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21 Best Things to Do in Gardiner, Montana

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As a traveler visiting Montana, you might be looking for something to do in the small town of Gardiner. This charming community is located just north of Yellowstone National Park and has plenty of activities and attractions to keep visitors busy.

Gardiner, Montana, is a spectacular destination near Yellowstone National Park’s northern border. The park attracts millions of tourists from all over the world. However, there are several things to consider about Gardiner before packing your luggage for a trip to Yellowstone National Park.

This corner of the world favors the outdoorsy type. Most of the exciting activities in Gardiner are a mix of national park excursions and activities framed against stunning views of nature in Paradise Valley.

My trip to Gardiner was truly life-changing. While there, I saw a grizzly bear, two cubs, plenty of elk, bison (of course), a gray owl pictured below, a coyote, and a few marmots.

Also pictured in our list of attractions was seeing a rainbow across Lower Falls, which was incredible. You’ll find pictures I took along the way throughout this guide. Check under the image, and you’ll see my name as well as some photos taken by the other incredible members of the ViaTravelers team.

Here’s me and my wife at the Yellowstone National Park entrance.

Alex and Kyle Kroeger of ViaTravelers at Yellowstone National Park entrance sign, with scenic mountain landscape.
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

You may feel overwhelmed as you plan your summer vacation to Yellowstone. You’re not alone, so I hope this travel guide to some of my favorite experiences will help you make the most of your visit to this unbelievable region.

Things to Do in Gardiner, Montana

1. Explore the Town of Gardiner

Aerial view of Gardiner, Montana - Northern gateway to Yellowstone National Park
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Gardiner is a small town with a big personality. The town is home to various shops, local restaurants, and museums. You can explore the town on foot or take a bus tour. Some of our favorite restaurants while visiting Gardiner were the Iron Horse Bar & Grille (particularly on the patio) and the Cowboy’s Lodge and Grille.

The town is also home to a number of historic buildings right in downtown Gardiner, including the Gardiner Museum and the Gardiner Library. And if you need any help planning your trip, the Gardiner Visitor Center can assist you. In terms of restaurants, read our full guide to the best restaurants in Gardiner.

2. Check out Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center

Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center exterior, rustic architecture, and natural surroundings
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Address: 20 Old Yellowstone Trail S, Gardiner, MT 59030, United States

The Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center is an educational and cultural facility located in Gardiner near the park entrance, and it’s packed with fascinating exhibits featuring many hidden gems.

For example, the museum has an extensive collection of art, culture, and historical materials from Yellowstone and the surrounding area.

See Related: Things to Do in Livingston, Montana

3. Walk through the empty streets of Aldridge Ghost Town

Aldridge Ghost Town.

Address: Aldridge, Montana 59030, USA

Aldridge Ghost Town is a 22-minute drive from Gardiner. This spooky mining town was founded in 1906 and provided coal and coke to the Anaconda copper mines.

The city had some good years, but eventually, the mining operations in the area stopped because of a lack of funds. Aldridge’s inhabitants then abandoned the village and moved away, leaving the area as an empty ghost town.

Most buildings still stand; some have been reconstructed and restored to look like their old selves. If you’re looking for a creepy place to explore on your next vacation, Aldridge ghost town is worth visiting but at your own risk!

See Related: Best Hot Springs in Montana

4. Take a dip in the Boiling River

Image of the Boiling River.
Image by Greg Willis used under CC BY 2.0.

Address: Boiling River Hot Springs, Wyoming 82190, United States

The Boiling River can be accessed within three miles on North Entrance Road. This popular roadside attraction has a hot spring bursting along the Gardiner River’s shore. Note that limited space is available at trailheads, restricting easy changing into bathing suits!

Swimming in the Boiling River is allowed year-round; however, winter swimming can be brisk. No lifeguards are on duty, and swimming is at your own risk. The best time to swim is usually early morning when the water is still fairly hot from the previous day’s heat.

Bring your food and drinks, as no concessions are available now. There are also primitive camping sites available on a first-come, first-served basis for those who want to stay longer and enjoy this amazing geothermal feature in Yellowstone National Park.

See Related: Things to Do in Billings, Montana

5. Visit Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park Sign from Gardiner, Montana Entrance
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Address: United States

As the first national park in the United States, Yellowstone is one of the most popular natural tourist destinations in the world.

The park has unique geological features, including the world’s largest hot spring and tallest active geyser. We could go on about this for ages.

