In Southwest Montana, near the Wyoming and Idaho border, West Yellowstone is the most popular gateway town to Yellowstone National Park. The city abuts park boundaries, with the West Entrance less than a mile away. This proximity to Yellowstone’s staggering 2.2 million acres is reason alone to visit.
But West Yellowstone’s appeal extends well beyond its proximity to the park. Thousands of additional acres of national forest surround the community, and this Greater Yellowstone region entices adventure seekers throughout the year. Trails of all types extend from the city’s edge into this incredible wide-open Montana landscape.
West Yellowstone isn’t a new vacation destination in Montana. The town has hosted tourists for decades, bolstering a local economy that blossoms with local restaurants, theaters, and a giant movie screen. And whether on the sidewalks or at the local rodeo, expect to encounter plenty of smiling faces anytime of year.
Plan your next Montana experience with our list of the top things to do in West Yellowstone.
Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.
1. Explore Yellowstone National Park
West Yellowstone is the closest community to Yellowstone National Park. The West Entrance is less than a mile’s drive from the heart of town. This proximity makes West Yellowstone one of the most popular basecamps to explore the park.
Yellowstone, the nation’s first national park, encompasses a staggering 2.2-million acres and its own ecosystem. Visitors coming in from the West Entrance encounter Madison Junction and Firehole Canyon. Automobile tourists can take Firehole Canyon Drive for spectacular views of lava flows and a fun place to swim (no lifeguards on duty).
South of Madison Junction, other big Yellowstone attractions like Grand Prismatic, Old Faithful, and the Upper Geyser Basin are a short drive away. To the north, steaming landscapes like Steamboat Geyser and Artists’ Paintpots surround the Norris Geyser Basin. All these incredible landscapes host many of Yellowstone’s best hiking trails.
Adventures in Yellowstone are endless. On top of the many places to visit, there’s a wide range of things to do. Outfitters in West Yellowstone are happy to help craft a memorable adventure. Yellowstone Alpen Guides and Yellowstone Adventures both offer guided sightseeing trips based out of West Yellowstone.
Official site: https://www.nps.gov/yell/index.htm
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Yellowstone NP: Best Areas & Hotels
2. See the Residents of the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center
The Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, on the national park border, is a not-for-profit wildlife park. This AZA-accredited facility houses grizzly bears and wolves that are unfit to survive in the wild. The animals are housed in large outdoor habitats that the public can view. This setup provides a unique opportunity to see grizzlies and wolves in a controlled environment.
The on-site Naturalist Cabin is a great place to check out the three different wolf packs at the Discovery Center. This indoor, heated facility features floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the wolf habitat. The Discovery Center also features a new river otter exhibit. These furry mammals are fun to watch as they swim through massive aquariums filled with Yellowstone cutthroat trout.
The Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center is open 365 days of the year, and all admission tickets are good for two-day entry. The center puts on various shows throughout the year, including a Birds of Prey demonstration with some resident raptors. A “Keeper Kids” 30-minute program is offered twice daily during the summer for children ages 5-12.
Official site: https://www.grizzlydiscoveryctr.org/
3. Cross-Country Ski the Rendezvous Trail System
The Rendezvous Trail System is one of the most significant outdoor community assets in West Yellowstone. The trailhead is on the southern edge of city limits, within walking distance from almost anywhere in town. From its notable Trailhead Archway, over 35 kilometers of trails meander through the Custer Gallatin National Forest.
Trail passes are required to use the Rendezvous Trail System, with daily, season, and family passes available. The trail system caters to all skill levels, from old pros to first-time beginners. And at a base elevation of 6,800 feet, the trails are consistently snowy between January and March. Several local gear shops in West Yellowstone offer daily ski rentals.
The Rendezvous Trails are also home to a few significant events throughout the winter. The Yellowstone Ski Festival in November kicks off the season, while the Yellowstone Rendezvous Race provides an exciting finish in March. During the summer, the trail system is popular for hiking, running, and mountain biking.
Official site: www.skirunbikemt.com
4. Catch the Sunset at Hebgen Lake
Exceptional outdoor environments surround West Yellowstone outside of the park. And Hebgen Lake is a prime example of the immense landscapes nearby. Situated less than 20 minutes northwest, this massive reservoir on the Madison River is a hot spot for summer recreation.
The U.S. Forest Service maintains several facilities on the lakeshore, including boat ramps, campgrounds, and hiking trails. Fishing is one of the most sought-after activities, as the lake is one of the best stillwater fishing spots in the region. And even without a successful bite, Hebgen Lake is an excellent location to watch the setting sun paint the sky with evening colors.
Hebgen has been one of Montana’s best lakes for a long time. It was a popular destination in 1959, when an infamous earthquake rocked the Madison River Canyon below the Hebgen Dam. The resulting debris blocked the river and quickly created the adjacent Earthquake Lake. Today, this still-standing body of water is also known as Quake Lake and offers another popular place to visit.
5. Go Fly Fishing in Blue Ribbon Waterways
West Yellowstone is the epitome of fly fishing in Montana. Several blue-ribbon fisheries are within a short drive, including trout-filled waters within Yellowstone National Park. Among the many iconic waterways to come out of the park, including the Yellowstone River and Gallatin River, the Madison River passes closest to West Yellowstone.
The Madison forms at the confluence of the Gibbon and Firehole Rivers within Yellowstone, which are two formidable fish hatcheries on their own. The Madison exits park boundaries and winds next to city limits. The river then connects to Hegben Lake – yet another popular stillwater fishing spot nearby.
