There are five entrances to Yellowstone National Park, referred to as: the West Entrance, North Entrance, Northeast Entrance, East Entrance and South Entrance-- pretty easy to remember.
The West Entrance brings you in through West Yellowstone, Montana-- our first "gateway community". This is the busiest gateway community, and offers a huge variety of outdoor recreational activities year-round. In the summer, visitors can enjoy hiking, fly fishing, biking, horseback riding and ATVing, and the winter is ideal for cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, snowcoach tours, and more!
West Yellowstone is home to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center-- they "offer visitors to the Yellowstone area an opportunity to observe, understand and ultimately appreciate grizzly bears and gray wolves. All the animals at the Center are unable to survive in the wild and serve as ambassadors for their wild counterparts."
Big Sky, Montana is located 50 miles north of West Yellowstone, and may be worth checking out if you are in the area. This is the quintessential mountain town, and has miles and miles of hiking trails; it also offers phenomenal opportunities for downhill skiing and snowboarding, and cross-country skiing.
You can rent cross-country skis or bicycles at Free Heel and Wheel (and get a cup of coffee), right across from the Visitor Center in West Yellowstone.
Our favorite hikes in the West Yellowstone area are:
1. Coyote Creek: Located in Yellowstone National Park, about five miles past the West Entrance station, this hikes offers great scenery as you hike through a forest affected by fire, but teeming with new growth. And then into a meadow surrounded by mountains, and rolling hills with views that go on forever. In addition, there are great chances to see wildlife along the trail. You can hike 3.5 miles to the Cougar Creek Patrol Cabin, or since this trail is an out-and-back, you can turn around whenever you like.
2. Harlequin Lake: Also located just inside the West Entrance, the trail to Harlequin Lake is peaceful as you move gradually uphill through the pines. This is a pretty short hike, right off the road, but surprisingly provides hikers with solitude. Once at the lake, sit on the shores to watch and listen for the numerous species of waterfowl.
Our favorite cross-country ski/ snowshoe trails in the West Yellowstone area are:
1. Riverside Trail: This cross-country ski trail provides some of the best scenery in West Yellowstone-- taking you along the Madison River. Great for both cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, the trail provides amazing views of the Madison River and Gallatin Range. There are many different loops and cross trails you can take, so you can make a full day out of it!
You can rent cross-country skis, or snowshoes here!
2. Fawn Pass: Located about 20 miles north of West Yellowstone on US-191, this out-and-back trail can be up to 11 miles, but the views are amazing right off the bat, so you can go for as long as you want and then turn around. The trail provides impeccable views of the Gallatin Range and the spacious meadow allows you to see forever.
The North Entrance brings you to Yellowstone National Park through Gardiner, Montana. Located between the Absaroka-Beartooth Mountains and the Gallatin Range, and along the Yellowstone River, Gardiner is a paradise for adventure-seekers. In the summer, visitors can go hiking, fishing, whitewater rafting or soak in hot springs, and in the winter, you can go cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or wildlife watching. There really are endless options of activities in Gardiner, Montana!
Fly fishing equipment, as well as cross-country skis and snowshoes are available for rent at the Park's Fly Shop in downtown Gardiner.
Yellowstone Hot Springs is located eight miles north of Gardiner and provides a great place to soak after a long hike in the summer or cross-country ski in the winter.
Our favorite hikes in the Gardiner area are:
1. Beaver Ponds: Beginning just behind the Mammoth Terraces, about five miles from the North Entrance of Yellowstone, the Beaver Ponds loop is a mixture of pine forest with wide-open views. On this trail it is common to see elk, foxes, coyotes, with the possibility of bigger animals, such as black bear. The loop is six miles, and finishes at the boardwalks of the Terraces, making it a great day hike for families!
2. LaDuke: The trailhead is located just six miles north of Gardiner, and provides a great vantage point of the Yellowstone River, and Custer-Gallatin National Forest. From the trail, you can look across at Electric Peak and Sepulcher Mountain, both located inside Yellowstone National Park, as well as Devil's Slide, a unique red streak of rock between two vertical ridges. Since it is an out-and-back trail, you can hike for as long as you like before turning around.
3. Buffalo Plateau: Starting at the Hellroaring Trailhead, about 15 miles east of Mammoth Hot Springs, you will head downhill, getting big view of the Custer-Gallatin National Forest. At the bottom of the hill, cross the famous suspension bridge over Hellroaring Creek, and hike through a spacious meadow, and begin hiking up Buffalo Plateau. Every gradual step uphill will offer tremendous views of the Gallatin Range and Custer-Gallatin National Forest. Buffalo Plateau is true to its name — bison and other animals dot the hillside. It is common to see old bones and carcasses from wolf kills and shed elk antlers accumulating over the years. This is one day hike in Yellowstone that you do not want to miss.
Our favorite cross-country ski/ snowshoe trails in the Gardiner area are:
1. Mammoth Terrace Loop: This winter trail begins at Upper Terrace Loop, and provides 1.5 miles of groomed trail. You will pass impressive thermal features, that are even more striking in the cold winter air, and view the snow-covered mountains in the distance. It really is a winter wonderland up there.
2. Tower Fall Ski Trail: Along the five mile groomed trail, you get a great perspective of the Yellowstone River Canyon and frozen Tower Fall. In addition, there are good chances of seeing bison or bighorn sheep along the trail.
The Northeast Entrance is just outside Cooke City, Montana. Definitely the smallest of the gateway communities, Cooke City is a gem in the mountains. Since the only maintained road through Yellowstone in the winter goes from Gardiner to Cooke City, there are plenty of things to do year-round in Cooke City. Whether it be mountain biking in the summer or backcountry skiing in the winter, the mountains surrounding Cooke City are begging to be explored. Cooke City is also a gateway community for one of the most scenic drives in the country-- the Beartooth Highway, which zigzags up and over the mountains from Cooke City to Red Lodge, and is an engineering feat.
