Wild West decor, neon business signs, the arts, and Hollywood glamour. Yes, Livingston has its own rugged charm and reputation in Montana, and this oft-overlooked town is a smart place to put on your Montana trip itinerary.
Why? Well, for starters Livingston is where A River Runs Through It was filmed. Yes, the movie that turned Brad Pitt into a bona fide movie star.
But Livingston is much more than just being a place that Robert Redford deemed the perfect setting for filming the movie. (Side note: the semi-autobiographical novella the movie is based on was mostly set in Missoula).
Livingston exudes the essence that makes small town Montana such a special part of the country.
The downtown area of Livingston has a main street with a western vibe, flanked by taverns and saloons and (of course) a couple souvenir shops thrown in.
But Livingston isn’t just a kitschy tourist town. It’s home to a strong community that makes their living mostly in the agriculture sector, but also has a number of artists and writers who call Livingston home. This dichotomy of working the land and creating art gives Livingston a special artistic vibe that still feels decidedly Montanan.
In addition, Livingston has a burgeoning food and drink scene that makes it a great choice to visit for those who want to discover the next hot place for dining before everyone else does.
Getting to Livingston
So where exactly is Livingston? It’s located about thirty minutes east of Bozeman — though keep in mind you’ll be driving over a mountain pass to get between the two cities so it can take longer depending on road conditions.
Bus service is available to Livingston via Streamline Bus to and from Bozeman. Your easiest way to get around is by car, though, particularly if you want to see any attractions located outside the city center of Livingston.
Can’t-Miss Things to Do in Livingston
Now that you’re itching to go to Livingston, here are the top 8 things you must do when visiting Livingston plus a fun day trip idea from Livingston.
Livingston Depot Center
Much of Livingston’s history is tied into the railroad. At one point Livingston’s train station served as the gateway point for travelers going to Yellowstone National Park. It also was a prominent hub between Seattle and Minneapolis.
Today, you can learn more about this history and see artifacts from the bygone era of train travel at the Depot Museum at the Livingston Depot Center.
Beyond the museum, you’ll see the old train tracks and can marvel at the beautiful building that houses the depot and was built in 1902 — the third depot to exist on this property and one that was prominently built in order to house the huge influx of passengers coming through Livingston at the time.
Livingston has long been a fly fishing hot spot for those in the know. When A River Runs Through It came out in 1992, it suddenly put Livingston on the map for fly fishing and its reputation as one of the best spots for fly fishing in Montana — and the world — still stands today.
Yellowstone River has the claim to fame for fly fishing in Livingston and the river runs right through (ha) the countryside to the southern and eastern sides of Livingston.
If you know what you’re doing, grab your fishing gear and head to the river for your chance of catching some trout — Livingston is one of only seven states that have the coveted blue-ribbon trout fishing designation that signifies high quality fisheries nearby and excellent fishing opportunities.
If you haven’t ever gone fly fishing before, you’d be wise to hire a guide. Check out Sweetwater Fly Shop or Dan Bailey’s for fly fishing tours out of Livingston.
Yellowstone River Activities in Livingston
Even if you’re not into fly fishing, Livingston is a prime place to check out the Yellowstone River, which is the longest un-dammed river in the country outside of Alaska.
For pretty river views, head to the Myers River View Trail, an easy 1-mile path that goes to the banks of the river with scenic farm views along the way. Adding to the intrigue of the trail are additions to it like benches and wind chimes created in a way that fits in with the natural setting.
If a walk isn’t adventurous enough for you and you want to get right onto the river rapids, then your best bet is to do some river kayaking or tubing on the Yellowstone. Watersports rentals for the Yellowstone River are located right in Livingston (check out Rubber Ducky River Rentals) and you’ll soon be on your way to an exhilarating ride down the river.
Caveat: Different parts of the river work better for different sports. The rapids ideal for kayaking may not be ideal for tubing. Check with the locals or sign up for a guided excursion to ensure you are navigating the river in as safe a manner as possible. River currents can be dangerous so it’s important to learn the nature of the water before you set out.
