The community of Cooke City is located in the southeast corner of Park County, and though it has a small population of less than 100 people, it’s a tourist hotspot thanks to the incredible surrounding views and opportunities for outdoor recreation in the area.
Less than five miles from the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone National Park, Cooke City connects to the city of Red Lodge via the famous Beartooth Pass on U.S. Highway 212.
In particular, the stunning views of the Beartooth Range in this stretch have made Cooke City a popular pitstop on the way to or from the park.
Cooke City was named after Jay Cooke, financier of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Born in Sandusky, Ohio, Cooke also financed the Union during the American Civil War. There are also several parks, townships, schools, and roads named in his honor across Pennsylvania and Minnesota.
Until 2010, Cooke City was part of the Cooke City-Silver Gate CDP. The neighboring community of Silver Gate lies to the west of Cooke City, both towns nestled in the valley of Soda Butte Creek, in the Yellowstone River watershed.
The creek flows into Yellowstone National Park and joins the Lamar River.
Most tourists in Cooke City travel to the area to visit Yellowstone National Park, which is just minutes from the village.
But there are some attractions in the town itself that are worth seeing too, from museums to specialty stores with small-town charm.
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park isn’t just the star attraction of Cooke City; it’s one of the most popular destinations in the United States.
Officially the world’s first national park, Yellowstone spans more than two million acres and comprises spectacular scenery featuring nearly half the world’s active geysers.
There are also geological wonders to discover, including the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.
There is accommodation in the way of established hotels, cabins, and campgrounds, within the park. But many guests coming from the northeast choose to base themselves in Cooke City and see the park through day trips.
Yellowstone Trading Post
Conveniently located on Main Street, the Yellowstone Trading Post is a gift shop where travelers can pick up mementos to remember their trip to Cooke City or Yellowstone National Park.
The store sells a wide range of souvenirs, from clothing and hats to home décor, magnets, and stickers.
The Yellowstone Trading Post also boasts a free museum that displays wildlife exhibits, educating visitors about the native species in the area.
Even for those who aren’t buying anything, the museum and the selection of gifts make for a great browsing experience.
Past customers have also noted that the store sells several of the souvenirs available inside Yellowstone National Park for a fraction of the price!
Cooke City Montana Museum
The Cooke City Montana Museum is also located on Main Street and gives insight not just into the history of Cooke City, but also has several exhibits on the history of Colter Pass and Silver Gate as well.
There are also permanent exhibits on the famous Beartooth Highway, Gas Stations in the area, Tourism, Women, and Winter.
Run by the Cooke City Community Council, a non-profit organization, the museum is managed mostly by volunteers, as well as the Museum Director, and is totally free to enter.
In addition to the permanent exhibits, there are a variety of revolving exhibits that appear at the museum throughout the year.
The museum is also home to an exterior mining museum where you will find large mining artifacts, an authentic mining cabin and outhouse, and brilliant views of Republic Mountain.
In summer, the museum is open seven days a week from 10 a.m., closing at 5 p.m. every day except Sunday, when it closes at 4 p.m. It is also open through the winter, though the hours vary.
Cooke City is located in one of the most scenic areas of the state, surrounded by wilderness, forests, national parks, and mountain ranges.
It naturally serves as the perfect base point for those who want to enjoy outdoor recreation in an idyllic setting.
Hiking is one of the most popular activities to do near Cooke City, and there are several places with wonderful trails lending themselves to the ultimate hiking experience.
The hike at Clarks Fork Trail is relatively easy, taking an average of two hours to complete.
Of course, there are also endless hiking opportunities in Yellowstone National Park itself, which boasts more than 900 miles of hiking trails.
Many of the trails inside the park are more than 7,000 feet above sea level, some retaining snow until June.
The Clarks Fork Trail stems from the Clarks Fork Picnic Area in the Custer Gallatin National Forest, which is one of the best local spots for picnicking.
Though there are several locations around the village that offer charming views, the Clarks Fork Picnic Area offers solitude and waterfall views. There are a few picnic tables in the area, plus a fishing area and restroom.
The rugged wilderness surrounding Cooke City is ideal for horseback riding. A selection of guides and outfitters run horseback riding tours in the area, one of which is Skyline Guest Ranch.
There are horses for all skill levels at the ranch, which runs rides into Yellowstone National Park and the Beartooth Mountains.
The ranch offers a variety of different rides, including full-day rides for seasoned riders, trail rides for novice riders, and river rides for those wanting to immerse themselves in the ways of the Old West.
During winter, Cooke City becomes a mecca for winter sports. Visitors will enjoy snowmobiling, back-country and cross-country skiing, ice climbing, and snowshoeing.
The prime area for winter sports is around the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone, though there are a handful of locations around the village perfect for engaging in winter fun.
A base for those visiting Yellowstone National Park, Cooke City has a surprising number of lodging options for such a small community. Here are some of the highest-rated:
- Silver Gate Simplicity Log Cabin – $
- Alpine Motel of Cooke City – $$
- Elk Horn Lodge Cozy Cabin – $$
- Silver Gate Lodging – $$$
- High County Motel & Cabins – $$$
- Antlers Lodge – $$$
Alive with town pride and community spirit, Cooke City hosts a collection of events throughout the year. These include:
- March – Annual Hog Roast Fundraiser
- July – July 4th Parade and Firemen’s Picnic
- July – Annual Church Bazaar
- July – International Hemingway Conference
- July – The Beartooth Run
Activities Near Cooke City
- Clark’s Fork River
- Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness
- Cooke City Montana Museum
- Yellowstone Trading Post
- Lower Aero Lake
- Clay Butte Fire Lookout Tower (Wyoming)
- Cooke City General Store
- Skyline Guest Ranch and Guide Service
- Beartooth Powder Guides
National Parks and Forests
- Montana Towns, Cities & Communities
- Best Cabins to Rent in Yellowstone National Park
- The Best Yellowstone National Park Tours
- Jobs in Cooke City, MT
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