As summer temperatures drop and autumn starts approaching fiery fall colors adorn the mountainous backdrop of Gardiner, Montana, the North Entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Yellows splash green hillsides and reds decorate roadways creating a dramatic canvass of color pleasing to drivers, hikers, and photographers. Be it a short-but-sweet excursion or an all-day adventure, autumn offers scenery and fun for every visitor. Come stay in one of Gardiner’s local motels or lodges (an up-to-date directory can be found here); wake up early and grab breakfast from one of Gardiner’s restaurants—most of which remain open and eager for business after the flood—and head into the wilds outside Yellowstone to see what this special season has to offer!
Old Yellowstone Trail
Follow this unpaved road from Arch Park in downtown Gardiner approximately 7 miles north where a bridge connects the road to U.S. Route 89 at Cinnabar, Montana. The Old Yellowstone Trail is windy and has washboard so you’ll want to drive slowly to prevent dust and for your safety. Pullouts are located along the road periodically for you to allow faster drivers to pass. The slower pace allows you to soak in the scenery at the base of Electric Peak, an approximately 11,000-foot-tall mountain that towers overhead. Pronghorn, elk, and other wildlife migrating out of Yellowstone can be found foraging the foothills and, on occasion, at dawn or dusk, you may hear a cacophony of coyotes celebrating a successful hunt. Ospreys, bald eagles, and other birds of prey hover near nesting platforms and search the nearby Yellowstone River for fish and ducks. At the end of the road, once you get to the bridge, consider stopping at Yellowstone Hot Springs for a relaxing soak along the banks of the Yellowstone River before completing the loop and returning to Gardiner for the evening.
Eagle Creek Road
Travel approximately 2 miles north of Gardiner on Jardine Road where you will find Eagle Creek Campground and, shortly after, Eagle Creek Road. The campground has 17 sites and offers a fun alternative to sleeping indoors. You can find more information about how to reserve a campsite—as well as how to camp safely and respectfully in bear country— here. From the campground, you can either walk a series of trails or drive along Eagle Creek Road which winds up in elevation and offers sweeping views of Gardiner, the Gardner River Canyon, and of Mammoth Hot Springs in the distance. Look for colorful aspen stands tucked amidst shade-tolerant spruce and fir trees. The road is a one-way, out-and-back drive and is a favorite place for local recreation. As such, please drive slowly and look for bike riders, other drivers, and dog walkers. The area is popular with hunters starting in early October, so be sure to exercise extra caution when out walking at that time. Shop ahead for hot dogs, smores, and other camping goodies at one of the local service stations or at the Gardiner Market.
Gardiner to Paradise Valley
Head north from Gardiner on U.S. Route 89 toward Livingston, Montana, through the mountain-encompassed Paradise Valley. Here, ranches and open space give way to large views of the Yellowstone River and rugged peaks stand stark against the surrounding lowlands Cottonwood and aspen trees color the valley along the Yellowstone River; old barns and tractors paint a picturesque setting; and stacks of hay and alfalfa sit ready for horses and cattle. Take the road approximately 30 miles until you reach the community of Emigrant, Montana, marked by a gas station and intersection with a blinking light. Here you can cross the river at the Emigrant Bridge and head back to Gardiner driving the East River Road. Consider taking the evening to enjoy fine dining and a soak at Chico Hot Springs, a hot springs resort located in Emigrant, before taking the return trip to Gardiner.
If you find you have trouble capturing the colors of fall on camera on your own consider looking into the professional landscape and wildlife portraits for sale at Yellowstone Wild – The Gallery in downtown Gardiner or booking a trip with a local guide specializing in photography.
Chelsea DeWeese is a writer based in her hometown of Gardiner, Montana, the North Entrance to Yellowstone National Park.