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Yellowstone National Park is a bucket list destination. But Yellowstone Country, Montana, near the west and northeast entrances of the Park, also has gorgeous destinations. Read on for day hikes, scenic drives, ATV adventure, museums, restaurants, and other things to do near Yellowstone National Park in Bozeman, Red Lodge, Big Sky, and West Yellowstone, Montana.
7 Best Things to Do Near Yellowstone National Park
My husband and I flew from Philadelphia to the convenient airport in Bozeman, Montana. There, we rented a car, drove 2 1/2 hours to Red Lodge. And spent 6 days on a Greater Yellowstone road trip filled with natural beauty, eventually circling back to Bozeman. There are so many things to do near Yellowstone National Park, we easily could have doubled our time in any place.
1. Red Lodge, Montana
Red Lodge has a charming historic western downtown. Because its 19th and early 20th century buildings flank the main street, Red Lodge is easily walkable. Plus, downtown has frequent festivals, and we were lucky to visit during the antique car show.
Now, Red Lodge is an artsy year-round resort town, with downhill and cross-country skiing, restaurants, and fun shops. In fact, we enjoyed local artists’ paintings, sculpture, and jewelry at Carbon County Art Guild & Depot Gallery (free), located in the converted train station.
But well into the 20th century, Red Lodge was a coal mining town. Coal miners immigrated from Finland, the Balkans, Italy, Germany, Scotland, and other countries. While we spent an hour exploring local history at the Carbon County Historical Museum, we also enjoyed the museum’s recreation of a coal mine.
- First, kids will enjoy crawling through a “coal” tunnel.
- Second, it gave us a sense of how physically grueling mining is.
- But I was most struck by a real mining sign warning of danger in 4 languages – Finnish, Serbo-Croatian, English, Italian.
It’s fun to experience Montana’s natural beauty in different ways. The Tippet Rise Art Center, an hour outside Red Lodge, is a 12,000-acre sculpture site. And taking a van tour to see each of its 9 massive sculptures helped us appreciate both the art and their stunning mountain setting. Be sure to ask for the guide Tim, who grew up on a ranch on the property. While we didn’t catch one, the Center hosts classical music concerts.
TravelingMom Tip: Reservations required for the van tour. While a restaurant is on-site, be sure to bring water on the tour. Although it is free to explore by hiking or biking, these might be too challenging for kids.
Where to eat and stay in Red Lodge
Cafe Regis is a family-friendly upscale diner that serves some of its own garden’s produce. In addition to delicious all-day breakfast, Cafe Regis lets kids run in its big yard, explore the greenhouse – and even pick a carrot. Plus, we enjoyed friendly service and a fancy steak dinner, with wine, at the Carbon County Steakhouse located right downtown.
We stayed at The Pollard Hotel, a historic 19th-century spot conveniently located downtown. In addition to a cozy, sun-filled library, The Pollard has a full gym, good restaurant, an on-site bar with fun live music.
2. Beartooth Highway
First, it’s a bucket list adventure to drive Beartooth Highway. This mountain pass from Red Lodge to Silver Gate, Montana is open only part of the year. And it’s so beautiful, I was glad we scheduled extra time to jump out to enjoy views of mountains, streams, lakes – and even lingering snow.
TravelingMom Tip: As altitude will affect you, be sure to drink water. And bring layers to add for warmth.
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3. The Northeast Entrance
The funky, friendly hamlets of Silver Gate and Cooke City are both good bases for a Yellowstone vacation. Both are just off Beartooth Highway, close to the Northeast Entrance to Yellowstone National Park, and have a few relaxed restaurants and general stores. And no wifi! Since we arrived on a rainy night, it was morning before we realized our cozy 1930s log cabin was next to a gorgeous mountain stream (Whispering Pines Cabins).
4. Things to do in West Yellowstone, Montana – West Entrance
The big town of West Yellowstone is close to the West Entrance of the Park. And there are lots of things to do in West Yellowstone. For example, we hiked the 4-mile round trip to Horse Butte Lookout, the whole time enjoying views of Hebgen Lake & Henry’s Lake Mountains. As we climbed, the view unfolded. But this rewarding hike for teens and tweens would be too hard for little kids.
TravelingMom tip: Bug spray works! And bring water and bear spray, just in case.
Also in the town of West Yellowstone, we learned what happens to an injured wolf or hawk or a grizzly bear unable to live in the wild. The lucky ones are rescued and welcomed at an animal sanctuary, Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center. The Center does a good job involving kids. For example, twice a day, kids are allowed into the naturalistic habitat to hide treats for the grizzly bears. There, we all enjoyed watching the bear turn over rocks and tree stumps, sniffing out the snacks. Sign up in advance for kids to participate.
Things to do in West Yellowstone include good rainy day options. For example, Yellowstone Historic Center, uses photos, antique vehicles, ranger talks, and films to explain Yellowstone Park history, including devastating forest fires. While we didn’t visit, nearby is an Imax theater.
