From Livingston To Yellowstone, 14 Best Stops In Paradise Valley, Montana (2024)

Paradise Valley links Livingston, Montana, with Gardiner, Montana, and the North Entrance to Yellowstone National Park — the only entrance open all year to private vehicles. Paradise Valley is certainly scenic with the Yellowstone River running through a fertile valley with rustic barns and majestic mountains towering over the valley on either side.

Traveling through Paradise Valley reminds me of the adage “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” And the journey can easily be tailored to your interests. For avid fishermen, Paradise Valley is a dream come true. For those who love a leisurely soak in natural hot springs, you’re in luck. And for all of us who enjoy photographing beautiful scenery and wildlife, Paradise Valley is worth the drive whether you travel on U.S. Highway 89 South or the East River Road — Highway 540.

No matter the season, Paradise Valley is a perfect place to spend a few hours or a whole weekend. Here are the best stops along the way, beginning in Livingston, Montana.

From Livingston To Yellowstone, 14 Best Stops In Paradise Valley, Montana (1)

1. Livingston’s Historic Downtown

If you saw the 1992 movie A River Runs Through It, you’ve seen Livingston. Tidy brick buildings line Livingston’s main thoroughfare, Park Street, across from its 1902 railroad depot. As early visitors to Yellowstone National Park arrived by train, the town grew to include hotels, restaurants, and shops. Passenger trains no longer drop visitors off here, but the town continues to thrive because of its proximity to Yellowstone and its access to outdoor activities.

Vintage neon signs still hang from many of the well-preserved downtown buildings, like the ones at Gil’s Goods and the Murray Hotel. Gil’s serves a great breakfast, and the historic hotel is accessible and has pet-friendly rooms.

From Livingston To Yellowstone, 14 Best Stops In Paradise Valley, Montana (2)

2. The Yellowstone Gateway Museum

Located in a 1906 schoolhouse, the Yellowstone Gateway Museum has exhibits that range from Native American artifacts to those of early pioneers, including a display on the Lewis and Clark Expedition that passed through the area in 1806.

The “Pull Up a Chair — Tales from the Seats of History” exhibit uses 29 things people sat on (saddles, chairs, stools, and a wheelchair) to tell historical tales from the county. Visitors then cast votes for their favorite seat.

Pro Tip: Allow one to two hours for your visit. Outdoor exhibits are ADA compliant, but the building is not yet wheelchair accessible.

3. The Fly Fishers International Museum

This museum displays antique fishing rods, reels, and baskets. Works of art include M. C. Simon trout watercolors and framed tied-flies by noted fishermen Art Flick and Bernard “Lefty” Kreh.

Pro Tip: Allow 30 minutes for your visit. The museum is ADA compliant.

4. The Original Rib and Chop House

If you’re in Livingston for dinner, have a steak at the original Montana Rib and Chop House — farm to fork at its finest. Besides beef, the restaurant serves chicken, pork, and seafood. Vegetarians can put together a tasty meal, but options are limited.

Pro Tip: The restaurant is wheelchair accessible.

From Livingston To Yellowstone, 14 Best Stops In Paradise Valley, Montana (3)

5. Tom Miner Basin And Petrified Forest

The grizzly bear population has rebounded from a low of 600 to 800 bears in the lower 48 states to an estimated 2,000. If your ultimate destination is Yellowstone, you may see grizzlies there and may find trails closed due to bear activity.

Outside of the park, 8 miles off U.S. Highway 89, Tom Miner Basin attracts bears, particularly in the fall, because the roots of caraway plants that grow here are a prized food source for grizzlies.

As a child, my family camped in Tom Miner Basin — long before the growing population of grizzlies reoccupied the area. My parents were drawn to the area because of the other wildlife — black bears, mountain sheep, and mountain goats. But the biggest reason to visit was to explore the 50-million-year-old petrified trees that still stand here.

Pro Tip: Tom Miner Campground has 16 campsites and ADA-compliant restrooms. Given the bear population, I wouldn’t sleep in a tent — but I’m a chicken when it comes to bears.

6. The East River Road

About five miles south of Livingston, the East River Road (Highway 540) branches off U.S. Highway 89 South. Traffic is heavy on Highway 89, particularly in the summer. Few visitors take the East River Road. If you do, you’ll be rewarded with the same beautiful views of the valley, and the mountains that rise on each side (Absarokas on the east and Gallatins on the west), but with less congestion.

Pro Tip: Three roads link the two highways that parallel each other so you can easily go back and forth depending on which stops you want to make.

