South Central Montana, otherwise known as Yellowstone Country, is home to unrivaled beauty. Among the snowy mountains and winding rivers is the jewel of the state: Yellowstone National Park.
A stunning expanse of rugged wilderness, the park was the first of its kind in the world and lent its name to the surrounding region.
Yellowstone Country is home to three of the five entrances to the national park, one of which visitors can access via the Beartooth Highway—one of the country’s most scenic drives.
Stretching across 3,500 square miles, the park is characterized by a dramatic landscape of canyons, hot springs, and geysers. Yellowstone is the location of Old Faithful, a famous cone geyser that consistently erupts every 40 minutes to two hours.
The national park attracts lovers of the great outdoors as well as wildlife enthusiasts and is home to hundreds of species of animals. Within the park, visitors will find bison, elk, antelope, bears, wolves, a variety of bird species, plus much more.
Though Yellowstone National Park is the gem of the region, South Central Montana offers plenty of other reasons to visit. The municipalities, which combine sophisticated cities with small historic townships, help to mold the unique character of the region.
The largest city in the region, Bozeman, is home to a plethora of cultural hotspots, from museums and art galleries to chic eateries. There are also plenty of shopping opportunities available.
For those looking to visit a smaller town, there’s also the charming foothill settlement of Red Lodge in the Beartooth Mountains, or Big Timber, which is brimming with Western culture. Cooke City, Gardiner, and West Yellowstone are other towns to explore that also serve as gateways to Yellowstone National Park.
Beyond the national park, there are other stunning areas of natural beauty, ranging from ski areas to forests. There are five major rivers in the region, plus three hot springs. Yellowstone Country is an ideal location for those who are drawn to the simplicity of the past, as much of the land remains untouched, just as it was in the days when Lewis and Clark navigated the area.
- March – Bozeman Splitfest
- May – Bozeman Made Fair
- June – Red Lodge Songwriters Festival
- July – Big Sky Artisan Festival
- July – Annual Beartooth Rally and Iron Horse Rodeo
- July – Big Sky Country State Fair
- August – Bozeman Stampede Rodeo
- August – Big Sky Spectaculaire
- October – Moose Chase Kids Race
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Yellowstone National Park and The Great Outdoors
Undoubtedly, the natural wonders of Yellowstone Country are the biggest reason to visit the region. In particular, Yellowstone National Park attracts millions of travelers from all over the United States and the world.
Though mostly located in Wyoming, the park spills into Idaho and South Central Montana, from which guests can access it through three separate entries.
Within the park, guests will find more than 300 geysers, including Old Faithful, as well as 290 waterfalls. Along with ample opportunities for wildlife-watching, park guests will also get the chance to witness more than 1,100 species of native plants and more than 200 exotic plants.
The majority of visitors come to Yellowstone simply to bask in the exquisite landscape and take in the scenery, whether they’re watching geysers erupt or golden eagles soar across the sky.
However, there are plenty of other activities to do in the park too. Along with hiking, visitors enjoy rafting and fishing, fossil-hunting, horseback riding, and biking, among other activities.
Many visitors choose to camp in the park’s 2,000+ campsites, including 12 fully equipped campgrounds. The park also has nine visitor centers and is open for those who would like to visit for a day trip or stay for longer periods of time.
Beyond Yellowstone National Park, there are several other activities that will allow you to enjoy the great outdoors in the region. Among the most popular sports and outdoor activities available include zip lining, golfing, rock climbing, motorcycling, stargazing, and going for scenic drives.
In the winter, Yellowstone Country becomes a hub for snow sports. The area is home to four nationally recognized ski resorts, including Bridger Bowl, which is found just 10 minutes from Bozeman.
There is also the renowned Big Sky Resort, a part of which is Moonlight Basin, and Red Lodge Mountain.
Major Landmarks and Attractions
Along with Yellowstone National Park and its many wonders, the region has a collection of popular landmarks and attractions that draw in visitors from far and wide.
One of the most alluring and mysterious landmarks is the Big Ice Cave, which is found among the many caves of the Pryor Mountains.
The floor of the cave is made of ice and remains that way, regardless of the season, thanks to a fascinating scientific phenomenon known as a cold trap. The cave itself is dark, so visitors are encouraged to bring their own light source.
Another famous attraction is the Oregon Shortline 1903 Train Car, which is more than 100 years old and located near the Holiday Inn in West Yellowstone.
The rail car is steeped in history, first constructed as an executive rail car for the Vice President of the Union Pacific. Guests are welcome to conduct self-guided tours around the carriage.
