Ask any local their favorite time of year in Gardiner and you’ll probably receive a one-word answer: “November.” Late fall marks a slowing of the seasons as the flurry of summer visitors to Yellowstone National Park subsides and the town transitions into winter. Woodstove smoke perfumes the air. Crisp mornings give way to clear afternoon skies and chilly sunsets. Residents and visitors are as likely to encounter a deer or elk walking the sidewalks as another human.
So what is a visitor to do in Gardiner in November? We suggest you gear up and explore area hot springs – both on foot and by soaking. The Northern Range, from Gardiner to Cooke City, Montana, hosts some of the more interesting hydrothermal activity in Yellowstone.
Mammoth Hot Springs and Fort Yellowstone, located a mere 15-minute drive from Gardiner, offers otherworldly terrain and a variety of walks around a well-established hydrothermal basin – the Mammoth Terraces. For a quick walk, park at the Liberty Cap parking lot and walk less than five minutes on a boardwalk to Palette Spring. If you’re in the mood for something longer, you can park at the Upper Terrace Loop Drive parking lot and walk 10-minutes on a boardwalk to Canary Spring. You can add the entire 1.5-mile paved loop, which takes about half an hour more and offers sweeping views of Fort Yellowstone and the surrounding mountains, although we recommend you carry bear spray for safety.
After an afternoon spent exploring these picturesque travertine formations relax while enjoying a soak at Yellowstone Hot Springs approximately 10 minutes north of Gardiner. Here you can unwind in a variety of outdoor pools overlooking the Yellowstone River and look for elk, deer, and other wildlife on the hillsides surrounding the area.
While most roads in Yellowstone are now closed to automobile travel for winter the road from Gardiner to the park’s Northeast Entrance is open year-round. Check local road conditions upon arriving to learn whether ice or snow could limit travel. Updated road conditions in Yellowstone Park can be found here. Be sure to pack plenty of layers as temperatures in late November can be variable.
Food and beverage services are limited between Gardiner and Cooke City so we recommend you pack a cooler with lunch, water, and snacks from the Gardiner Market. Order a breakfast sandwich or burrito to go from the Tumbleweed Bookstore and Café and be sure to save room for dinner, either dine-in or takeout, from The Corral or Cowboys Lodge & Grill. You can also find beverages and snacks at the Gardiner Sinclair Dino Mart north of town on U.S. Highway 89 South or at the Town Station Conoco in Gardiner.
Public restrooms with flush toilets and running water can be found at the Gardiner Chamber of Commerce downtown and at the base of the Mammoth Terraces at the Liberty Cap parking lot. Otherwise, outhouses equipped with hand sanitizer are periodically available between Gardiner and Cooke City.
Keep Space and Respect Local Guidelines
While November sees fewer visitors than many other times of year be prepared to share boardwalks and local businesses with others. Please remember to maintain at least six feet of space between you and others indoors and out and wear a mask when this isn’t possible. All local businesses currently require proper mask usage by those five and older. For updated information on Montana regulations and protocol regarding coronavirus please click here. We thank you for helping keep our community healthy and safe while exploring and enjoying your visit.
Protect the Outdoors
Speaking of remaining safe, remember to always stay on boardwalks and established trails while adventuring in hydrothermal basins. The ground throughout the Mammoth Terraces can be dangerous and deceiving. Only a fragile layer of travertine may be covering superheated water underneath. Likewise, never touch water in the terraces as it could burn your skin. Please hold onto your hats – and masks! – when it’s windy so they don’t blow off you and onto the basin. By packing out your trash and protecting fragile hydrothermal features from any damage you can help ensure they are intact for the enjoyment of visitors for years to come.
While walking around Mammoth, Gardiner, or any other location inside or near the park for that matter, you’ll want to maintain a safe distance from wildlife. Yellowstone requires visitors to stay at least 25 yards, or the length of a school bus, from all wildlife and increases that distance to 100 yards from bears and wolves. We recommend you consider bring binoculars to safely view wildlife from a distance. If you don’t have your own you can purchase binoculars and spotting scopes at Yellowstone Gifts and Sweets in downtown Gardiner.
Despite a challenging year the Gardiner business community is open and ready to serve you! Pay for lodging in town and feel good knowing you’re contributing to our local economy. Support our local restaurants. And please be sure to spend time exploring shops and services downtown and help us keep our community thriving and vibrant!
Chelsea DeWeese writes from her hometown of Gardiner, Montana, the North Entrance to
Yellowstone National Park. Her writing has appeared in a variety of regional and national
publications including The Wall Street Journal, Parks & Recreation magazine, and The