Be kind, drive considerably and pick up after yourself when visiting Cooke City, this small town is home to only 75 people year-round, spiking at 250 residents in the summer.
Our favorite hikes in the Cooke City area are:
1. Warm Creek TH to Pebble Creek Campground: This 12-mile hike takes you from Warm Creek Trailhead, up a steep hill to the meadow of Pebble Creek. The views are wide-open and provide views of the rugged mountains on each side of the valley. You get a little bit of everything with this day hike-- forests, creeks, rolling hills, wildflowers, mountain-views, and wildlife. It is a through-hike, meaning that you will end at the Pebble Creek Campground, so you will need a car shuttle, but it is definitely worth it!
2. Lamar River to Cache Creek: This 8-mile hike will start on a footbridge over Soda Butte Creek, where you can look down and see Cutthroat trout swimming in the crystal-clear water. The first few miles are flat and wildlife is typically plentiful in these wide-open meadows-- it is common to see pronghorn, bison, foxes, and even bears or wolves. This trip covers some of the best scenery that Yellowstone has to offer. After four miles, you will reach Cache Creek, which is a great spot to turn around.
Our favorite cross-country ski/ snowshoe trails in the Cooke City area are:
1. Barronette Ski Trail: Located in Yellowstone, just 6.5 miles from the Northeast Entrance, the Barronette Trail is a 3.5 mile section of the Old Cooke City Road, meandering through the ponderosa pine forest. It is common to see bison and elk along the snowy trail.
2. Bannock Ski Trail: Named after the Bannock band of the Shoshone tribe, who historically used this route reach hunting grounds, the Bannock Ski Trail in Yellowstone is a two-mile trail from the Warm Creek Picnic Area to Silver Gate. Once at Silver Gate, you can either turn around, or continue skiing an additional 3 miles to Cooke City.
The East Entrance takes you through fantastic scenery, and 55 miles from the park border is Cody, Wyoming.
Our favorite hike near the East Entrance is:
1. Avalanche Peak: Approximately five miles from the East Entrance, this 4 mile roundtrip hike is strenuous, but provides amazing views of the surrounding mountains. On a clear day, you can peer down on Yellowstone Lake and see all the way the the Tetons. The hike is steep, seemingly straight up, climbing 2,100 feet in just over two miles, but the views at the top are totally worth the effort. This is one hike that you do not want to miss!
Although Cody, Wyoming is not technically a "gateway community", many visitors will enter or exit the park through the East Entrance, so knowing a little about Cody can be important.
First of all, the drive from the East Entrance to Cody is beautiful as you drive along Middle Creek and pass Buffalo Bill Reservoir. Many things in Cody, Wyoming are named after Buffalo Bill-- the famous Wild West showman, because Colonel William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, was in fact the founder of Cody, Wyoming.
When in Cody, make sure you check out the Buffalo Bill Center of the West for history about Buffalo Bill and the Wild West, but also for wildlife exhibits in the Natural History Museum, and the Plains Indian Museum.
The town of Cody really does embody the history of the Wild West, check out a local rodeo in the Rodeo Capital of the World, as well as "Chuckwagon dinners, foot-stompin' music shows, Old West street theatre gunfights, and more!"
The South Entrance brings you in through Grand Teton National Park (check out our list of things to do in the Grand Tetons here).
Our favorite hike near the South Entrance is:
1. West Thumb Geyser Basin: Located on the shore of Yellowstone Lake, West Thumb Geyser Basin is home to Abyss Pool, Black Pool, Fishing Cone and more! The geysers here are set against a beautiful background with the lake and mountains, and if you're lucky, you may see a pod of kayaks go by next to fishing cone!
Jackson, Wyoming is just outside Grand Teton, making it approximately 60 miles from the South Entrance of Yellowstone. There are tons of things to do in Jackson, Wyoming if you make your way through there.
But before you get to Jackson, make a stop in Grand Teton National Park. It boasts incredible landscape, all visible from the road, but seriously, make a stop in Grand Teton, and get out of the car. There are many hikes for all levels of abilities, so check out the mountains, rivers, lakes, waterfalls and all that Grand Teton National Park has to offer.
Our absolute favorite way to experience Grand Teton is by bicycle! The park has an amazing bike path that runs from Jackson, all the way to Jenny Lake. In our opinion, there is no better way to see the park. You can rent bikes at Dornan's, at the Moose Junction.
In Jackson, you can road bike, mountain bike, zipline, whitewater raft, and more! There is something for everyone in this tourist mountain town.
So, needless to say, wherever you are staying, and whatever your interests are, you are bound to have a great visit in any of the gateway communities surrounding Yellowstone National Park!
Join Nomadic by Nature on an epic guided backpacking trip through the heart of Yellowstone National Park, and experience the park in ways that the average visitor can only dream of. Get back to nature with Nomadic By Nature!
Featured Trip: Dunanda Falls
This 3-day guided backpacking trip to Dunanda Falls is great for people with limited time, but want to experience one of the most incredible waterfalls and hot springs in Yellowstone National Park.
The trip allows us to backpack through Bechler Meadows to our campsite, and leave it set up for two days, as we go explore Dunanda Falls. Since we have camp already set up, we can spend as much time as we want soaking in the warm hot springs, as Dunanda Falls pours over the side of it's cliff in the background.
Come check out waterfalls and hot springs on this epic backpacking trip!