Help our neighbors stay afloat.
The spring's extensive flooding in southwest Montana took out more than some of our favorite trails. Staying afloat in Yellowstone’s gateway communities is a lot harder this year. But behind Montanans’ renowned resiliency is a force of community support. It can be as powerful as water.
We watched roads, chunks of land, bridges, and even houses fall into the Yellowstone River this June. And the flood also took a chunk of business away at a crucial time. Tourism is a lifeline for the Montana towns that the flood affected most. Many local businesses rely on the few warmer months of peak tourism to make most of their yearly profit. But this year, many tourists are re-routing their trips because of closed roads and changed plans.
And that's where we come in, to pick up the slack. Sure, some activities and places are off the table this year. But even if your long-weekend plans in the Beartooths, Absarokas, or Yellowstone Park have changed, there's still plenty of outdoor exploring that's worthy of a trip—to have some fun and support our nearby communities at the same time.
Many roads are closed or partially closed in the area. But a major route is set to open July 22 at 5 pm–the Beartooth Highway. The scenic highway through the dramatic landscape of the Beartooths will once again connect Cooke City and Red Lodge.
From Bozeman, nothing changed—it's I-90 to Laurel and then Hwy. 212 right on into town. Whether you’re hitting a trail or hitting a golf ball at Red Lodge Mountain’s course, you can look at your changed plans as an opportunity to find a new place or activity you may have otherwise overlooked. If it’s camping, hiking, or mountain biking that you’re after, look east to the Elk Basin trails.
Outfitters in Red Lodge offer outings such as horseback riding and guided fishing. Heck, stay a while and buy some things while you’re in town. Red Lodge has great gear shops, art galleries, and restaurants, among other attractions.
Recreation around Cooke City is a little tricky, like its eastern neighbor Red Lodge. Many of the favorite trails in this area are closed as of early July. And most trails inside the northeast portion of the Park have limited access. Visitors can only enter the Park’s northeast entrance on foot.
But you’ll need to know where it’s safe to access these trails before heading out. For example, the Beaten Path detours about 5 miles around Rimrock Lake due to the bridge washing out. The Forest Service doesn’t advise attempting the trail until August because of roaring creeks and snow. Check out the National Parks Services’ alternative access points and safety concerns in the area here.
Cooke City has all you lodging needs with unique places to stay like Silver Gate Lodging. You can also read the latest happenings around Cooke City, including the best route into town, in our write-up here.
Access through Yellowstone Park's north entrance in Gardiner is limited. Local guides with permits can drive people through, but otherwise the north entrance is only open to walkers. Before you set off into the Park, check the NPS backcountry report here for a complete list of trail conditions. Some trails, such as Osprey Falls and Beaver Ponds, are completely closed.
However, Gardiner itself is very much open, and this is a great time to check out other outdoor opportunities beyond the usual Yellowstone tour. Take your visiting relative rafting on the river that made national headlines. Local tour companies are offering trips again, and your aunt can likely handle these rapids just fine. When she goes back to wherever she came from, she’ll tell the tale of conquering the mighty waters that washed houses downstream just a couple months prior. Read about running the river with Wild West Rafting here.
In addition to whitewater trips, some adventure companies like Montana Whitewater also offer horseback riding and ziplining. And if you stop at Follow Yer’ Nose BBQ’s smoke wagon on a Sunday, you can replenish with slow-cooked smoked pork and live tunes.
Farther north of the Park, the Yellowstone River overflowed into the town of Livingston. Floodwaters may have soddened the town, but it’s nothing that the famous Livingston wind can’t dry out. Outside of town, the river overflowed its tributaries, such as Mill Creek in Paradise Valley, where roads and campgrounds are closed. More information on campground and trail closures in the Custer-Gallatin National Forest can be found here.
Livingston is often a stop for tourists on the way to the Park’s north entrance in Gardiner, but it’s a worthy destination in itself. Just beyond the retro neon signs and art galleries of downtown, trails disperse across mountainsides long before the Park boundary. Tucked into canyons above Paradise Valley are mountain lakes that make great hiking or fishing destinations, and the valley floor has hot springs to soak in. A single weekend wouldn’t be enough time to explore everything that Livingston and the surrounding area have to offer. Which makes it all the more important to ditch work early the following Friday, your conscience clear as you head out to help our friends and neighbors beyond the Bozone.