West Yellowstone, Montana

Known for its rustic charm, West Yellowstone lies near the Wyoming border as the western entrance to the Yellowstone National Park. With many reminders of the past in the town's historic essence, such as the original rail depot housing the Yellowstone Center Historical Museum, tourists coming for nature step back in time when the park was visited for the Old Faithful geyser by stagecoach upon setting base at the only Madison Hotel. Now home to an airport, many still opt for an adventure of driving into town, comprising an incredibly scenic drive along the seemingly endless ribbons of highway rolling both ways to the horizon, with expansive Wyoming landscapes and rivers rushing through vast meadows to the sides. Amongst the majestic peaks, hydrothermal fireworks at every turn, and big wild animal sightings, the route is an inspiration for alpine hikers to tackle the towering rocky spires, traverse the terrain dotted with sparkling cobalt lakes, and breathe in the air of the soaring evergreen forests.

Geography And Climate Of West Yellowstone

Aerial view of West Yellowstone
Aerial view of the tourist mecca of West Yellowstone which directly borders the western entrance of the Yellowstone National Park. 

Comprising a total area of 2.07 sq. km, all occupied by land, West Yellowstone is set at 2,032m above sea level. Located almost precisely at the midpoint of the equator to one side and the North Pole to the other, the town is subject to a subarctic climate. Receiving cold to bitterly cold winters, albeit brief, the summers are generally warm with a low temperature of 5 °C and an average high temperature of 26 °C. The winter's average low temperature is −17 °C, and the average high temperature is −4 °C. Interestingly, West Yellowstone holds the record low in the lower 48 states at −54 °C.

History Of West Yellowstone

The town was conceived with the arrival of E.H. Harriman, president of the Union Pacific Railroad, and Frank J. Haynes, president of Monida & Yellowstone Stage Line in 1905, that constructed a railroad branch from St. Anthony in Idaho to the west entrance of the national park. Originally called the Riverside, Boundary, or West End bordering the park, the town became one of the official park entrances in 1907 and was named West Yellowstone in 1920. First fleets of tourists began arriving in the spring of 1908 via the Oregon Short Line extension railway, with the town establishing a post office and the Yellowstone Store the same year, known as the Eagle's Store today on Yellowstone Street. Today, the original bus that would take tourists from the town to the park can be seen at the museum.

In the next five years, over 50 buildings existed along the town's layout, while the land was owned and leased by Madison National Forest until December 1919, when President Woodrow Wilson took it from under federal ownership. With the town quickly taking shape, curious tourists and new residents took the "Yellowstone Special” train that ran daily from Salt Lake City to West Yellowstone. With the train service seizing off-season in mid-September, many businesses were forced to close, while the few families that stayed could only leave West Yellowstone by a dog sled or skis. Eventually, year-round travel became possible with enough roads, including the construction of the Bozeman Road by 1936. Dropping off after WWII, the rail arrivals were aborted entirely by 1960, while the commercial use of the new airport during the summer months began in 1965. Today, the town thriving to its own accord still offers to visit the park via snowmobiles and snow coaches from December to March.

Tourism In West Yellowstone

Downtown streets, motels, bars, restaurants in West Yellowstone, Montana.
Downtown streets, motels, bars, restaurants in West Yellowstone, Montana. Editorial credit: Microfile.org / Shutterstock.com

Despite its sub-par climate, the fame to claim optimal location to the Yellowstone National Park, the tourism industry in town is well-developed. With a large portion of Chinese visitors, from whom the town estimates to receive more than half its annual business, it has adapted commercial signage in Mandarin and three Chinese restaurants.

Recreations

A Grizzly Bear at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center
A grizzly bear seen in West Yellowstone, Wyoming at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center. 

One can see live grizzlies, wolves, otters, and other animals roaming at the Not-for-Profit Wildlife Park, the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center, including two separate wolf packs from the Naturalist Cabin. There are a lot of activities for the kids, such as the hands-on Keeper Kid’s, live Bird-of-Prey Exhibits, Wolf Enrichment and Safety-in-Bear-Country Programs, Ranger Talks, and a World-Class Bear museum, among many films and presentations for all ages. The museum exhibit interactively compares and contrasts the bear of myth, art, literature, history, and folklore with the bear-suited scientists, outdoors people, and researchers.

The Museum of the Yellowstone lures into experiencing the Yellowstone National Park while equipping one with knowledge about it. One will discover the fascinating history of traveling to and through the nation's first National Park through displays of stagecoach and railroad companies that brought over the visitor's throughout the years, as well as on wildlife of the area and the 'Fires of 88'. One will also learn about the challenges of transportation and the evolution of travel to modern airplanes with numerous exhibits, films, and walking tours of the historic district.

Earthquake Lake in Montana
Earthquake Lake in Montana. 

