Can’t-Miss Things to Do in West Yellowstone, Montana
West Yellowstone is located right by the west entrance to Yellowstone National Park — easy name to remember, right? But West Yellowstone is more than just an entrance to America’s most famous national park.
Getting to West Yellowstone
West Yellowstone is located just a few minutes from the west entrance to the park, making it convenient for those who can’t aren’t staying in the park, but want quick access to the geothermal features on the west side of Yellowstone.
West Yellowstone is easy to get to from Bozeman and Big Sky; simply head down Hwy-191. This route also takes you through the gorgeous Gallatin Valley right alongside the Gallatin River. West Yellowstone is about an hour and 45 minutes from Bozeman and just under an hour from Big Sky.
If coming from Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole, you can get to West Yellowstone without having to drive through Yellowstone National Park (though driving through the park is usually quicker if you don’t hit any animal or car traffic jams) by heading west from Jackson up to Victor, ID and then onto Hwy 32 to Ashton and up to West Yellowstone via Hwy 20. This drive takes about two hours and 45 minutes.
Things to Do in West Yellowstone in the Summer
West Yellowstone is the busiest entrance to Yellowstone National Park in the summer, so expect crowds. But because of this, you’ll also find lots of fun activities to do even when you’re not exploring the park.
Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center
I’d long heard good things about this wildlife center, so when the opportunity finally arose for me and my daughters to check it out this fall, I leaped at the chance. It wildly exceeded my expectations.
The facility was clean, orderly, and — most importantly — all the animals looked healthy and lovingly cared for. The Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center provides a home to grizzly bears, wolves, and other animals (mostly birds of prey) that were born wild, but can no longer survive in the wild. This is either due to an injury or because they became dangerously acclimatized to humans and human food and would have been euthanized had they not gotten a spot at the center.
In addition to providing viewing platforms to gaze at these magnificent animals, the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center teaches about the impact humans can make — both good and bad — on wildlife habitats.
Museum of Yellowstone
Learn more about the history of both Yellowstone National Park and West Yellowstone at this unique museum run by the non-profit, Yellowstone Historic Center.
At this museum, you’ll view the history of America’s First National Park through the lens of those traveling to the park and through West Yellowstone. Find out about the rail history of West Yellowstone in the early 1900s and see the first stagecoaches, vehicles, and planes that brought people to Yellowstone. Walk around the historic depot and learn about the experiences of some of the first travelers to the park.
Also, take time to watch one of the documentaries, including ones about the 1988 fire and Hebgen Lake Earthquake, and a mostly aerial shot film showcasing Yellowstone National Park as seen from above.
Yellowstone Aerial Adventures – Zipline Adventure Park
The last time we were in West Yellowstone, we stayed at the Golden Stone Inn, which is right next to the Yellowstone Aerial Adventures – Zipline Adventure Park. We could see it from the front porch of our room and my daughters were in awe and eagerly wanted to do it. I wasn’t so sure that eagerness would still apply when they got to the top, ha! “When you’re a bit older,” I told them.
If you’re ready for adventure and in West Yellowstone, definitely check out this cool zipline and ropes course park. Ages 6 and up can do the main course with an accompanying adult, while ages 4 and up can take part in the Junior Ranger course with an adult or sibling older than 10.
It features ziplining, challenging bridges, and swinging fun, all while you’re ensconced in a safety harness.
Reservations are highly recommended. Be sure to check hours and opening days as this facility is only open seasonally and only on weekends during September.
Shopping & Movies in West Yellowstone
If you missed out on souvenir shopping in Yellowstone National Park (or just didn’t want to deal with the parking and crowds), don’t worry — you can still find a memorable t-shirt, sweatshirt, or toy emblazoned with Yellowstone script in West Yellowstone.
Right next door to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center (which also has a great store to browse through) is the Yellowstone Trading Post. Here, you’ll find one of the best and largest souvenir shops in West Yellowstone.
If you finish your shopping in Yellowstone Trading Post sooner than planned, check if the film, Yellowstone, is about to begin in the adjacent movie theater. It’s a 50-minute film that teaches filmgoers more about the history and nature of Yellowstone.
At night, the theater showcases new releases, which is another thing to do in West Yellowstone if you’re spending a few evenings there.
Hiking Near West Yellowstone
You may already be aware of the hikes within Yellowstone National Park, but there are so many more hiking trails to explore near West Yellowstone. You can hike along the Continental Divide as well as the TransAmerica Trail, two major US hiking trails located not far from West Yellowstone.
