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We love visiting Yellowstone in winter, in fact it’s our favorite time to go. Gardiner, at Yellowstone’s North Entrance, makes an ideal base camp for Yellowstone National Park winter tours.
More than just an entrance to Yellowstone, however, there are a lot of fun things to do in Gardiner, MT and the surrounding area.
We spent four days exploring Gardiner, the Tom Miner Basin, and enjoying winter at Yellowstone. I am so excited to share our experience with you!
This article will cover:
- When to Visit Yellowstone National Park
- How to Access Yellowstone and Gardiner in Winter
- Yellowstone Winter Tours
- Hot Springs for Soaking
- Where to Ski and Snowshoe in Yellowstone and Around Gardiner
- Best Restaurants in Gardiner, Montana
- Hotels in Gardiner, MT
When To Visit Yellowstone National Park and Gardiner
The short answer to when you should visit Yellowstone and Gardiner is any time you can get out here.
Spring is full of baby animals, but the weather tends to be cold and wet/snowy and many of the hotels, stores, and restaurants inside the park are closed. Summer is lovely, warm, and everything is open, but the park can get crowded. Fall can bring cool, crisp weather and fewer crowds. The aspens, cottonwoods, and willows turn red and gold, but park amenities begin to close and storms can close roads.
Winter trips to Yellowstone are my favorite. A blanket of snow beautifies and quiets and already gorgeous park. Wolves follow bison and elk to the valleys and are easier to spot. Park amenities at Mammoth and Old Faithful are open for the season, and there are many fewer visitors.
Traveling to Gardiner and Yellowstone at Winter
Gardiner is adjacent to the only entrance open to vehicles in winter, which is why it’s our favorite basecamp for Yellowstone tours in winter.
You can drive to Gardiner from the north on Highway 89, drive into Mammoth Hot Springs, through the park, and out to Silver Gate and Cooke City, Montana. While the Northeast Entrance is technically open to cars, it can only be accessed through the park (and Gardiner) as the roads to the east are closed at Cooke City.
From Mammoth, you can catch a Yellowstone snowcoach tour to cross-country ski from Indian Creek Campground, to Old Faithful, or to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
Wolf Watching in Yellowstone Park Winter
One of the best Yellowstone tours winter had to offer is to see wildlife — especially, wolves. On our latest trip, we went wolf watching with Yellowstone Wolf Tracker. Our guide, Jaimie, picked us up in Gardiner and drove us out to the Lamar Valley.
Snow in Yellowstone makes it easier to see wildlife and it forces animals down into the valleys. We saw coyotes, foxes, big horn sheep, elk, bison, and wolves. Plus birds and spectacular scenery.
Jaimie served hot drinks and a big breakfast in between setting up spotting scopes and sharing his vast knowledge of Yellowstone’s wildlife and natural history.
Other Yellowstone tours winter options include winter photography tours, geyser basin tours, ski tours, and more.
Yellowstone Hot Springs in Winter
If you are visiting Yellowstone in the winter, I highly recommend soaking in hot springs. There are a few choices for both undeveloped and developed hot potting (that’s what you call soaking in a hot spring).
The only hot spring in the park, which you can easily access and soak in, is the Boiling River. Located about halfway between Gardiner and Mammoth, it’s a 0.05 mile hike to a place where the Boiling River flows into the Gardner River. Rocks have been piled up making pools for soaking. Learn more about visiting the Boiling River.
Our Yellowstone winter trips have started to include a new, developed hot spring called Yellowstone Hot Springs. It’s located about ten minutes northwest of Gardiner along the Yellowstone River. There are 4,000 square feet of mineral hot springs divided into a big pool (102-degrees F) with two smaller pools inside it (one is a cold pool at 67-70-degrees F, the other is hotter than the main pool at 104-degrees F) and a kneipp walk.
Chico Hot Springs is about a 25 minute drive north of Gardiner. Chico Hot Springs Resort is a turn-of-the-century, rustic, retreat snuggled into the Absaroka Mountains. Chico features an outdoor swimming pool and an attached, covered soaking pool. There are several lodging options, and a restaurant, bar, and grille.
Read more about hot springs in Montana.
Ski and Snowshoe Montana and Yellowstone Snow
In winter, Yellowstone Park comes alive with opportunities to explore in the snow. Our favorite way to get around is on skis and snowshoes.
On our recent trip, we got to stay at B-Bar Ranch in the Tom Miner Basin. It’s about 40 minutes northwest of Gardiner, tucked into the Gallatin Mountains.
There are four vacation rentals available at B-Bar Ranch. We stayed in the cozy West Wing.
Whether or not you stay in one of the cabins, you can ski or snowshoe on the groomed cross-country ski trails.