7. Fishing Access Points

The Yellowstone River flows between U.S. Highway 89 and the East River Road. Enjoy year-round fly fishing for trout in the Yellowstone River and Spring Creeks. This map shows a number of Yellowstone River access points between Livingston and Gardiner.

If you prefer a guided fishing excursion, Montana Anglers will help you have a great fishing day in Paradise Valley (and any fisherman will say the worst day fishing is better than the best day working). Montana Anglers offers year-round fishing tours provided the temperature is above about 30 degrees Fahrenheit.

From Livingston To Yellowstone, 14 Best Stops In Paradise Valley, Montana (4)

8. Watch For Wildlife

Yellowstone National Park’s animals know no boundaries. Along the Yellowstone River, you’re apt to see bald eagles and migratory birds, sandhill cranes and pelicans. Elk frequent the area between Yankee Jim Canyon at the southern end of Paradise Valley and Gardiner, 15 miles south.

Editor’s Note: As you plan your trip, consider our tips for safely viewing wildlife in national parks.

9. Pine Creek Trail

On the east side of East River Road, the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness stretches on for miles. A popular hiking trail leads to Pine Creek Falls over fairly level terrain and follows Pine Creek. The hike to the falls is 2.5 miles out and back. The trail continues 4 miles with a lot of elevation gain to a pristine alpine lake.

Pro Tip: Traveling on East River Road, look for signs to Pine Creek Recreation Area/Lucco*ck Park Road soon after you pass Pine Creek schoolhouse. Be bear aware as you hike — make noise and carry bear spray. Allow one to two hours for the hike to the falls.

10. Emigrant

The site of a small gold rush, Emigrant Gulch and the town that grew up as a result of mining survives now on tourism and outdoor recreation. It’s roughly midway between Livingston and Gardiner, off U.S. Highway 89. If you’re making a whole day of the trip between Livingston and Gardiner, Emigrant has a few restaurants to check out. The Wildflour Bakery makes breakfast and desserts from scratch. Follow Yer Nose BBQ serves award-winning barbecue. Both are closed during “freezin’ season.”

11. Chico Hot Springs

Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding area are active geothermal areas. Yellowstone is home to a giant volcanic caldera. Chico Hot Springs Resort and Day Spa has captured this naturally heated mineral water in two outdoor pools.

The resort opened in 1900, but the hot springs were a place to wash “dirty duds” well before that according to an 1865 diary left by a local miner, John S. Hackney. From its humble beginning as two wooden tubs filled with hot mineral water, the resort has expanded to a hotel, cabins, fine-dining and casual restaurants, a bar with live entertainment, and the pools that allow for amazing stargazing if you opt to spend the night.

Pro Tip: Located at the southern end of East River Road, the resort has ADA-compliant rooms and pools. Cell service is spotty, so sit back and enjoy being unplugged while you’re there.

From Livingston To Yellowstone, 14 Best Stops In Paradise Valley, Montana (5)

12. Yellowstone Heritage And Research Center

Located in Gardiner, this is not a typical museum but rather a repository for artifacts collected in Yellowstone National Park. It is an affiliate of the National Archives and has within its collection about 720,000 artifacts that are rotated through temporary exhibits, including “Archeology on Ice,” which is slated for this summer.

The center’s artifacts span centuries with arrowheads from Native American hunters that are 11,000 years old to a collection of 150 wolf skulls collected since wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the 1990s. Diaries from early explorers and a collection of watercolors painted by Thomas Moran during the 1871 Hayden Expedition are in the collection.

Pro Tip: Call (307) 344-2264 or visit their website for information about the hour-long behind-the-scenes tour of the museum that will happen on Wednesdays at 2 p.m. during the summer once the park’s visitor facilities reopen. The building is ADA compliant.

13. Yellowstone Hot Springs

If you haven’t had your fill of hot springs, Yellowstone Hot Springs is located 7.5 miles north of Gardiner. Three natural mineral water pools give you a choice of temperatures — from the 60-degree Fahrenheit cold plunge pool to the 104-degree hot pool. The main pool is a perfect 98 to 100 degrees.

Pro Tip: The facilities are ADA compliant.

14. Yellowstone River Float

Cool off in the Yellowstone River with either whitewater rafting or a scenic float. The Yellowstone River is one of the longest undammed rivers in the continental U.S. Paradise Adventure Company, based in Gardiner, offers rafting, horseback riding, and trips combining the two.

Pro Tip: They can accommodate differently abled individuals on their raft trips. Allow about two hours for float trips. Reservations are required.

