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On Your Way: The Towns of Yellowstone

For some traveling to Yellowstone this summer, the park is the main attraction, and nothing will deter them from reaching the park as quickly as possible. We at Montana Nuggets, however, encourage you to stop every once in a while and discover all that the region surrounding Yellowstone has to offer. The towns lining the Montana highways leading to Yellowstone National Park’s north and west entrances are treasure troves of beauty, history, recreation, and attractions you definitely don’t want to miss!

Located between the Gallatin and Crazy Mountain ranges and surrounded by the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area, the town of Livingston was established around the railroad in the 1880s. The Crow Indians occupied the land along the Yellowstone River for thousands of years before the white settlers moved in, and the Absaroka Mountains are named after the Crow. Lewis & Clark were among the first white men to travel through this area, and were followed by traders and trappers. As the Northern Pacific Railroad was making it’s way through, they chose Livingston as their base camp, and set up a town that revolved around the railroad with repair shops and a thriving downtown.

It all started in 1882 with a man named Joseph McBride who was sent to find a location to open a store that would supply workers on the new railroad. He chose the site of present day Livingston, bypassing the settlement of Benson’s Landing, a settlement that existed just a few miles down the Yellowstone. The store started out of tents, but it was not long until the downtown began to develop. Originally named Clark City after William Clark, the name Livingston became widely accepted after the director of the Northern Pacific, Crawford Livingston.

The historic Main Street is a reminder of the past, with grand old buildings that have been restored and preserved. Many of the buildings date back to the turn of the century, and much local effort was put into their restoration, that gives the downtown area a real charm. Many of these old buildings were hotels for the tourists who came through Livingston on their way to Yellowstone National Park. Back in the day, tourists had to change trains in Livingston to get to Gardiner, and many spent the night.

The Historic Depot Center was built by the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1902, was used until the 1970s, and still stands today as the Chamber of Commerce and a railroading museum. By 1882, Livingston was a thriving community, complete with 30 saloons, six general stores, two hotels, two restaurants and more. At one time, up to 2,200 men worked for the railroad and were based in Livingston. Calamity Jane spent a fair amount of time in Livingston; it is said that she lived in a local hotel and even spent some time in the town’s jailhouse.

Today, Livingston has much to offer the locals and tourists visiting Montana. Located on the Blue Ribbon Trout waters of the Yellowstone River, Livingston is a fly fishing community with many outfitters and guides to accommodate the visitors. The city has over 13 art galleries to browse through, two playhouses, four museums, many unique downtown shops, and some great restaurants from which to choose. Whitewater rafting is also popular on the Yellowstone River. The Livingston Roundup Rodeo is held every year from July 2–July 4 and draws competitors and visitors from
all across the country.

The town of Gardiner began to prosper when Yellowstone National Park opened in 1872 and serves as the north entrance to this first National Park. Gardiner began serving tourists when the Northern Pacific Railroad brought them from Livingston to the small town called Cinnabar, where they would get on a stagecoach to finish the journey to Gardiner. After many disputes, the railroad expanded the last few miles to Gardiner, making it the new gateway to the park. Roosevelt Arch was built in 1903, marking the entrance to the world’s first National Park. Gardiner is a quaint town with lots of lodging, shopping, and dining to accommodate the large volume of tourists. Sitting in between the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness and Yellowstone National Park, seasonal outdoor activities abound in Gardiner. Fishing, hunting, horseback riding, whitewater rafting, and kayaking are all popular. During the winter, Yellowstone Country is magically transformed under a blanket of snow, and cross-country skiing and snowmobiling are the activities of popular demand. Elk, deer, bighorn sheep, and an occasional bear will often be seen roaming on the various lawns throughout town. Listen carefully and coyotes can be heard in the foothills.

Serving as the original and only year-round entrance to the park, Gardiner offers a fine selection of motels, restaurants, shops, art galleries, churches, a small airport, and related visitor services. Campgrounds and trailer parks with hookups offer overnight services.

Gardiner has survived a rough and tumble existence of gold rushes, the railroad, and destructive fires. A tough little frontier town, it fed and sheltered miners, entertained the early soldiers who ran Yellowstone Park, and learned to host the pioneer visitor. Gardiner has matured, tempered, and grown to meet the needs of today’s visitor. It’s a good place, rich in history, in the heart of some of the West’s finest country.

Bozeman is nestled in the midst of the pristine jewel of the Rockies, the Gallatin Valley. Located in the “Heart of Yellowstone Country” just 90 miles north of Yellowstone National Park, Bozeman is sophisticated, yet down to earth. It is happily isolated in the open and beautiful “Valley of the Flowers,” as early Native Americans named it, yet remains almost entirely surrounded by the Rockies. The Bridger Mountains rise ruggedly on the east, the Tobacco Roots to the west, the Big Belts to the north, and the Spanish Peaks and Gallatin Range to the south.