The cross-country and downhill ski trails at Rendezvous Ski Trails also transform into hiking trails in the warmer months.
This man-made lake was created as a result of the Hebgen Dam. It’s one of the premier fishing and water recreation spots in the area.
Earthquake Lake Visitor Center
One of the strongest recorded earthquakes in North America happened just outside West Yellowstone near Hebgen Lake. The earthquake occurred on August 17, 1959, and ranked 7.3 on the Richter Scale. The earthquake caused a massive movement of rock, which collapsed into the Madison River, subsequently damming it and resulting in Earthquake Lake being formed.
The Earthquake Lake Visitor Center is actually built right over some of the rocks that fell. In the center, you’ll learn more about the earthquake and have views of the lake and the mountain from which the landslide happened. Sadly, this earthquake was also a tragedy. 28 people who were camping at a campsite beneath where the landslide occurred lost their lives. A memorial boulder with the names of those who lost their lives is located by the visitor center.
The Earthquake Lake Visitor Center is about thirty minutes from downtown West Yellowstone.
Winter Activities in West Yellowstone
West Yellowstone is a major center for winter activities in Montana, especially if you’re looking to explore Yellowstone National Park (which has very limited roads that are open in winter). Here are a few winter sports and excursions to do while in West Yellowstone.
That’s a good segue into skiing. West Yellowstone has excellent cross-country ski trails. Rendezvous Ski Trails is a popular place to go and it’s conveniently located right on the southwest edge of town. Guided cross-country skiing tours through Yellowstone are also available.
Click here for Yellowstone National Park ski tours.
Downhill skiing is located a short drive north of West Yellowstone at the world-renowned Big Sky Resort.
West Yellowstone is one of the major centers for snowmobiling in Yellowstone National Park. Several snowmobile rental and guide companies are located in West Yellowstone. Tours are offered through Yellowstone National Park as well as other areas near West Yellowstone such as Custer Gallatin National Forest.
Visiting Yellowstone National Park in Winter from West Yellowstone
West Yellowstone is also a hub for guided winter tours of Yellowstone. You’ll board a snow coach and take off into the park, gliding over snowy terrain and seeing frosted bison roaming the frigid plains.
Geysers don’t freeze so these tours usually include a visit to Old Faithful and Mammoth Hot Springs.
Where to Stay: Golden Stone Inn
I loved staying at this hotel. West Yellowstone is known for being touristy, yet the Golden Stone Inn felt like a slice of quintessential Montana within walking distance to many of West Yellowstone’s main sites — it’s even right next door to Yellowstone Aerial Adventures!
The Golden Stone Inn has stand-alone cabins and triplexes all with front porches and centered around a grassy area punctuated by two fire pits. In the evenings, Golden Stone Inn puts out bags of s’mores ingredients so guests can roast some s’mores. There’s also a good grab-and-go breakfast in the lounge area.
I also loved the rooms, which were decorated in the perfect blend of rustic and modern with a big emphasis on outdoor sports. This hotel was great for my family but also caters to fishermen, with spots to hang gear and place fishing poles.
Where to Eat in West Yellowstone
The Buffalo: If you want a small-town Montana bar experience, check out this laidback yet surprisingly cozy bar and restaurant (and casino! There are a couple of rows of slot machines in the back) in West Yellowstone. Lots of stuffed deer heads and buffalo statues, TVs, a pool table, a central bar, and a table with comfy spinning chairs make this a fun place to get a pint of beer (several Montana breweries on tap) and bite to eat (try the country fried steak) after a long day exploring. It’s also kid-friendly for lunch and dinner; there’s not a kids menu, but you’ll find breaded chicken bites and a basket of fries on the apps menu, plus a grilled cheese or cheese quesadilla on the entree menu.
The Woodpecker: Family-friendly, family-owned, and good eats.
Wild West Pizzeria and Saloon: Rumored to have the best pizza in West Yellowstone.
Bullwinkle’s Saloon and Eatery: Delicious made-from-scratch meals, craft cocktails, and lots of options.
Mountain Mama’s Coffee House & Bakery: Good place to grab a latte and quick breakfast in the morning before heading into the park.
Food Roundup: Little grocery store that’s a quick place to stock up on snacks and refreshments for your drive through Yellowstone National Park – plus, great employees; our cousin works here! 😉
West Yellowstone Rental Shop: Freeheel and Wheel
Freeheel and Wheel is a great option for renting bicycles or cross-country skis while in West Yellowstone. They’ll get you set up for a great day of action and exploring, and while they do so, you can get some caffeine from the shop’s full-service espresso bar. Win, win.