This post may contain compensated links. Find more info in my disclosure.
This post is sponsored by Montana’s Yellowstone Country Tourism Region.
When most people think of Montana, they think of Yellowstone National Park. But there’s another gem in Montana that deserves some attention – Cooke City. This small town, located just outside Yellowstone, is the perfect place to explore if you’re looking for an outdoor adventure. And what better time to visit than winter? Here are some ideas of things to do in Cooke City, Montana in winter.
Getting to Cooke City in Winter
Cooke City is located about three miles from the Northeast Entrance to Yellowstone National Park. It’s the closest gateway town to the wildlife-rich Lamar Valley.
The only way to access Cooke City in the winter is via Gardiner, Montana, through Yellowstone. We sometimes think of the road between Livingston, Montana, and Cooke City as a giant cul-de-sac – once you leave Livingston there are no outlets.
- Livingston, MT to Cooke City MT – 110 miles, 2 hours 35 minutes (if the roads are good and you don’t stop).
- Gardiner, MT to Cooke City, MT – 55 miles, 1 hour 35 minutes (if the roads are good and you don’t stop).
History of Cooke City, Montana
The area we now know as Cooke City and Silver Gate was the homeland of the Apsaalooké (Crow) people.
The town was founded in 1880 by gold miners who were looking for their fortune in the nearby mountains and streams. The town’s prospects faded when the gold rush failed, but it was revived as a tourism destination thanks to its proximity to Yellowstone National Park.
Cooke City is the highest town in Montana (7,708 feet). Cooke is usually paired with the neighboring community of Silver Gate and between the two of them — usually referred to as Cooke City-Silver Gate — they have a population of roughly 140 people.
Silver Gate was founded in 1932 as a place to serve people visiting Yellowstone. Construction requirements meant that the buildings had to be rustic and of log architecture, which gives Silver Gate so much of its charm.
Today, Cooke City – Silver Gate is an enchanting area with plenty of activities to keep you entertained all winter long.
A couple of things to note:
- There is no cell service in either town. Once you pass Slough Creek in Yellowstone you are out of service for quite a while. The wifi in Silver Gate is satellite and slow. Don’t plan to stream videos or otherwise take up a lot of bandwidth. For some reason, the wifi in Cooke City is better.
- Because both towns are at a pretty high altitude to start, any time you snowshoe, ski, snowmobile, or even walk around, you are gaining elevation. If you aren’t used to it, you may be short of breath. Go slowly and let yourself adjust.
- Drink lots of water and wear sunscreen at all times of the year. Between the altitude and the aridity, you’ll need it.
- If the visitor center in Cooke City (Cooke City Montana Museum or Cooke City Chamber) is open stop by. The historical displays are well done and present a good overview of the history of the area. Plus, you’ll get lots of good information about what to do from the staff. And there’s wifi. Even if they are closed, there are some neat displays outside that you can explore. The restrooms are always open.
If you want to see what Cooke City looks like right now, there is more than one Cooke City webcam:
Things to do in Cooke City, Montana in Winter
Cooke City is all about outdoor activities. Make sure you are prepared for winter conditions.
Regardless of where you choose to venture out, be sure to check the local conditions before heading off into the mountains. Bring extra layers of clothing, plenty of water, and snacks.
Check out my other site to find things to do in Cooke City and Silver Gate year-round.
Snowshoeing in Cooke City
There are a few trails around Cooke City that are perfect for snowshoeing. Most of these trails also get ski and/or snowmobile use, so be considerate of other users.
In addition to Wood Creek Falls, the trails listed in the cross-country skiing section are nice for snowshoeing. Just remember to stay out of the ski tracks.
Woody Creek Falls (3 miles round trip)
Woody Falls is a lovely three-tiered waterfall that drops 150 feet. From downtown Cooke City, turn south onto Republic Road. There is a parking area on both sides of the road before the fenced park (don’t cross the bridge).
Snowshoe east past the transfer station and the Avalanche Park and then south to the trailhead (about five minutes or less). Snowshoe up the jeep road for five or so minutes to a trail on the left. If you continue on the jeep road you’ll wind through a bunch of old mining equipment, which is kind of cool. But, take the trail on the left and climb for about 1.25 miles to the waterfall.
Silver Creek Falls (in the frozen waterfall section below) is a nice snowshoe walk, too
Cross-Country Ski Near Cooke City
Republic Creek Trail (3-9 miles round trip)
From Cooke City, turn south on Republic Road and park before the bridge. Ski along the road, over Soda Butte Creek, and past the junction with the Bannock Trail. Ski south along Republic Creek on a fairly mellow trail. At 1.5 miles you’ll reach a meadow, which makes a good turnaround place for a 3-mile tour.
