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At the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone’s northern gateway feels worlds away from the tourist trappings of West Yellowstone and the swanky sights of Jackson: Here you’ll find just a few downtown blocks, limited dining and lodging options, deer and elk lounging in front yards, and lots of peace and quiet. The Yellowstone River cuts right through town, and unobstructed views of the scrublands and hills of north Yellowstone rise just beyond. If you’re more interested in playing outside by day and stargazing by night than souvenir shopping, this laid-back town is for you—and for winter visitors, the north entrance is the only way cars can enter the park when the snow piles up.

Essentials

Getting There: For information on air service and car rentals, see “Getting There & Getting Around,” in chapter 10. Gardiner is 78 miles south of Bozeman on US 89.

Visitor Information: Contact the Gardiner Chamber of Commerce, 216 Park St. ( 406/848-7971; www.gardinerchamber.com). The nonprofit Yellowstone Association (406/848-2400; www.yellowstone.org), whose headquarters are located downtown at 308 E. Park St., also has a staffed information desk, along with a gift shop and wildlife spotting scope rentals ($25/day).

Getting Outside

Proximity to the mighty Yellowstone River makes whitewater rafting, floating, and fly-fishing big in this area, and several outfitters base themselves out of Gardiner. Options range from mellow half-day floats to multiday trips with riverside camping. For rafting and floating, try Flying Pig Adventure Company, 511 Scott St. (888/792-9193; www.flyingpigrafting.com), or Wild West Whitewater Rafting, 220 W. Park St. (406/848-2252; www.wildwestrafting.com). Park’s Fly Shop, 202 Second St. S. (406/848-7314; www.parksflyshop.com), is the place to sign up for guided fly-fishing outings or fishing lessons. Horseback riding (including multiday pack trips) and hiking in the Gallatin National Forest are also popular. Hell’s A-RoarinOutfitters, 164 Crevice Rd. (406/848-7578; www.hellsaroarinoutfitters.com), offers rides ranging from an hour to a full day. Come winter, you can also hop on guided snowcoach or snowmobile tours, though West Yellowstone is the true mecca for oversnow enthusiasts.

Seeing the Sights
Heritage and Research Center: This treasure trove of Yellowstone history houses 720,000 cultural and historic items, an archaeology lab, herbarium, research library, and the park’s archives. You can drop in to see the historic exhibits anytime, but I highly recommend reserving a spot on the free, twice-weekly behind-the-scenes tour (late May to early Sept Tues and Thurs at 8:30am) for an up-close look at wildlife specimens, rare native plants, historic photos, original Thomas Moran sketches, and more. 
 
Where to Stay

Gardiner has long been known for friendly, no-frills lodging, and there are still plenty of options in that category to be found. A few higher-end properties crop up in recent years, and several chain hotels maintain a presence. If you’re planning on a guided tour while in town, check with your outfitter about lodging: Some of them offer rooms on the side.

Comfort Inn, 107 Hellroaring St. (406/848-7536; www.choicehotels.com), makes an effort to look like it fits in, with log walls and antlered heads mounted in the lobby. Doubles go for $260 to $280. Gardiner’s Super 8, 702 Scott St. W. (406/848-7401; www.wydhamhotels.com), is the most affordable of the bunch, with doubles for $192 to $202. Rodeway Inn & Suites, 109 Hellroaring St. (406/848-7520; www.choicehotels.com), and Best Western Mammoth Hot Springs, 905 Scott St. W. (406/848-7311; www.bestwestern.com), are a bit spendier, with double rooms from $240 to $300.

The family-run Hillcrest Cottages, 400 Scott St. W. (406/848-7353; www.hillcrestcottages.com), are a good bet for budget-minded travelers: You get a stand-alone cottage with a kitchenette for a nice price, but be aware some are very small. Units go for $92 to $195, May to early Oct only. Cowboy’s Lodge, 208 Stone St. (406/848-9178; www.cowboyslodge.com), offers a variety of options, from in-town suites to log cabins to roomy villas. Prices range from $185 for a suite to $525 for a four-bedroom rental house.

Where to Eat

Here in sleepy Gardiner, the dining scene is all about starting your day with a hearty breakfast and ending it with burgers, steaks, and barbecue. Early wildlife-watchers can grab a quick coffee and breakfast, plus to-go lunches, at the tiny Tumbleweed Bookstore and Café, 501 Scott St. W. ( 406/848-2225). The Corral Drive-In, 711 Scott St. W. (406/848-7627), stands out among burger joints for its commitment to local and organic ingredients, and believe it or not, the best place for ice cream is Yellowstone Perk inside Gardiner Pharmacy at 208 E. Park St. (406/848-9430).
 

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.