Where to stay and eat in West Yellowstone
We were happy with the hearty classic breakfast included with our comfy and spacious room at Three Bear Lodge and Restaurant, a historic hotel with reclaimed wood and photos of its interesting history in the cozy lobby. And for lunch, we had perfect sliced brisket with a tasty crust and fresh cole slaw at Firehole BBQ. Finally, dinner was delicious tapas, seafood paella for 2, and Spanish wine at Cafe Madriz.
5. Things to do in North and West Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
While we’d visited Yellowstone National Park before, once just scratches the surface of this national treasure. First, we loved seeing wildlife roaming the Park. For example, massive bison graze by the road, sometimes in a herd. And it was thrilling when bison crossed in front of our car.
Second, Yellowstone’s natural beauty is awe-inspiring. And we couldn’t resist pulling over constantly for mountain views, or lakes left by glaciers, or to watch deer, bison, or birds.
Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon
In a different country, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and its two massive waterfalls would be the nation’s biggest tourist attraction. But the United States is so vast, I had no idea this canyon even existed. Plus, the contrast of the canyon’s orange, pink, yellow, and white rocks against blue sky and the canyon’s vivid green river is breathtaking.
Mammoth Hot Springs
Is anything more weird and wonderful than the other-worldly geology of Yellowstone Park?
At Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces, water and steam boiling up from beneath the earth’s crust deposit limestone & minerals, gradually building cascading rock formations. And it’s worth climbing up the wooden walkways to see the orange, white and yellow rock terraces up close. Some are wet, some are dry. And always evolving.
Old Faithful Geyser
Things to do in north and west Yellowstone National Park include visiting Old Faithful Geyser. Every 90 minutes or so, it erupts, blowing thousands of gallons of water and steam 100 feet in the air. For how to get the most out of an Old Faithful visit, click here.
Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Yellowstone National Park.
6. Big Sky, Montana
Serendipity brought us to a beautiful waterfall in the national forest near Big Sky, Montana. When our ziplining plan was canceled due to a surprise rainstorm, we drove a few miles to hike in the forest to Ousel Falls. This short hike, recommended by the helpful front desk at Buck’s T-4 Lodge, is less than 2 miles and manageable for littler kids and fit grandparents. And thank you to Montana Whitewater Ziplining for making our safety your priority. As always, flexibility is the best travel companion.
And a different way to enjoy Big Sky’s gorgeous mountain terrain is to paint it. Big Sky Community Organization offers free short hikes each week in summer. And when we visited, the hike included a fun open-air painting lesson with a local artist.
Where to eat in Big Sky
I’m glad we tried the duck bacon Brussel sprouts and pheasant quesadilla at the Buck’s T-4 Lodge, where good food was also family-friendly. And the big restaurant even includes a kids’ game room.
While not inexpensive, delicious house-smoked salmon was lunch outdoors on the rustic front porch at Horn & Cantle, the restaurant for the Lone Mountain Ranch. Plus a mountain view, and the ranch grounds to explore – including horses. And we got a good start with fresh-baked egg and bacon breakfast sandwiches at Toast. Especially loved the raspberry jalapeño jam!
7. Bozeman, Montana
Like Red Lodge, Bozeman has an historic, walkable downtown, filled with fun shops and restaurants. We stayed in the funky, art-filled modern Lark Hotel, conveniently located in the heart of downtown Bozeman. People-watching from the Lark Hotel terrace overlooking Main Street was fun. So were the on-site cafe and – get this – gourmet ice cream shop.
Where to eat in Bozeman, Montana
Bozeman is a foodie town. For example, Jams, a breakfast and lunch spot, bakes its own bread, serves local jams and ingredients. Plus, they create lip-smacking varieties of Eggs Benedict and crepes – mine was stuffed with smoked pork and pico de gallo.
Although we didn’t try the tempting selection of beer, we had inexpensive and good pizza at Bridger Brewing. Located under the same roof as a big grocery store on the Montana State campus, it’s a good spot for picnic supplies.
And we ate one of the best splurgy meals of my life at Blackbird Kitchen. Braised lamb shank and strawberry rhubarb pie! It’s small and popular, especially for its wood-fired gourmet pizza. So be sure to make reservations.
Things to do in Bozeman
Museum of the Rockies is a fascinating option on a sunny or rainy day. First, it’s filled with dinosaurs discovered in the region. Plus, exhibits and artifacts show how Montana’s European & Native Americans lived. Separately, just outside the main building is a living house museum, the Tinsley House. Costumed 19th-century homesteaders even showed us how to weave on a loom.
Bozeman’s thriving downtown has music, theater, and frequent events. In fact, we visited during the annual Bite of Bozeman street festival, featuring Indian, Mexican, and dozens of other foods. Plus, fun live music.
Even though vacation is a chance to get outside my comfort zone, I draw the line at horseback riding. But I overcame my reluctance and tried driving an ATV, all-terrain vehicle. And it was fun. Summit ATV Rentals gave us a map and drove us to a dropoff point at the foot of the mountain. Then, we went deep into the National Forest road system for gorgeous mountain views.
TravelingMom tip: Be sure to protect your eyes with inexpensive sunglasses. While my husband wore less, I was glad to layer long sleeves, a sweatshirt, and a windbreaker. Because it’s chilly in the mountains!
What things to do near Yellowstone National Park look fun to you? Tell us about it in the comments.