Bannock Trail (2 + miles one-way)
You can access the Bannock Trail from several places: Warm Creek Picnic Area in Yellowstone, the south end of Monument Avenue in Silver Gate, or near the Republic Creek Trailhead (see above) in Cooke City. To begin at the Warm Creek Picnic Area, park one mile west of the Northeast Entrance.
After crossing Soda Butte Creek, the trail follows the old road bed that was once used to supply the mining town of Cooke City, Montana. This trail takes its name from the Bannock band of the Shoshone, who used this route to reach the buffalo grounds of the Great Plains.
The terrain is mostly flat and the trail traverses open meadows and mixed conifer forests. You will reach the North Absaroka Wilderness approximately 1 mile from the trailhead. At two miles you come to Silver Gate, Montana. From here the roadbed is used as a snowmobile route and is good skiing to Cooke City, 3 miles to the east.
Barronette Trail (3.5 miles one-way)
The Barronette Trail is a 3.5 mile (5.6 km) section of the Old Cooke City road. The trailheads are located at the upper and lower Soda Butte bridges on the Northeast Road, 3 and 6.5 miles (4.8 and 10.5 km) respectively from the Northeast Entrance.
The trail winds through mostly in conifer forests beneath Barronette Peak, named for Jack Barronett, an early Yellowstone guide and army scout. In addition to guiding and scouting, Barronett constructed and operated a toll bridge over the Yellowstone River near Tower Junction during the Cooke City mining period.
The mountain views are dreamy and the snow is almost always great. I have lost this trail in the willows near the creek before, so keep an eye out for the blazes, and don’t necessarily depend on ski tracks (they could be mine!) Check for current conditions especially avalanche conditions and, in late winter, grizzly bears.
Backcountry Skiing in Cooke City
There are a lot of backcountry skiing opportunities in the mountains around Cooke City. Especially if you can snowmobile to them. You really need to know what you are doing to backcountry ski and be informed about current avalanche conditions.
Backcountry ski guides can you get into the mountains safely. My dream trip is to go backcountry skiing with Beartooth Powder Guides and spend a couple of nights in either their cabin or their yurt. Yellowstone Ski Tours also offers custom ski tours.
Find Frozen Waterfalls in Cooke City
I put Woody Creek Falls in the snowshoeing section (there is a lot of overlap here), but it is obviously a waterfall and could be included here.
Find trail descriptions and maps to all of these waterfalls in Robert Stone’s Day Hikes in the Beartooth Mountains, available in most local bookstores or on Amazon or Bookshop.org.
Silver Falls (2 miles round trip)
Silver Falls is a delicate waterfall that originates out of Mineral Mountain and Meridian Peak and flows into Soda Butte Creek. The trail is a little tough to find. Park one mile east of the Yellowstone Northeast Entrance Station on Highway 212. Walk 0.1 mile west and look for the unpaved road to the north. Walk up to the power lines and go left for 20 yards to an arrow pointing right. Follow that footpath through the forest to a three-way split. Go straight to another arrow and turn left on a distinct, but narrow trail. The trail curves to the right and to a T-junction. Turn left at the arrow sign and you’ll soon reach the banks of Silver Creek. Follow the creek upstream to the falls.
Bridal Falls (2.4 miles round trip)
This 40-foot plunge is one of my favorite waterfalls near Cooke City, and even more so when it is frozen. The trail to the falls is an easy .6 miles round trip in the summer, but in winter you need to get there from the Bannock Trail.
This waterfall makes you feel like you are in fairytale land, but be careful of the slippery, snow-covered rocks as you approach.
Ski or snowshoe south on Monument Avenue in Silver Gate 0.2 miles to a left on Bannock. Continue 0.8 miles to the Wyoming Creek bridge. Cross the bridge to find the trail.
Sheep Creek Falls (0.6 miles round trip)
Sheep Creek Falls is right off the road, but the trail is a little sketchy. Fortunately, if you walk up the right side of the creek you will get there. (This is the waterfall in the video above.) Park on the south side of the road just west of the Sheep Creek Bridge on Highway 212. It’s about 1.6 miles east of Silver Gate and 1.1 miles west of Cooke City. Cross the road and look for a little trail on the east (right) side of the creek going up a hill. Walk upstream until you see the magnificent waterfall. How close you get depends on how high the water is and how comfortable you are clambering over fallen logs and crossing the creek. The view on the way back is worth the trek in itself.
Wildlife watching in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley is something you’ll never forget. Silver Gate is the closest community to the fabled “Serengeti of America,” and is a good base camp for watching wildlife in the park.