With so many options to cast a line and different conditions throughout the season, it pays to visit local fishing shops in West Yellowstone. Places like Jacklin’s Fly Shop provide gear, suggestions, and guided services. Other spots like Arrick’s Fly Shop and Madison River Outfitters offer similar services.
6. Giddy Up at the Wild West Yellowstone Rodeo
It’s not a western vacation without witnessing a rodeo. And one of the region’s most famous rodeos takes place four miles west in a large outdoor arena. The Wild West Yellowstone Rodeo takes place Wednesdays through Saturdays between June and August.
Signature events at each nightly rodeo include bareback riding, bull riding, and roping contests. The rodeo is built on western traditions, and each event showcases fervent crowds and sold-out shows. A special Rodeo Ride Package, offered by Creekside Trail Rides, gives patrons the chance to arrive at the rodeo on horseback.
Official site: http://creeksidetrailrides.com/
7. Bundle Up for a Snowmobile Adventure
West Yellowstone is a snowmobile mecca come winter. Alongside easy access to snowmobile-friendly routes in Yellowstone National Park, hundreds of miles of groomed trails span the national forests surrounding the town. And several outfitters and rental shops in the community ensure all abilities enjoy the winter rush.
The West Entrance of Yellowstone closes to vehicle traffic in the winter. Snowmobiles, however, are encouraged to explore at their pleasure. Riders can take an enchanting tour of Yellowstone attractions, like Old Faithful and Norris Geyser Basin, covered in snow. Local places like Yellowstone Vacations offer guided snowmobiling expeditions of these areas.
Visitors don’t have to step a snowboot in the park to find excellent trails, however. The national forests surrounding West Yellowstone host hundreds of miles of trails accessible from the city. Some popular routes include the Two Mountain Top Trail, the Big Sky Trail, and the Madison Arm Loop.
8. Educate the Whole Family at the Museum of the Yellowstone
To add a little context to any visit, the Museum of the Yellowstone details the cultural history of the national park and surrounding region. The different transportation methods used over the years to travel through the park are also on display.
Other exhibits include information on the 1959 Hebgen Lake Earthquake and 1988 fires in Yellowstone. The museum also offers guided walking tours of the adjacent Union Pacific Railroad Historic District. All these insights and more at the museum add a deeper appreciation to the already inspiring landscape.
A great add-on adventure to the museum is the neighboring Yellowstone Giant Screen Theatre. This six-story-tall movie screen is one of a kind in the region. The theater’s signature production is an educational movie about the park with gorgeous landscape shots. The theater also screens other documentary movies and recent Hollywood blockbusters.
Official site: https://museumoftheyellowstone.org/
9. Sing Along at the Playmill Theatre
A few blocks from the West Yellowstone Visitor Information Center, the Playmill Theatre has provided cherished family memories for over 55 years. This time-honored theater company puts on approximately three productions a year. Shows span between May and September. With an emphasis on family values and fun, it’s one show not to miss if traveling with children.
Alongside the theatrical performance, engaging moments between acts offer other ways to enjoy the show. Tacked onto every primary stage production are activities like sing-alongs and variety shows. For young aspiring thespians, the theater also hosts a five-day summer camp in June for students aged 14 to 18.
Official site: https://www.playmill.com/
10. Mountain Bike the Lionhead
Surrounded by thousands of national forest acres, West Yellowstone has no shortage of mountain bike trails to ride. The skier-friendly Rendezvous Trail System thaws during the summer to provide a popular network of mountain biking trails. Another popular place to ride is in the Lionhead area in the Custer Gallatin National Forest.
South of Hebgen Lake and the Madison River, the Lionhead area is known for its miles of high-altitude trails. And a combination of user access rights and dedicated maintenance has made the area a mecca for mountain biking. Nearly all routes require some climbing, but outstanding views reward the uphill efforts.
One of the best bike rental shops in West Yellowstone, Freeheel and Wheel, offers mountain bike rentals by the hour or by the day. The friendly associates at the bike shop can also point you in the direction of some solid trails. Freeheel and Wheel also has a selection of road bikes for those interested in hitting the pavement.
11. Zip on Over to Yellowstone Zipline Adventure Park
The Yellowstone Zipline Adventure Park provides high-flying family fun. This popular tourist attraction is a few blocks west of the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center, near many of the area’s top hotels. Within the facility, over 1,000 feet of ziplines and a raised ropes course offer all-day entertainment.
Yellowstone Zipline Adventure Park is open every day throughout the summer, with more limited hours in the shoulder seasons. This outdoor attraction shutters between October and April. The facility offers special packages to combine with other Yellowstone adventures. Current zipline packages include add-on white water rafting trips or guided horseback rides.
Official site: https://www.yellowstoneparkzipline.com/
12. Satisfy an Appetite in West Yellowstone
West Yellowstone’s local economy thrives on the thousands of tourists that visit each year. This economic driver has spurred a surplus of high-quality restaurants along the streets of the relatively small town. When visiting, be sure to indulge in some local businesses that pack a lot of flavors.
Mountain Mama’s Coffeehouse and Bakery offers a caffeinated way to start the day. And just a few blocks west, Running Bear Pancake House offers a complete breakfast menu. Ernie’s Bakery and Deli is also a local-favorite for convenient breakfast and lunch entrees. Dinner options are also nothing short of abundant, with places like Wild West Pizzeria and Saloon topping the list for pizza joints.