From Livingston To Yellowstone, 14 Best Stops In Paradise Valley, Montana (2024)


Is Livingston a good base for Yellowstone? ›

While Bozeman might be the better-known base camp for a Southwest Montana experience, it's Livingston that truly encapsulates the best of a small, old western town. Along the Yellowstone River and nestled between stunning mountain ranges, Livingston is bursting with charm.

What is the closest entrance to Yellowstone from Livingston MT? ›

Gardiner is easily accessed by automobile. From the north, take U.S. Highway 89 from Livingston, Montana. Follow the beautiful Paradise Valley along the Yellowstone River for 53 miles until you reach Gardiner and the North Entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

What is the most scenic route into Yellowstone? ›

Beartooth Highway

One of the most dramatic approaches to Yellowstone, this National Scenic Byway winds a 68-mile serpentine route between Red Lodge and Cooke City, Montana.

What is the most scenic entrance to Yellowstone? ›

The East Entrance to Yellowstone has long been a favorite, and that's because it is the most untamed and wild entrance to the park. Once leaving from Cody, visitors take what is known as the “Northfork” 54 miles deep into the wilderness to the official entrance of Yellowstone.

Is Bozeman a good place to stay when visiting Yellowstone? ›

Home to MSU, Bozeman is a college town rich with arts, culture, and outdoor recreation opportunities. Big city amenities make Bozeman a great basecamp for visiting Yellowstone National Park. Why should I visit Bozeman? The character and charm of this college town are hard to miss.

What is the best base city for Yellowstone? ›

West Yellowstone is a popular and well-known gateway town to Yellowstone. Located at the west entrance, it's closest to the majority of the Park's most popular hydrothermal features, including Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic Spring.

What is the number one attraction at Yellowstone? ›

Old Faithful is one of the most iconic symbols of Yellowstone and is likely to be at the top of your itinerary. This world-renowned geyser erupts every hour and a half, so make sure you plan accordingly and get a good viewing spot.

Where is the prettiest part of Yellowstone? ›

One of the most incredible views in Yellowstone is along the Northeast Entrance road in the northeastern section of the park. You can literally park your car at any pull-off along the road in Lamar Valley, get out your binoculars and spend hours watching the best wildlife show in the country.

How long does it take to drive the loop in Yellowstone? ›

How long does it take to drive the loop in Yellowstone? The Grand Loop takes 4 to 7 hours to drive depending on stops, wildlife traffic jams and other factors.

What side of Yellowstone is best to stay on? ›

I think staying at Canyon and Mammoth or Old Faithful and Roosevelt can set you up for a super visit to Yellowstone. If you really want to stay in one place the whole time, choose the Canyon Area (inside the park) or West Yellowstone (outside the park) for the most central locations.

Where should I go for the first time in Yellowstone? ›

Here are our top five must-see destinations in Yellowstone National Park.
  • Old Faithful Area. The world's largest concentration of active geysers is here. ...
  • Lamar Valley. One of the best places for spotting wildlife in Yellowstone. ...
  • Canyon Village. ...
  • Norris Geyser Basin. ...
  • Yellowstone Lake.
Nov 30, 2023

What is the least busy entrance to Yellowstone? ›

The area of Yellowstone closest to the East Entrance is a lot quieter than other parts of the park. Once you pass through the entrance, you'll continue seeing gorgeous geology and foliage all the way to the lake.

Where is the best place to camp in Yellowstone? ›

Due to its central location, nearby rivers, and long season (typically from early May to mid-October), Madison Campground is one of Yellowstone's most popular reservable campgrounds. Situated at an elevation of 6,800 feet, it's located around 16 miles north of Old Faithful and 14 miles east of West Yellowstone.

Which side of Yellowstone is best to stay on? ›

I think staying at Canyon and Mammoth or Old Faithful and Roosevelt can set you up for a super visit to Yellowstone. If you really want to stay in one place the whole time, choose the Canyon Area (inside the park) or West Yellowstone (outside the park) for the most central locations.

Why visit Livingston, Montana? ›

Livingston delivers an eclectic blend of shops, museums, Golf course, galleries, live theater and music, as well as unique restaurants for every taste.

What city to stay when visiting Yellowstone? ›

Gardiner, MT

Gardiner is located at the park's North Entrance, providing fairly quick access to the Lamar Valley, Mammoth Hot Springs, and the famous Roosevelt Arch. It offers a range of lodging options, including campgrounds, hotels, and vacation rentals.

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