We have a bunch of our posts. You can book a private Yellowstone National Park sightseeing to enjoy the beautiful experience. Read these posts for more info and things to do in Yellowstone National Park!

See Related: Geysers & Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park

6. Drive along the scenic Paradise Valley Highway

Aerial view of snow-capped mountains and lush valley in Paradise Valley, Montana
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Address: Paradise Valley, Montana 59047, USA

When you drive the scenic Paradise Valley Highway, you’ll be surrounded by some of the most beautiful mountains in Montana. You’ll have the gorgeous Gallatin Range to the west and the awesome Absaroka Mountains to the east, with the Yellowstone River running right down the middle.

The valley spans over 50 miles, so there are plenty of opportunities to stop and enjoy the great scenery. Keep your camera handy because you’ll definitely want to take some pictures.

And if you’re a nature lover, this is a great place to watch for wildlife. So take your time and enjoy the drive. You may never want to leave.

7. Visit Mammoth Hot Springs

Lower Terrace of Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Address: Mammoth, WY 82190, United States

Mammoth Hot Springs is famous for its dynamic travertine terraces that showcase natural hot springs. Thanks to the boardwalk trail, you can preview these thermophile-filled natural wonders closely.

Mammoth Hot Springs is a wonderful natural attraction that has developed over thousands of years from calcium phosphate deposits. The cascade columns provide an amazing backdrop and great pictures. Check it out from several Mammoth terraces to view the entire region and several park areas.

Other land-based hiking trails, including the scenic Bunsen Peak Trail, spread throughout the Mammoth Hot Springs. But if you think Mammoth Hot Springs is it, you will be awe-struck by the natural attractions in the Mammoth area beyond just the sprawling hot water.

The area is great for wildlife viewing. We saw plenty of elk and even a small family of grizzly bears. Elk can often be found near the northwest entrance to Yellowstone Park near Gardiner.

See Related: Places to Visit in Montana

8. Drive through the iconic Roosevelt Arch

Roosevelt Arch Gardiner - Explore Yellowstone National Park
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Address: 2819 US-89, Gardiner, MT 59030, USA

The Roosevelt Arch is a stone arch that was built in 1903. The arch is located at the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park and is a popular spot for photographs. It is named after Theodore Roosevelt and was originally built to welcome tourists coming by train to visit Yellowstone around the 20th Century.

Serving as the northern entrance to the park, it still attracts travelers from all over who seek out a historic and picturesque spot to snap some memories.

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9. Try zip-lining Montana-style!

Montana Ziplining.

Nothing beats zip-lining over the Montana whitewater rapids if you are into adventure. There are several methods to appreciate the countryside, but zip-lining gives a sense of awe and pleasure when viewed from above.

The Stermitz Ranch is in the Cinnabar Basin, and a store is in Gardiner, Montana. To go to their Gardiner shop, you’ll need to take a shuttle from there. It may appear tough initially, but several twists will make you love this outdoor adventure.

You can see the entire valley and even parts of Yellowstone National Park from the top of the zipline. The shop has many other activities, such as horseback riding and hiking, so you can make a day of it. This is easily one of the most exciting things to do in Gardiner.

See Related: Best Whitewater Adventures in the World

10. Go horseback riding like a real cowboy

Cowboy with Horses in Yellowstone
Ben / Adobe Stofk

Gardiner is all about its natural and scenic beauty and mesmerizing landscape; therefore, you should not miss any opportunity to enjoy the classic Western landscape surrounding Yellowstone National Park and Gardiner.

So, what can be more enjoyable than a horseback ride to wander through and enjoy the countryside? Fortunately, you may find various horse owners offering rides for children and adults. You can choose between one-hour, two hours, half-day, and even full-day trips.

A number of rafting companies offer dual options called the “saddle and paddle” trips that allow you to enjoy half-day river rafting trips with a two-hour horseback ride.

So, if you want to kill two birds with one stone, this is everything you need. Book one of these excellent horseback riding tours to make the most of your adventure when you visit Gardiner.

See Related: Places to Visit in Wyoming

11. Climb the Sphinx Mountain

Sphinx Mountain Trail in Montana
Source: Alltrails

Address: Sphinx Mountain, Montana 59720, USA

Sphinx Mountain is one of the most popular attractions in the Yellowstone area, thanks to its distinctive curved head and red-brown hue. It’s also a great place to go climbing! The mountain is quite conveniently located, especially if you’re coming from Gardiner.

