, the kids were eager to head to our train car, but not before stopping for a quick burger and fries in Gardiner. Once back at the inn, kids and car unpacked, we settled in for the remainder of the weekend. Good wine. Leftover snacks. Happy, tired kids. My husband and I scrolled through the day’s pictures while we sat on the outdoor deck of the train car. Aspens fluttered in the background. A bunny eagerly tended to the grass. We tucked our kids into their “train car sleeper” and reflected on the day.

A former visitor hid $100 in the train car and wrote about it in the visitor book. The next day, the kids looked and sleuthed, but to no avail. Although we may not be the same newlyweds we were 11 years ago, adventures abound and opportunities arise. The Centennial Inn has managed to delight our family with fictional possibility and historical wonder. A short drive from Bozeman, it provides private fishing access, multiple fly shop guides and supplies, a unique glimpse back in time, proximity to Yellowstone National Park, and perhaps, for a lucky visitor, a one-hundred-dollar bill.



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