B-Bar Ranch has around 14 miles (22.5 kilometers) of groomed ski trails and another 5.1 miles (8.2 kilometers) of backcountry trails. The terrain ranges from easy to advanced, meadows to mountains. The best part about cross-country skiing at B-Bar Ranch is the view. The Tom Miner Basin has to be one of the prettiest places in a gorgeous ecosystem.
Another place we like to ski or snowshoe is around the Upper Terrace Loop Ski Trail at Mammoth Hot Springs. The 1.5 mile (2.4 kilometer) loop starts at the Upper Terrace parking lot and follows the Upper Terrace Loop Drive.
For a mellower uphill and steeper downhill, ski the loop counter clockwise. Along the way, you’ll pass hot spring formations including White Elephant Back and Orange Mound.
We tend to ski clockwise so we end near the Mammoth Terraces where we can take off skis and walk down to some of the hot springs. You also get a nice view over Mammoth, Gardiner, and into the Absaroka Mountains.
You can access the Snow Pass Trail from the groomed loop. It’s 4.2 miles on ungroomed trail and quite a climb up to Swan Lake Flats. The trail is rated “most difficult.”
See other places to cross-country ski in Montana.
Renting Skis and Snowshoes in Gardiner and Yellowstone
- Park’s Fly Shop rents classic cross-country skis, backcountry skis, and snowshoes. 202 Second Street South
- Bear Den Ski Shop in the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel rents skis and snowshoes, as well as offering lessons.
Many of the shops in Gardiner stay open for winter in Yellowstone. We took a little time one afternoon to just walk through town. These aren’t all the shops in Gardiner, but it will give you an idea of what’s available.
Many shops do have shorter winter hours, so be sure to check if you have your heart set on a particular place.
Park’s Fly Shop has everything for and about fly fishing and it turns into a ski and snowshoe hub in the winter. Rent skis and snowshoes here or book a winter fishing trip. It’s the oldest business in Gardiner under continuous family ownership. 202 Second Street South
Yellowstone Perk and Gardiner Pharmacy is a pharmacy, ice cream parlor, and coffee shop. They also sell hand crafted and locally made gifts and souvenirs. 208 Park Street
Kellem’s Montana Saddlery is a working saddle shop with tack, chaps, chinks, leather care, and horse care products. They also sell Western clothing and have a great selection of hats, belts, gloves, purses, scarves, jewelry, buckles, and Western gifts. 214 Park Street
Yellowstone Wild Gallery features the fine art photography of C. Thomas Hoff. 222 Park Street
Yellowstone Forever is the official non-profit partner to Yellowstone National Park. We stop here frequently to see the displays as well as shop for books, puzzles, and Yellowstone gifts. 308 Park Street
One of the nice things about staying in Gardiner is being able to walk to restaurants and shops. Unless we are going into the park, we leave our car and get around on foot. Even if you stay in the park, it’s nice to come out to Gardiner and enjoy the selection of restaurants.
There are a bunch of Gardiner, MT restaurants, but here are a few of our favorites.
Wonderland Cafe and Lodge is a newer restaurant and a great addition to the Gardiner food scene. The cozy atmosphere is both fun and inviting. The focus on local and farm to table food makes us feel good about eating there. They serve local beer and coffee. 206 Main Street
K-Bar Pizza is a long time favorite of ours for pizza and beer (or lemonade). Whether we are visiting Yellowstone winter or summer, we like to stop at this family-friendly bar and restaurant. 202 Main Street
Yellowstone Grill is a good place for a quick breakfast or lunch. They serve fresh food, baked goods, breakfast, burritos, tacos, wraps, and specials. 404 Scott Street
Yellowstone Mine Restaurant was new to us on our most recent stay in Gardiner. It has a fun min theme and good, Western meals. They serve steaks, seafood, pastas, and more. 901 Scott Street West
Gardiner Montana Hotels and Lodging
For Yellowstone winter lodging, Gardiner is a convenient and lovely place to stay. Options range from small, boutique hotels, to bigger hotels, to cottages, and vacation rentals.
We stayed at the Yellowstone Park Hotel – a 9-room hotel in a historic 1902 building. There are a lot of Western and Yellowstone touches. We stayed in the family room, which had a small kitchen in one room and a queen bed, bunk bed, couch, and TV in the other. It was perfectly set up for families. In the landing outside the suite, we found Yellowstone books, board games, and a bowl of candy, which all made the kids happy.
Have I convinced you that Gardiner is a great base camp for visiting Yellowstone in winter? There is so much to see and do and great access to the park. If you have questions about planning your own trip to Yellowstone, be sure to ask!