It’s less than 10 miles from the Sphinx Mountain trailheads to Gardiner, so you won’t have to travel far to get to the peak. And when you get there, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of the surrounding countryside.

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12. Hike in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area

Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area.

Address: Mc Leod, MT 59052, USA

If you’re looking for a truly wild experience, hiking in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area is a must. This sprawling wilderness area covers over 944,000 acres and is home to an incredible amount of wildlife, including grizzly bears, wolves, and bighorn sheep.

Hiking in the wilderness is an amazing way to get up close and personal with some of the most iconic animals in North America. Plus, the scenery is breathtaking.

This is off-the-beaten-path compared to what is offered at Yellowstone, so be sure to bring bear spray and other key hiking essentials.

You won’t find hoards of tourists here – which the bears prefer, too! You can book a room at a hotel near Absaroka here.

13. Go fishing on the Gardiner River

Majestic Aerial View of Gardiner River, Montana near Yellowstone National Park
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

The Gardiner River is a popular spot for fishing. The river is home to numerous fish, including cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, and brown trout.

Cutthroat trout are the most popular type of fish to catch in the river, and they can be found in both the upper and lower sections of the river. Rainbow trout are mostly found in the middle section of the river, while brown trout are mainly found in the lower section.

The best time to catch fish in the river is in the early morning or late evening when the water is cooler and the fish are more active. When fishing, it’s important to use an appropriate fly for the fish you hope to catch.

Cutthroat trout are attracted to flies that resemble stoneflies or mayflies, while rainbow trout are attracted to flies that resemble midges or caddisflies.

Brown trout, on the other hand, are attracted to a variety of different types of flies, so it’s important to experiment until you find one that’s successful!

See Related: Things to Do in Yellowstone National Park

14. Take a dip in one of Gardiner’s hot springs

Image Of Chico Recreational Center.

The Chico Hot Springs and the newly restored Yellowstone Hot Springs are two of Gardiner’s most popular hot springs, which may be visited after a long day of trekking. Community members flock to Paradise Valley’s numerous hot springs for a relaxing bath.

For visitors who love visiting hot springs, the two most well-known hot springs in Paradise Valley are Chico Hot Springs Resort and Spa and the Yellowstone Hot Springs.

Chico Hot Springs Resort and Spa, located about an hour’s drive from Gardiner, has been a local hot springs destination since 1900. With 26 rooms, a restaurant, a bar, and live entertainment on the weekends, visitors can enjoy all Chico Hot Springs Resort and Spa offers.

The Yellowstone Hot Springs in Gardiner is a newly restored hot spring that opened to the public in 2016. Yellowstone Hot Springs offers visitors a unique experience, as the water is sourced from a geothermal spring.

Visitors can enjoy the six soaking pools from 95 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. The Yellowstone Hot Springs pools are open year-round, and a sauna is on-site. It is newly built and offers up-close views of the Gallatin Mountains. It is not associated with the national park and is right off the highway on your way to Gardiner from the north.

15. Do some famous Montana fly fishing

Montana fly fishing.

There is no way the list of Gardiner’s adventure opportunities doesn’t include fly fishing! People spend years mastering this art. Consulting a bait shop or a local guide is better for your first visit.

Some family-owned fly shops established in the 1960s still hold the same space and add much to Montana’s fly fishing heritage. They can also help you by offering walk and wade trips, powerboat trips, and casting instruction workshops.

See Related: Bucket List Places to Visit in the US

16. Go whitewater rafting on the Yellowstone River

Yellowstone River winding through scenic park with mountain backdrop.
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

The Yellowstone River is one of Montana’s most popular spots for whitewater rafting. The river offers a variety of Class III and Class IV rapids.

The Yellowstone River begins in Yellowstone National Park and flows uninterrupted for over 600 miles into North Dakota. Though not the whole river might be ideal for rafting, the part closer to Gardiner is, fortunately. 

The sight of the flashing water is thrilling, and it’s difficult to resist diving in! The safest way to enjoy the water is to board a boat with a professional guide and seek assistance. Various companies provide half-day, full-day, and overnight rafting trips along the river.

17. Spend the Night at a Campground

Eagle Creek Campground.

