West Yellowstone outside of the Park.
Visiting West Yellowstone without entering the Park is like visiting the gift shop outside the Sistine Chapel and calling it a day. Indeed, the best part of West Yellowstone is its proximity to nature and wildlife. That being said, this town is now as much getaway as it is gateway. Throw in a variety of lodging, dining, and entertainment options, and West Yellowstone becomes an attraction in its own right.
Without even entering the Park, you’ll find West Yellowstone provides a plethora of services, including snowcoach, snowshoe, ski, and snowmobile options. Two Top, for example, offers snowmobile deals from day trips to lodging packages, so you can plan your itinerary and book a roof over your head all at once.
At Freeheel & Wheel, kill two birds with one stone: it’s a cross-country skiing outfitter with an espresso bar. Get jacked up, then rent from a complete line of cross-country skis and snowshoes; from there, consult the staff for trail advice. The 40 kilometers of trail at Rendezvous Trails are close to town and groomed, and the Riverside Ski Trail winds along the Madison River, eventually entering the Park.
Amid a mish-mash of old Western architecture, one building towers above the rest: the Yellowstone Giant Screen, which lives up to its name. As a tourist, it’s nice to have a North Star—a geographic point of reference. It’s even nicer to be able to walk inside that landmark and watch a variety of films on a 60-by-80 foot screen. After showing Yellowstone, National Parks, and Extreme Weather, the theater always puts a Hollywood movie on the reel, too.
Next door on South Canyon St. is the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center. Seven grizzly bears and three wolf packs live there, guaranteeing visitors up-close observation. This is a prime opportunity to learn about the animals firsthand through programs and activities, particularly in the winter, because the center’s bears don’t hibernate.
Fueling up is key to a busy outdoor schedule, and every meal is important. While Gusher Pizza should be on the itinerary for dinner, be sure to start the day at Ernie’s to avoid looking like a pack of wolves devouring a Meat Lover’s pie. In addition to their sandwiches and fresh-baked pastries, Ernie’s offers a lunch box—one build-your-own sandwich, a gourmet cookie, a canned drink or bottled water, fruit, candy, and chips—to keep ravenous, Yellowstone appetites at bay. Remember to place orders by 7pm to pick up the following morning.
You’re correct in assuming that most of your time will be spent outside the hotel room. But don’t shortchange yourself; after over a century of accommodating outdoor enthusiasts, West Yellowstone’s streets are dotted with charming, old-timey inns. It’s much easier to recharge at a hotel like the Stage Coach Inn. This hotel is a town landmark and located in the middle of all the action. All West Yellowstone lodging is a quick drive to the Park, so it’s nice to stay a quick walk from Ernie’s and Gusher’s.