Located at the North Entrance to Yellowstone National Park, Gardiner, Montana, is a serene escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life. The former mining town of approximately 800 year-round residents is tucked in the foothills of the Gallatin and Absaroka mountains. Deer, bison, and elk share the streets with humans and graze in backyards while stars decorate the inky-black night skies. The Yellowstone River, the longest free-flowing river in the continental United States, runs through the valley surrounded by rugged peaks.
A town with astounding views and no stoplights, Gardiner offers a different pace. Turn off your cell phone and instead take in nature’s rhythms and recharge in the peace and quiet of what some have titled "Natures Favorite Entrance." A Gardiner getaway offers small-town charm and an unrivaled wilderness experience in every direction. Here are just some of the ways to make the most of your trip.
The Summer Season
Although not as busy as entry towns to the south, east, and west, Gardiner draws visitors from across the globe to see Yellowstone National Park, a World Heritage Site. It’s especially busy from mid-May through September, but you can escape the summer rush by focusing on areas surrounding the town beyond Yellowstone, such as Gallatin National Forest to the northwest and the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness to the east. You’ll still find astounding views, wild animals, and outdoor recreational opportunities.
Consider renting a cabin in nearby Jardine, Cinnabar, or Tom Miner basins, which are surrounded by excellent hiking trails. From Jardine, explore the approximately 4-mile Knox Lake Trail from the Bear Creek Trailhead to a high-mountain body of water tucked amongst the forest. From Tom Miner Basin, take the approximately 2-mile Petrified Tree Interpretive Loop Trail from the Tom Miner Campground to view ancient trees frozen in time by mud and volcanic ash.
Cedar Creek Road north of Gardiner provides access to the historic OTO Ranch, a pleasant and approximately 4-mile round-trip excursion. If you’re not interested in hiking, drive along the area’s dirt roads for spectacular scenery and the opportunity to stop along the Yellowstone River. Always carry bear spray and visit the Custer Gallatin National Forest website for additional trail information. Local guiding services are available to those who prefer a guided experience.
Early mornings and late evenings are a good time to venture to town and enjoy one of Gardiner’s many restaurants.
April and October
In late April and early October visitation to Yellowstone drops substantially—and you can have a solitary experience in the national park. The road connecting Gardiner to the park’s northeast entrance community of Cooke City is open year round and boasts some of the best wildlife watching on the continent, including wolf watching. (Tip: Hire a wildlife watching company to increase your chances of spotting a wolf!)
A drive south—for as long as the road remains open, which is usually until the first big snowstorm in late October—takes you to Norris, Midway, and Old Faithful geyser basins, home to some of the most beloved hot springs and geysers on the planet. These famous hydrothermal basins are normally bustling with activity during summer, but they are quiet during April and October.
In April, baby bison appear on the landscape, the first wildflowers start to appear, and bears emerge from dens looking for something to eat. In October, grass-eating animals like elk, pronghorn, and bison migrate to lower elevations and red-tailed hawks circle the sky before heading south to warmer climates. In the fall, changing leaves in Gardiner is also a spectacle to witness. Keep in mind most restaurants in Yellowstone will be closed at this time, so you’ll want to dine in Gardiner and pack a lunch, water, and snacks for your trip. The weather can be variable so bring lots of layers and be flexible in your itinerary. You can find updated road conditions on Yellowstone’s website.
Visiting Gardiner in April or October can be a life-changing experience that will entice you to come back time and time again to immerse yourself in the area’s remote beauty. In the summer months, serenity and solitude can be found with a little ingenuity, research, and advance planning.
A willingness to think outside the box and try new things opens new experiences and opportunities. So grab your bags, boots, and camera, and pack your sense of fun and adventure for a true off-the-grid experience.
Written by Chelsea Deweese for RootsRated Media in partnership with Gardiner CVB.