While there is no match to the luxury of hotels and motels, the best way to enjoy your vacation in Gardiner is to set up your tent and spend a night under the stars. You can make everlasting memories with friends and family while pitching the tent and spending time inside.

If you have an RV, you may park it at a nearby campground and spend the evening. The finest places for you will be Yellowstone RV Park and Rocky Mountain RV Park near the city center.

Their best features are that they’re conveniently located near downtown and provide full hookups, including cable and Wi-Fi. Yellowstone RV Park may also offer the ideal experience for those eager to experience tent camping.

You can also pitch your tents in campgrounds in the surrounding Custer-Gallatin National Forest designated by the U.S. Forest Service. The closest of these is the Eagle Creek Campground. The area allocation is first-come, first-served, with basic amenities, including pit toilets.

The closest campground to Gardiner is Mammoth Campground near the site of Mammoth Hot Springs, which has 85 sites available on a first-come, first-served basis. And believe me, getting a site can be challenging at times. If you are visiting Gardiner, make early reservations.

See Related: What to Bring on a Camping Trip with Friends

18. Hike to Emigrant Peak

Image of the Emigrant Peak.

Address: Emigrant Peak, Montana 59065, USA

Emigrant Peak is certainly a sight to behold. At 12,799 feet, it’s the tallest point in the Beartooth Mountains and offers hikers stunning views of the surrounding landscape. The peak is located in the Emigrant Wilderness area of the Inyo National Forest, and it’s a popular destination for both day hikes and overnight backpack trips.

Emigrant Peak is relatively easy to climb but requires some basic mountaineering skills. However, the rewarding views from the summit are well worth the effort.

19. Hike to Yellowstone Falls

Rainbow over Lower Falls, Yellowstone National Park
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Yellowstone Falls is one of the most popular hikes in Yellowstone National Park. The falls are located on the Yellowstone River and offer stunning views of the river and the surrounding landscape.

There are two main falls – Upper Falls and Lower Falls. Upper Falls is the taller of the two, at 109 feet, with Lower Falls slightly shorter at 94 feet.

The trail to Yellowstone Falls is easy and takes about 30 minutes to complete. However, the trail can be slippery and steep in places, so be sure to wear proper footwear and take your time. Once you reach the falls, you will be rewarded with breathtaking views.

See Related: Best Waterfalls in Minnesota to Visit

20. Take a scenic boat ride on Yellowstone Lake

Shoreline of the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake
Kim Magaraci / ViaTravelers

There’s nothing quite like a scenic boat ride on Yellowstone Lake. As the largest lake in Yellowstone National Park, it offers some of the best views in the park. You can fish, swim, and boat in the lake; plenty of scenic spots exist.

If you want a truly unique experience, tour the geysers and hot springs that dot the shoreline. You’ll be amazed by the geysers’ power and the hot springs’ beauty.

See Related: Things to Do in West Yellowstone, Montana

21. Go birdwatching in the wetlands

Grey owl camouflaged in Yellowstone National Park.
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

This one goes out to the birdwatching enthusiasts in the room. The wetlands near Gardiner are home to many birds, including herons, egrets, owls, and several species of duck.

The best time to see these birds is in the early morning or late afternoon when they feed actively. Binoculars are essential for getting a close-up view of these beautiful creatures.

Watch for the Great Blue Heron, the largest bird in the wetland. This bird can grow up to four feet tall and has a wingspan of six feet!

You may also spot a Bald Eagle or Osprey if you’re lucky. These majestic predators can sometimes be seen hunting for fish in the wetland’s waters. You can book a ticket for a Gardiner wildlife adventure to experience this.

Be sure to subscribe to our free traveler newsletter for regular updates. You’ll find more information on great places to visit, as well as travel tips and advice from our team of travel nerds.

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FAQs

What are the best things to do in Gardiner, Montana?

Gardiner is a small town located at the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park. It is a popular destination for tourists who want to experience the area’s beauty and participate in outdoor activities.

Is it better to stay in Gardiner or West Yellowstone?

If you are more interested in geyser basins and the Grand Canyon, they are easy to reach from West Yellowstone. But if you want to explore Mammoth Hot Springs and the park’s northern region, Gardiner is a better choice. Regarding accommodations, West Yellowstone wins in terms of versatility and a wider selection of hotels.

What is Gardiner, Montana is known for?

Gardiner is a small town located at the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park. The town is also known for its Roosevelt Arch, the first entry into Yellowstone National Park.

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