Yellowstone Country may be famous for its natural landscape and abundance of outdoor attractions, but there are also several cultural hotspots scattered throughout the region.
Art-lovers should be sure to attend an art walk while in the area. Often occurring monthly, these nights are dedicated to celebrating art as local galleries and businesses open and host receptions with artists. Some of the finest artwork in the region is often displayed during this time, and visitors are also usually offered wine or appetizers.
In Bozeman, for example, art walks usually take place on the second Friday of every month from June through September. However, you can also find home-grown art to appreciate in the region simply by strolling down the main street of any local community.
The region is also home to frequent music festivals that are held throughout the year. Many visitors choose to plan their travels around local musical events that show off the best of Big Sky talent. Some communities in the area host weekly summer concert series in the streets, while larger venues host artists from all over the world to perform for local crowds.
History buffs will be pleased to know that there is an abundance of museums in Yellowstone Country, all of them committed to maintaining the cultural heritage of Montana. The Gallatin History Museum is one of the most popular, boasting several Native American exhibitions and artifacts that have been preserved from the battlefield.
Those who are interested in the history of the area and the native flora will love the Lewis and Clark Native Plant Garden. The garden contains several species of plants documented by the Lewis and Clark Expedition that was considered scientific discoveries at the time, even though they were known to Native American peoples.
Along with displaying the plants themselves, the garden also presents interesting historical facts relating to the expedition.
Montana has one of the largest numbers of breweries per capita in the country. So naturally, many visitors love exploring the collection of local breweries and distilleries in Yellowstone Country.
The Red Lodge Ales Brewing Company, for example, has been producing beer since before the Prohibition Era and is a great brewery to visit.
The Tap Room also offers a varied menu of food to complement drinks ordered from the bar.
Dining and Accommodation
Yellowstone Country is a haven for foodies. There are dining establishments of every kind here, with eateries to satisfy every type of eater. No matter what cuisine you’re looking for or what type of meal you’re craving, the local food scene has all the answers.
The region specializes in Montana-raised meat and fresh, local produce. As such, there are several steakhouses open in the cities and towns of the area. Among them is McGill’s Restaurant and Saloon located at the 320 Guest Ranch in Gallatin Gateway. The restaurant boasts a diverse menu featuring game and fish.
For something much cozier, there’s the Big Timber Bakery, known for its selection of delectable cakes and pastries. Among their specialties are homemade cinnamon scrolls, brick oven pizza, fresh bread, and delicious sandwiches.
The Willow Creek Café and Saloon offers the opportunity to immerse yourself in an old-world feel thanks to its antique furniture and pressed-tin ceilings. The building once served as a corner saloon for local miners and ranchers and was adapted several times before becoming the dining space it is today.
Open every day during the summer, the café features a menu of American classics, from burgers to steaks.
One of the best ways to sample the fantastic local produce is to visit the many farmers’ markets that operate throughout the region. Typically, the markets are held on downtown streets and open fairgrounds and support local farmers, craftspeople, ranchers, and artists.
In addition to the freshest produce available, including meat and dairy products, the markets also sell plants, baked goods, arts and crafts, souvenirs, and other goodies. There are also food and coffee carts and live music, making the markets a great place to spend an afternoon.
For a full list of the farmers’ markets operating in Yellowstone Country, please see the official website.
With so much to see and do in Yellowstone Country, you’ll probably want to stay awhile. Luckily, there’s no shortage of top-quality lodging options for every budget and style.
Visitors can choose from friendly bed and breakfasts, upmarket hotels, hostels, and motels, relaxing hot springs, independent vacation rentals, authentic ranches, and more.
There are also plenty of options for camping, within and beyond the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park.
The many guest ranches in the region offer guests a taste of the Old West. As well as lodging, the ranches tend to provide riding lessons to their guests and run guided tours of the area.
One of the most popular ranches to stay at is the Sweet Grass Ranch in Big Timber. Located nearby the Crazy Mountains, the family-owned ranch offers the chance to experience authentic cattle work in addition to riding and other recreational activities. Lodging comes in the form of warm cabins complete with outdoor campfires.
For those looking for all-inclusive accommodation with a touch of luxury, there are also several thriving resorts. The Elk Lake Resort in Lima offers a remote Montana adventure on stunning grounds. The resort is home to gourmet fine-dining establishments, private idyllic cabins, and a range of fun activities.
If you are looking to stay in the largest city in the area, Bozeman, we recommend staying in the heart of downtown to experience the food and culture.
If you are looking to spend some time on the slopes between exploring Bozeman, the Hilton Garden Inn Bozeman is Near the excellent ski trails at Bridger Bowl.