West Yellowstone in a day.
The quirky, tourist-meets-nature town of West Yellowstone is just a scenic 90-minute drive from Bozeman. Best known as the west entrance to Yellowstone National Park, the town itself is an epicenter of fly-fishing, hiking, rodeo events, and tourist attractions. While you might find yourself vying for parking spots and waiting for a table at the local eatery, West Yellowstone boasts a laundry list of nearby summer activities and entertainment that make it well worth a daytrip.
To do it in a day, leave Bozeman early and drive south through Gallatin Canyon on Hwy. 191. In West, stretch your legs with a hike or mountain bike ride around the Rendezvous Ski Trails. This popular Nordic ski trail system is open to hikers and bikers all summer, and the staff is happy to share beta on other local trails. A half-hour south of town finds travelers in Idaho’s Harriman State Park, a gem of a reserve with 22 miles of hiking and biking trails, trout streams, and wildlife. Keep your eyes peeled for moose, elk, and swans as you explore the trails.
After a quick hike or bike, drive into Yellowstone Park to do some sightseeing. West Yellowstone is the closest town to the world-famous geyser section of the Park, with Old Faithful located less than 45 minutes from town. You can avoid the crowds of “geyser gazers” by exploring some of the smaller geyser basins, which are just as cool as Old Faithful. Dragon’s Mouth Spring is a cave that emits steam and rumbling roars that really sound like a lurking beast.
For lunch, head back to town and grab a burger and locally renowned ice cream at Arrowleaf Ice Cream and Grill. To feed a family, get a huge pizza—and beer for the adults—at Gusher Pizza. After stuffing your face, jump back in the car and take a short drive to Hebgen or Quake Lake, where you can unpack your rod and experience excellent dry-fly lake fishing and cool history. Quake Lake was formed when a massive earthquake hit the area in 1959, triggering a landslide on Sheep Mountain that completely dammed the Madison River. The landslide buried campsites and caused sections of Hwy. 287 to plunge into the water—more information can be found at the Earthquake Lake Visitor Center, which offers a fascinating glimpse into local history. When fishing gets boring for the non-fisherfolk, try stand-up paddleboarding, sailing, or powerboating on nearby Hebgen Lake, and enjoy stunning views of the southern Madison Range.
Aside from lakes, the trout streams around town are not to be missed. West Yellowstone was recently named one of Forbes’ Top 10 Fishing Towns, acclaimed for phenomenal access to blue-ribbon trout streams throughout the year. Local outfitters like Bud Lilly’s Trout Shop and Blue Ribbon Flies have the latest and greatest beta for visiting anglers. The Madison, Gallatin, Yellowstone and Henry’s Fork are all close town, and the upper Madison, the Firehole, and the Gibbon River are just minutes into the Park.
After a long day hiking, biking, and fishing, take a seat at the Yellowstone IMAX Theatre. The six-story-high screen plays films showcasing everything from the natural splendor of Yellowstone Park to following Lewis & Clark’s journey West. Other low-key activities include exploring the famous Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center and the Museum of the Yellowstone. The museum is housed in a historic building and displays rare portraits of Indian chiefs and 19th-century artifacts from the region.
If you aren’t falling asleep standing up by this point, check out the nightly West Yellowstone Rodeo, where you can watch cowboys and cowgirls ride roughstock, wrestle steers, and rope calves for cash prizes. This down-and-dusty rodeo is privately run and an authentic taste of Montana life.
Next time you have a day free and a whole lot of energy, cruise down to West Yellowstone and take a mini-vacation the whole family will enjoy.
Stayed at the rodeo too late and don’t feel like driving back? Make it an overnight trip. Camping is cheap and easy—Baker’s Hole, Lonesomehurst, and Rainbow Point campgrounds are all on Gallatin National Forest land, just a few minutes from West Yellowstone, and many sites are on the shore of Hebgen Lake.
In the morning, pack up the tent and hit the Running Bear Pancake House or Morning Glory Coffee & Tea before a morning horseback ride with Diamond P Ranch, located seven miles west of town. Afterward, walk the Bear Paw Trail through town—marked by green paw prints on the sidewalks—and learn about the fascinating history of the area. You’ll also get to see the stunning life-size buffalo sculptures scattered through town, painted by artists from across the West. On the way home, take the family on a crazy zip line ride at Montana Whitewater.
Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks; Bradley Mayhew and Carolyn McCarthy
Yellowstone Trivia; Janet Spencer
Day Hikes in Yellowstone National Park; Robert Stone
Best Easy Day Hikes – Yellowstone National Park; Bill Schneider
Montana Atlas & Gazetteer; DeLorme
For details on stream and lake fishing in the area, visit budlillys.com. Check out yellowstoneimax.com for an up-to-date list of IMAX shows and showtimes. West Yellowstone rodeo dates can be found at yellowstonerodeo.com.