We’ve seen bears, bison, moose, and an assortment of smaller critters right in Silver Gate and Cooke City.
As you drive through the Lamar Valley on your way to and from Cooke City, keep an eye out for wildlife or people clustered around spotting scopes and binoculars. Winter is the best time to see wolves in Yellowstone.
I always love having a guide for wildlife watching or wolf watching in Yellowstone. I haven’t used any of these tour companies, but they guide from Cooke City (I have always gone from Gardiner.).
Art Galleries and Literature in Cooke City
You weren’t expecting that, were you? One of my favorite galleries is Dan and Cindy Hartman’s photography gallery in Silver Gate. Wildlife Along the Rockies is pretty informal, so stop by and knock on the door. The wolf and other wildlife photos show their love of the Greater Yellowstone Area and intimate knowledge of their backyard. You can often see pine martens and a variety of birds at the feeders on their deck.
If the Cooke City Visitor Center is open, it is worth a look. There are a lot of old photos and memorabilia. If it is closed, check out the sculptures, mining equipment, and artifacts of historical significance located outside the building.
If you are looking for books, Cooke City Coffee has a great selection of local and regional books and authors. At the transfer station, there is a whole bookcase of books locals have discarded and need new homes.
Where to Eat in Cooke City in Winter
Bear Claw Cafe
The Bear Claw is part homemade cafe and part snowmobile parts and service. The breakfasts are delicious and keep you going for the day. Get there early(ish) because when they run out of food, they’re done.
Cooke City Coffee
While they probably serve a great breakfast here, we usually end up here for lunch (there aren’t many restaurants open in the middle of the day in winter). The food is great, the people are friendly, and I love the selection of books in the small back room on local and regional topics.
“The Miner” is my go-to in Cooke City. It looks like a biker bar, and sometimes it is, but they serve a wide variety of craft beers, farm-to-table meals, and really good pizza. It’s family-friendly until about 8 pm.
Snowmobile in Cooke City
Snowmobiling isn’t our thing – we are more interested in bipedal movement, however, the vast majority of people visiting Cooke City in winter are there to snowmobile. In fact, many people use snowmobiles to get around town in winter.
If you are looking for a Cooke City snowmobile rental, try
- Beartooth Adventures/Cooke City Motorsports
- Tread N’ Trails at the Cooke City Exxon
For guided snowmobile tours, try:
Where to Stay in Cooke City in Winter
You can check out other lodgings in Cooke City – Silver Gate here.
Check out my other site to find things to do in Cooke City and Silver Gate year-round.
Other Resources for Planning Your Winter Cooke City Trip
- Cooke City Weather Forecast
- Cooke City Snow and Avalanche Reports
- Yellowstone National Park Road Conditions
- By the way, Gardiner also makes a great base camp for visiting Yellowstone in winter.
FAQs About Visiting Cooke City in Winter
Can you get to Cooke City in the winter?
Yes! While two of the three routes into Cooke City are closed in winter, Highway 212 from Gardiner (via Yellowstone National Park) to Cooke City is open.
Can you drive from Gardiner to Cooke City in the winter?
You can! As I mentioned, you can drive from Gardiner, Montana to Cooke City, Montana through Yellowstone National Park.
What is there to do in Cooke City in the winter?
There is a lot to do in Cooke City in winter, especially if you like being outside. Scroll up for all of my favorite activities.
Is Cooke City worth visiting?
Cooke City is a remote and wild little town and well worth the effort it takes to get there. You’ll feel like you are in a Hallmark movie or a snow globe.
What is Cooke City known for?
Cooke City is best known for its close proximity to the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park. It’s also a great destination for snowmobiling and winter outdoor activities.
It is famous for the road that connects Cooke City with Red Lodge. Called “the most scenic drive in America”, the Beartooth Pass on U.S. Highway 212 has dramatic switchbacks traversing the spectacular Beartooth Range. But, you’ll have to visit in summer for that.
Cooke City is the highest town in Montana at 7,600 feet.
Can you see wildlife in Cooke City in winter?
Yes, although it is harder to spot wildlife in winter due to the deep snow. Actually, it isn’t harder to see wildlife, it’s harder to get to places where you might spot wildlife. You can see bighorn sheep, mountain goats, moose, wolves, ermines, deer, and more. Keep an eye out while you are snowmobiling or skiing in the area.
Are there wolves in Cooke City?
Yes, the area around Cooke City is home to a healthy population of wolves which can often be seen in the winter months if you’re lucky.
What waterfalls are near Cooke City MT?
There are a lot of waterfalls in the area around Cooke City thanks to steep mountains and lots of creeks and rivers. Scroll up to read about some of my favorite waterfalls to visit.