Enjoying your holiday break in the midst of snowcapped peaks and valleys filled with wildlife is a relaxing break from the typical turkey feast you might otherwise take part in on Thanksgiving.
Late November is a time of year revered by many locals at Yellowstone National Park’s North Entrance. Here, in the community of Gardiner, Montana, the bustle of summer visitation slows down. Woodsmoke perfumes the chilly air. Elk, deer, and bison roam the streets. And snowy landscapes stand in stark contrast against blue skies.
Keep in mind, visiting greater Yellowstone during the late-November shoulder season presents unique challenges compared to other times of year—mostly in terms of limited travel and services. Below are some things to keep in mind to help you prepare for a fun, safe, and memorable adventure.
Park Interior Roads are Currently Closed: With the exception of the road connecting Gardiner to the park’s Northeast Entrance, all roads in Yellowstone are currently closed to vehicular traffic until reopening for oversnow travel December 15. This means that, while you cannot currently visit areas within the park’s interior like Old Faithful Geyser or Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon, you’ll have premier access to the terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs and the wildlife-rich Lamar Valley. This part of the park is known as the Northern Range and is home to many of the park’s elk, deer, bison, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, and the wolves that hunt them. The Albright Visitor Center in Mammoth is open (except on Thanksgiving Day) with restrooms, a bookstore, and interpretive exhibits. Rangers on site can help with your questions. If you’d like to hire a guide to help you learn about what you’re seeing be sure to call and book reservations at least a few days in advance.
Restaurants are Few and Far Between: Most of Gardiner’s restaurants close for the shoulder season although a few are offering a dine-in experience for those willing to plan in advance. The Dining Room at Mammoth Hot Springs is offering a first-come first-served Thanksgiving dinner from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. and beverages in the Mammoth Hotel Map Room Bar. The Tumbleweed Bookstore and Café intends on serving coffee and breakfast and lunch from 8 a.m. until noon. Otherwise, no other restaurants in Gardiner are open Thanksgiving Day. Our most up-to-date list of restaurant openings and hours can be found by clicking here. We recommend double checking restaurants are open before committing. Don’t forget the Gardiner Market has a deli, all sorts of fresh meat and produce, and frozen food available for purchase. The Gardiner Market will also be closed on Thanksgiving Day and reopening for regular hours November 26.
Winter Driving Conditions Are in Effect: Roads in Gardiner and Yellowstone and the surrounding area are subject to potentially dangerous winter driving conditions including limited visibility, drifting snow, wildlife on the road, and ice. If you’re driving a personal or rented vehicle ensure the tires are in good condition (all-wheel-drive and snow tires are highly recommended.) Rental cars are in high demand so, if you plan on renting, we recommend reserving a vehicle as soon as you book your plane flight as there is no public transportation between Bozeman’s airport and Gardiner. A few shuttle services exist but, depending on the makeup of your group, they can be expensive. Elk, deer, bison, pronghorn, and other animals are migrating this time of year outside Yellowstone so be careful driving Highway 89 through Yankee Jim Canyon and Paradise Valley. We recommend you drive slowly all times of day and try to avoid traveling this section of roadway after dark. If you must travel this section of road after dark, use extreme caution.
Lodging Opportunities Are Limited: Many of Gardiner’s hotels and motels close for the winter although a few remain open for business. Click here and here to find out more about the lodging opportunities available to you. The recently renovated, historic Mammoth Hotel also remains open and is a mere 15-minute drive into the park from Gardiner. Camping is allowed at select sites around Gardiner on the Custer-Gallatin National Forest. Reservations for Mammoth Campground inside the park can be made online. To learn more about camping expectations in and around Yellowstone please click here and remember all campgrounds inside Yellowstone except Mammoth remain closed through the winter. We suggest making lodging arrangements in advance so you can rest assured you have a place to comfortably stay upon your arrival.
Hunting Season is Underway: Whether you’re out hiking on the national forest or taking a dog walk along Jardine or Eagle Creek roads outside Gardiner keep in mind hunting season is underway and you’ll want to wear an orange vest or bandana for safety when outside of the park. Keep pets close and consider putting an orange bandana or vest on them also. Remains of animals that have been hunted can attract dogs and potentially upset your pup’s stomach when eaten. Bears are also attracted to animal remains and are highly dangerous when protecting carcasses. You’ll want to be extra careful traveling in areas where hunting is taking place. Bear spray is available for purchase at a number of shops in Gardiner and should always be carried—with knowledge of how to use it—when traveling in bear country. To learn more about guided hunting opportunities and availability in 2022 please click here.
Chelsea DeWeese writes from her hometown of Gardiner, Montana, the North Entrance to Yellowstone National Park.