Montana’s Yellowstone Country
In southwest Montana, Yellowstone Country is home to America’s oldest national park,
a pristine wilderness of flower-filled valleys, lofty crags, thundering waterfalls and gushing geysers where the bison, grizzlies and antelope roam. Divide your 7 to 10-day adventure between city and country, and enjoy the best of both worlds. From 15 U.S. gateways, six major airlines fly direct to Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (www.bozemanairport.com), Montana’s busiest.
BOZEMAN’S CITY CHARMS
It’s a 15-minute drive from the airport to downtown Bozeman, home of Montana State University. On West Main Street, the bold yellow logo of a Western meadowlark, Montana’s state bird, adorns The LARK (www.larkbozeman.com), a trendy “boutique motel” opened in 2015. Enjoy The LARK’s outdoor fire pit, the Airstream-style trailer serving treats from Bozeman’s Genuine Ice Cream Co. and the breakfast room run by baristas from Treeline Coffee Roasters.
On nearby West Mendenhall Street, luxurious Element by Westin (www.element-hotels.marriott.com) boasts large contemporary rooms with well-stocked kitchenettes. There’s also an indoor pool, fitness room and greenery-filled patio with stainless-steel grills.
A private hotel entrance leads to Squire House, a New American restaurant serving craft cocktails, imaginative starters like Brussels Bravas in spicy Spanish sauce and locally inspired mains like Elk Bolognese.
At the Western Cafe, where hunting trophies adorn knotty-pine walls, breakfast on chicken-fried steak, or the Bobcat Special with eggs, bacon, hash browns, and French toast made from platter-sized cinnamon rolls.
At Stuffed Crepes & Waffles for lunch, try the savory Monte with turkey, ham and Swiss or sweet Zurich with strawberries, nutella and white-chocolate sauce. At Jam! , order big bespoke salads, sandwiches, burgers and tacos.
Starky’s Authentic Americana Grill is famous for salads with house-made dressings and overstuffed sandwiches.
Browse downtown shops, including gourmet Béquet Confections, for luxurious Celtic sea-salt caramels. At Head West, get gussied-up in new or used cowboy duds.
Catch a matinee at The Ellen Theatre, an ornately gilded movie palace celebrating its 100th anniversary. See stand-up comedy, modern dance or a Western-themed musical.
Museum of the Rockies (www.museumoftherockies.org), a Smithsonian Institution affiliate, houses the world’s largest Tyrannosaurus Rex collection -13 to date- and the country’s biggest collection of North American dinosaur fossils. The centerpiece: 38-foot-long Montana’s T. rex from Hell Creek Formation, 300 miles northeast. Nearby, the American Computer Museum traces communications technology from Pony Express riders to Apple laptops.
Quench your thirst at a dozen Bozeman breweries and distilleries. Opposite The LARK, White Dog Brewing Company serves brews like Blond Ale, Blood Orange Hefeweizen and New England Hazy IPA in a red-brick taproom whose custom frost rail bar keeps glasses icy-cold. Next door, Bozeman Spirits Distillery offers Montana 1889 Whiskey, Ruby River Gin and Huckleberry Vodka.
In Bozeman’s Cannery District, a five-minute drive north, visit 406 Brewing Company, and Dean’s Zesty Booch, Kombucha Bar & Brewery for fermented kombucha teas and other healthy probiotic drinks.
Map Brewing Company, on downtown’s northwest fringe, offers popular brews like Gravity Rider German Amber, Ridge Hippy Kölsch and Quiver Killer Pale Ale. Celebrate your last night feasting on pork saltimbocca on polenta and other multicultural American fare at Urban Kitchen.
A 90-minute drive southeast leads through the stunning Paradise Valley to Gardiner (www.visitgardinermt.com), Yellowstone National Park’s (www.nps.gov/yell) North Entrance and only year-round gateway.
On Hellroaring Street, check into the Travelodge (www.wyndhamhotels.com). Then mosey over to Wonderland Cafe & Lodge for innovative creations like vegan falafel gyros.
Gardiner is the first major access to the legendary Yellowstone River. Float the stream and battle its whitewater rapids on a half or full-day Yellowstone Raft Company (www.yellowstoneraft.com) trip.
Come morning, hop aboard a comfy Chevy Suburban for an 8-hour excursion through Yellowstone National Park with Yellowstone Wonders LLC (www.yellowstonewonders.com). Offering custom tours for intimate groups of 2-6 people, the company is run by Mike Skelton, who fell in love with Yellowstone as a young man, and his equally smitten wife, nature photographer Ann C. Skelton.
Along with wildlife, Yellowstone National Park is home to 10,000 hydrothermal features, including waterfalls, hot springs and 60 percent of the world’s geysers. The Yellowstone Wonders tour typically starts at Mammoth Hot Springs with colorful travertine terraces, then heads east along Grand Loop Road passing Hellroaring Overlook high above the Yellowstone River.
At Roosevelt Lodge (www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com), near where President Teddy Roosevelt camped over a century ago, visitors “cowboy up” for horseback or stagecoach rides. Just east, foxes, wolves and coyotes, along with mule deer, grizzlies and bison, roam Lamar Valley, “America’s Serengeti.” Watch for “red dogs,” baby bison with curly reddish-brown coats.
Continue south, stopping at the colorful Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, a favorite of artists and photographers, before reaching wildlife-filled Hayden Valley. Curving around Yellowstone Lake, you’ll see more mudpots, geysers and hot springs before reaching Old Faithful Inn. Watch its famous geyser erupt, then head 31 miles to West Yellowstone (www.DestinationYellowstone.com), at the park’s West Entrance, and check into a luxury log cabin at The Hibernation Station (www.Hibernation Station.com).
Visit the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center (www.grizzlydiscoveryctr.org), featuring live wildlife and intriguing displays. Then browse West Yellowstone’s many shops, including log-hewn Eagle’s (www.eagles-store.com) with its vintage green-and-yellow tiled soda fountain.
Later, relax over craft brews and cocktails, burgers, steaks and seafood, at Bullwinkle’s Saloon and Eatery, complete with a liquor store and casino. Or grab an enchilada or burrito from Las Palmitas in a big white school bus.
Come sun-up, follow Route 191 north for the two-hour trip back to Bozeman and your flight home.
Visit www.VisitYellowstoneCountry.com or call (800) 736-5276.