Wake of the Flood

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Gardiner is open for business.

Gardiner has taken a lot of hits lately.

Around 3am on July 14, 2020, a fire broke out in the downtown area of this gateway town to Yellowstone Park. By the time firefighters gained control, the massive blaze had destroyed the two bars, a restaurant, and a rafting company, along with some employee housing. This, just six weeks after Montana’s entrances to the Park had reopened following a lengthy closure due to COVID—which had already forced many Gardiner businesses to close.

Then came the flood of June 13, 2022. A system of warm, wet air dropped several inches of rain on a heavy snowpack, flooding major watersheds and resulting in the Yellowstone River rising  14 feet in some areas. The raging river destroyed bridges, swamped homes, and washed out roads, including substantial damage to the Park’s north-entrance road, from Gardiner to Mammoth.

The flood affected almost every business in Gardiner, with many estimating a 60-80 percent loss of summer revenue.

The Park underwent a full-scale evacuation. Damages temporarily closed Hwy. 89 in Paradise Valley, isolating Gardiner for several days. Even as the highway reopened, and many seasonal workers arrived, calls poured into local businesses, cancelling room reservations, private tours, and river trips—nearly everything that this tourist town relies on.

Tourism cratered. The flood affected almost every business in Gardiner, with many estimating a 60-80 percent loss of summer revenue. Efforts to reconnect Gardiner to the Park via Mammoth Hot Springs began almost immediately, as crews worked to widen the Old Gardiner Road. By July 2, work had progressed enough to allow licensed guides into the Park, although business was still slow.

But here’s the good news: Gardiner is once again open for business.

Gardiner, yellowstone park, Roosevelt arch, montana, bozeman

Founded in 1880, this full-service town of 900 people, with colorful old-west facades and friendly businesses, is the perfect place to spend a day (or three), and winter is a great time to come.

Whether you’re into cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, watching or photographing wildlife in Yellowstone, or simply shopping and dining, during winter you’ll find smaller crowds and more opportunities for solitude. And you’ll be pumping some vitality back into the heart of a community that has spent too much time on life support. As one Gardiner local said, “The ripple effects of the flooding event still linger, and will for a long time.” Another added, “We need the support of our Bozeman neighbors.”

Plan your visit by perusing the Gardiner Chamber of Commerce website, which offers an up-to-date directory of “who’s open and who’s closed,” a rundown on upcoming events, and even a bucket list of available activities.

This colorful, friendly, down-but-never-out, ridiculously resilient town needs and deserves the support of its neighboring communities.

Action in YNP begins at daylight, so to avoid getting up at zero dark thirty and driving from Bozeman, consider spending the night in Gardiner. Information on an array of lodging choices is available at the Chamber, along with a list of cabins, cottages, and B&Bs.

High on many visitors’ lists is wolf-watching in the Lamar Valley. Wolves are relatively easy to spot in winter against the white backdrop of snow, but hiring a knowledgeable, experienced guide increases your chances of seeing wolves—and perhaps even hearing them howl. See the Chamber website for a list of local guides.

Now that the north entrance is back open, self-guided visitors can take a scenic drive into the Park. Check out the Mammoth terraces before continuing to the Lamar and on into Cooke City. Bring your Nordic skis or snowshoes to explore the endless trails along the way. Back in Gardiner, take a jaunt up to Jardine and check out Bear Creek Road, which is groomed intermittently.

For a more leisurely visit, discover Gardiner by taking a walkabout. Snap a photo in front of the Roosevelt Arch. Stroll past the historic buildings on Main Street. If you find an open shop, buy a t-shirt or a “made-in-Montana” souvenir. Pet a pretty elk—just kidding! Please, do not harass, pet, feed, or otherwise engage with the local wildlife—including those lounging in front yards, imitating lawn ornaments.

Fires, pandemics, floods. What could possibly be in store for Gardiner next? The Yellowstone supervolcano, of course. Experts estimate that the town has had over 2,000 earthquakes since 1931, due to its proximity to the Yellowstone Caldera. But don’t let that stop you from visiting. Scientists gauge the chances of the caldera blowing at one in 730,000. Besides, Gardiner residents take the idea of a little volcano action in stride. They even sell shirts mocking it—like the one my husband bought. The graphic depicts an erupting volcano reading, “Yellowstone Super Volcano. Coming Soon: Gardiner, MT.” “Yeah, bring it on,” joked one lifelong resident.

This colorful, friendly, down-but-never-out, ridiculously resilient town needs and deserves the support of its neighboring communities. So hop in the car, head over the pass and down Paradise Valley, and soak in some of Gardiner’s unique offerings this winter.

For more on what to do and where to go in Gardiner, check out O/B's "Gardiner Low-Down."