Paradise Found


Looking across Paradise Valley to the Absaroka Range

If Yellowstone Park is America’s Serengeti, as it is often called, then the Absaroka Mountains are Montana’s Alps. Piercing the sky a mile above the Yellowstone River, these dramatic peaks form a massive wall of earth, with rounded foothills spilling down toward the valley floor in a cascade of green and yellow hues. In early autumn, the ice-blue river shimmers as deep-green junipers speckle the golden swath of cottonwood leaves along the bank. Great blue herons glide over the water, adding streaks of steel grey to the palette. Above it all, a wide blue sky seems to hold the entire scene in place.

This is the view from your perch in Paradise Valley, the ideal base camp for autumn adventures south of Livingston. With the tourist hordes gone—and off-season rates in place—there’s no better time to rent a room or cabin for a few days of fun in Bozeman’s own back yard. The river’s ready, the trails beckon, and affordable luxury awaits. We’ve put together a short guide to get you started, so get Friday off work and get the car loaded up. It’s gonna be one heck of a weekend.

Riverside Relaxation
Perched at river’s edge, Yellowstone Hot Springs is as good as it gets for accommodations. Though technically south of Paradise Valley proper, it's less than ten minutes from the valley's southern terminus at Yankee Jim Canyon. Which means it's closer to Yellowstone National Park, if you're keen to check out some geothermal features (don't swim in these ones.)

With cozy cabins and modern suites to rent, plus RV and tent sites, Yellowstone Hot Springs has a place for everyone to stay. The pools are exquisite—newly finished and clean, with a range of temperatures from ice-cold to sweltering. If you keep an eye out, you may spot a herd of elk, deer, or bighorn sheep grazing across the river. The hot springs have a de facto river-access site, so you can float in from above, or launch your craft right from camp.

Yellowstone Hot Springs

The pools at Yellowstone Hot Springs

Unpaved Paradise
Nearby Mill Creek is the best place to explore, with a half-dozen hikes and numerous rock-climbing routes. Passage Falls is an easy and beautiful two-miler; for an all-day outing, hoof it eight miles to Elbow Lake, a picturesque tarn resting below mighty Mount Cowen. Many of the Mill Creek trails can be mountain-biked as well, provided you stay outside the Wilderness boundary.

Another option is Pine Creek. Take the easy one-mile stroll to Pine Creek Falls, or continue another four miles—and nearly 4,000 vertical feet—to Pine Creek Lake, one of the most stunning alpine lakes around. Stronger hikers can push another two miles to the top of Black Mountain, which provides amazing views of the entire Paradise Valley.

Pine Creek Lake

Fishing Pine Creek Lake

Hiking not your thing? Drive down to Gardiner and take a scenic float on the Yellowstone River. Fall is also a great time to visit Yellowstone Park, as it's much less busy than during summer—but less desolate than during winter. Other nearby activities include horseback riding, sporting clays, and road biking.

Anglers, put all that other stuff on the backburner—fall fishing on the Yellowstone is an experience not to be missed. If you’re on your own, stop by a local fly shop to stock up and get advice.

Fueling Up
For morning and mid-day meals, head to Wildflour Bakery in Emigrant, where fresh pastries, bread, breakfast sandwiches, and burritos are served up Thursday-Sunday. Right next door for lunch and dinner is Follow Yer Nose BBQ, which also has a food truck in Gardiner. Their barbecue is legendary, and the outdoor setting right in the middle of the valley is hard to beat. After a long day of exploration, there's no better spot to set up, kick back, and re-live the best moments of your close-to-home foray into the bountiful Paradise Valley.