Get a Drink at Murray Bar
This bar is a legend in Livingston and is where both locals and visitors alike go for a pint or cocktail. It has a distinctly Montana vibe and often plays host to local bands and other live music acts.
Murray Bar is located in the historic Murray Hotel and is known for having served celebrities over the years who stay in the area to film movies. Non-celebrities will still enjoy the welcoming atmosphere, good drinks, and western flair of the bar.
Don’t miss the Murray Bar Flies, which is a wall dedicated to fly fishing photos and stories from the area.
——> Accommodation Tip: Stay in Murray Hotel and book early enough to get the popular Peckinpah Suite.
Breakfast at Pinky’s Cafe
While in Livingston, wake up early and beat the rush at Pinky’s Cafe, the most renowned place in the area to get some breakfast. The family-run restaurant prides itself on creative, homecooked food made with local ingredients and served with a smile.
The soothing farmhouse style interior makes this a great place to dine and it even attracts as regulars many of the authors and artists who live in the area.
Stroll Down Livingston’s Main Street
One of the best ways to get a sense of Livingston is to take a walk down Main Street, which cuts right through the center of downtown Livingston and is home to many of its most popular restuarants and shops.
As you amble down Main Street you’ll notice the perfectly Montanan dichotomy of the city: western wear stores and fly fishing shop located right by upscale boutiques and art galleries, while old historic dive bars make their home beside gourmet restaurants.
Another big part of Main Street are the art galleries and book stores popping up along the corridor and its side streets. More on that next.
Art and Literature in Livingston
Livingston is home to a plethora of art galleries featuring local artists. Check out Parks Reece Gallery for one artist’s surreal take on nature art while an amble through the exhibition hall at the Livingston Center for Art and Culture will showcase the artwork of many local artists, including students.
Danforth Museum of Art is a great place to see a wide range of art from the area in a non-gallery setting. The museum plays a large part in the local artist community and helps preserve the art culture of Livingston and Paradise Valley.
Literature also plays a big part in the culture of Livingston. Many authors call the Paradise Valley home, including local writer Walter Kirn. In addition to being a muse at times for writers, Livingston caters to readers, too, and is home to a few different bookstores — not an easy feat for a tiny city in these days of online shopping!
Elk River Books is run by a local poet and journalist and has a prominent collection of books for sale that features the west and western writers and also has a vegan juice bar in the back.
Sax and Fryer Co. is another bookstore in Livingston you shouldn’t miss out on perusing. It focuses on old world books, western writings, and children’s books.
Also, don’t miss a visit to the Livingston Park County Public Library. It’s housed in a gleaming columned building that dates back to 1904 and is one of the original Carnegie libraries.
Skiing Near Livingston
Ski where the locals go with a skiing excursion to Bridger Bowl.
If you’re in Livingston in the winter and want to hit the slopes for a day or two, your best bet is to head to Bridger Bowl, which is about a 40 minute drive northwest of Livingston. It’s a popular place for locals who live in Bozeman and Livingston to ski who want great runs and powder, but don’t want to deal with the out of towners at Big Sky Resort to the south (and which is about 90 minutes from Livingston).
Chico Hot Springs Day Trip From Livingston
A fun day trip from Livingston is Chico Hot Springs, located 30 minutes to the south. Chico Hot Springs is a resort and day spa that has — you guessed it — hot springs on its property. Get a day pass to soak in these relaxing pools fed by underground hot springs and then book yourself for a massage in the resort’s spa…followed by another soak in the pools. Chico Hot Springs has two large open-air natural mineral hot spring pools and you’ll no doubt have a hard time dragging yourself out of them!
When it is time to head back to Livingston, make a stop along the way at the Old Saloon in Emigrant, Montana for some live music and a drink in a bar that will make you feel like you’ve harkened back to the days of the wild west.
Have Fun in Livingston!
Livingston is one of the jewels of Yellowstone Country in Bozeman and its totally worth a stop if you visit Bozeman or Yellowstone National Park during your time in Montana. Just make sure you have a windbreaker jacket with you and maybe a hat — Livingston is known as the windiest city in Montana! Go prepared and you’re ready for a wonderful time exploring Livingston.