Bozeman was named after John Bozeman, who blazed a trail across Wyoming, and in 1864, guided the first train of immigrants into the Gallatin Valley. When the first wagon train made its way through the canyon, frontiersman Jim Bridger was leading the way, thus the canyon, mountain range, and area trails now bear his name.

The area of Bozeman is brimming with adventure and an abundance of outdoor recreational possibilities, one of the most popular being fly-fishing. The rivers, streams, and lakes in the region provide some of the finest fly-fishing in the world with a backdrop of spectacular scenery. Over 2,000 miles of blue-ribbon trout streams weave through this sportsman’s paradise, while golf courses, first-class tennis courts, indoor and outdoor pools, and hot springs make Bozeman a city of diverse recreational opportunities. Just minutes away is the Bridger Bowl ski area featuring
1,200 acres inside the Gallatin National Forest. Ski the well groomed slopes of 50 different runs.

The Yellowstone, Gallatin, and Madison rivers provide excellent rafting and kayaking for whitewater enthusiasts travelling to the Bozeman area, while the Gallatin National Forest is a wonderful place for nature or pleasure hikes. Bozeman is an exceptional town offering many opportunities for recreational experiences, while retaining its flavor as a thriving arts and culture community. Here, culture and entertainment are as abundant as the blue sky. Bozeman uniquely combines the classic Old West with the comforts and amenities of the new. Bozeman boasts art galleries, historic museums, symphony,and the state’s only opera company. It is also home to the main campus of Montana State University, the Museum of the Rockies, and Compuseum.

Big Sky
In 1902, Frank Crail first set foot in the Big Sky area. While hunting elk in the shadow of Lone Peak, he fell in love with the beauty of the surroundings. He purchased the land from the original homesteaders and established the first cattle ranch in the area. Today, the original Crail Ranch house still stands in the meadow area by the golf course.

Following his lead, others moved into the area. Cattle ranching was soon superceded by dude ranches. Most of these, The 320 Ranch, Elk Horn Ranch, Lone Mountain Ranch, Covered Wagon Ranch, and the Nine Quarter Circle Ranch are still in full operation today. This was the beginning of the Big Sky tourist trade.

Native Montanan Chet Huntley had a dream for the area as well. In 1969, Huntley and a group of investors including Conoco, Burlington Northern, Montana Power, Chrysler Corporation and Northwest Orient Airlines purchased the Crail Ranch land. In 1973, his dream of creating a year-round resort community began to materialize with the official opening of Big Sky Ski & Summer Resort. In 1976, the Boyne Corporation acquired the property and began steps to develop and improve the area. Today it is a bustling year-round resort community.

The drive to Big Sky through the Gallatin Canyon is arguably the most beautiful drive in the state, and the area surrounding the resort is arguably some of the most beautiful and dramatic mountain scenery found anywhere in the country. From atop the singular and majestic Lone Peak, the view is one of endless mountain peaks. To the immediate north are the dramatic Spanish Peaks and the Spanish Peaks Wilderness area. Just 18 miles to the south is the boundary of Yellowstone National Park. Over 3 million acres of pristine land surrounding Big Sky is set aside as wilderness area. Big Sky sits in the middle of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, which has some of the cleanest air and water quality in the world. It’s not unusual to see moose, mountain goats, elk, big horn sheep, eagles, bear, deer or coyotes wandering around. The nearby Gallatin river is one of the best blue-ribbon trout streams in the world and was the filming site of “A River Runs Through It.”

West Yellowstone
West Yellowstone is located at the West Gate to Yellowstone Park and offers four seasons of recreational opportunity. Although the town only has 900 year-round residents, well over one million people enter the park each year via this small town. Visitors across the globe come to take advantage of the endless possibilities for outdoor enjoyment, be it fishing the many blue-ribbon streams, or snowmobiling the nearly 1,000 miles of groomed trails accessible from hotel rooms, and cross country skiing. West Yellowstone is ideally located at the center of fun and recreation.

West Yellowstone may well be one of the finest meccas for fly fishing enthusiasts. Many scenes from the movie “A River Runs Through It” were filmed on the Gallatin River north of West Yellowstone. Professional guides and outfitters throughout the area offer advice and service to visiting fisher-folk and are eager to help you make the most of your fishing excursion in Yellowstone Country.

With Yellowstone National Park at the front door, the hiking, biking, sightseeing, wildlife watching opportunities are endless, and the national forest lands which border West Yellowstone on the remaining three sides offer one breathtaking vista after another! Learn more at

Partially reprinted from “The Ultimate Montana Atlas and Travel Encyclopedia”

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