The carefully restored beauty of The Oregon Short Line 1903 Railroad Car that once belonged to the Union Pacific Railroad Vice President is open for tours, with one of the berths converted into a display. Showcasing the railroad history of West Yellowstone and the Union Pacific Railroad, it is considered the "most perfectly preserved executive railroad car in the world today."  One can learn about the 1959 earthquake at the Madison Canyon Earthquake Lake Visitors Center at the western end of the Madison River Canyon Earthquake Area and overlooking the Earthquake Lake with a view of the Madison slide. The interpretive programs explain the inner Earth workings of one of the largest earthquakes in North America, having slid half a mountain into the Madison River Canyon to form a giant dam and the Quake Lake. 

Activities

Set amid incredible scenery with the national forests and mountain ranges in the surroundings, the town serves as a base for all outdoor pursuits in the area. The variety also includes the Yellowstone Aerial Adventures zip-line offering to get in touch with one's wild side, horse-riding from the Diamond P Ranch, and the Flying Pig Adventure Company in Gardiner, MT.

A hiker’s dream, one can choose from an array of options to cover the millions of acres of public land, including miles of trails winding past aspen and pine, tranquil meadows, and impressive peaks. Open for country skiing in the wintertime, the Rendezvous Trail System is a biker's and a hiker's dream come true during summers. With many terrain options, from paved paths to mountain biking, to following scenic hiking trails, West Yellowstone has excellent access to all. Closed to traffic in wintertime, the cyclists get to enjoy a few weeks of cycling in solitude upon the arrival of spring, while the fall time brings about the Old Faithful Cycle Tour.

Boiling River near Mammoth Hot Springs
Boiling River near the Mammoth Hot Springs allows visitors to enjoy a swim in the warm waters. Editorial credit: goodluz / Shutterstock.com

The pet-friendly Boundary Trail, easily accessed from the northeast end of town, runs along the Yellowstone National Park border. The town is also near the Continental Divide Trail and the additional trails in the surrounding Gallatin National Forest, while the TransAmerica Trail runs directly through town. The West Yellowstone Park itself contains more than 1,000 miles of hiking trails suited to any fitness level, with the famous Riverside Trail starting right in West Yellowstone as a mellow path along the river. The park is also perfect for strolling around, setting picnic, seeking wildlife, or organizing an atmospheric photo shoot. 

Fishers will rejoice in visiting the town with many fantastic fishing opportunities easily accessed all around, such as the endless choice of public lakes, rivers, and streams brimming with game fish. There is also plenty of other water-based fun during summers, from swimming, diving, and soaking up the sun on the Yellowstone's Boiling River banks, to renting a raft or tube to float down the Madison River to paddling around Yellowstone Lake.

Yellowstone Park Natural Wonders

Herd of Bison in Hayden Valley in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Herd of Bison at sunset in Hayden Valley in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. 

The picturesque Hayden Valley is the best destination to wander around for wildlife sightings, home to herds of bison, elk, and occasional grizzly bear and wolf that roam the vast open landscape. Inclusive with a drive along the beautiful Yellowstone River meandering through the wide-angle, panoramic valley, it is south of the Yellowstone's Canyon region, calling for more adventure. 

Palette Spring Terrace at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park
Tourists visiting Palette Spring Terrace at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park. 

The Mammoth Hot Springs is the "hotbed" of geothermal activity in the park, allowing one to step into a water-color painting with the hot water sizzling over multi-colored terraces, as one of the most scenic spots in the region. It is also very likely to spot some friendly grazing animals, such as Elk, whose bugling call can be heard from far, along with pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, and moose.

Tourists watching the Old Faithful erupting in Yellowstone National Park.
Tourists watching the Old Faithful erupting in Yellowstone National Park. 

The West Yellowstone's West Entrance is the closest park access point to the iconic heart of Yellowstone National Park, the Old Faithful, launching hydrothermal fireworks every 45 to 120 minutes. There are benches for spectators that circle the south and east sides of the geyser, as well as a path encircling the marvel, while the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center has dynamic exhibits, including the latest geyser eruption predictions.

The famous Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone in Wyoming
The famous Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone in Wyoming. 

The power and majesty of the 20-mile-long Grand Canyon range from 1,500 to 4,000 feet across, while the buff cliff walls painted vibrant yellow, pink, and orange dive over 1,000 feet into the earth. Coming complete with the Yellowstone River tumbling over two high waterfalls, the canyon spreads through the heart of Yellowstone Park, with the vista points of Point Sublime, Inspiration Point, Artist Point, and Upper Falls View.

In-Town

Shops along Canyon Street in West Yellowstone, Montana
Shops along Canyon Street in West Yellowstone, Montana. Editorial credit: Matthew Thomas Allen / Shutterstock.com

Surprisingly, West Yellowstone established a proper sewer system and paved the streets as late as the 1980s, allowing one to come as close to its "wild" past as possible. Being the descendants of the early settlers, many of its residents have made the downtown into a plethora of boutiques, restaurants, ice cream shops, and fun activities to attract tourism that the town thrives on. 

The Yellowstone Giant Screen Theatre in West Yellowstone, Montana
The IMax Yellowstone Giant Screen Theatre shows films and movies about the Yellowstone National Park in West Yellowstone, Montana. Editorial credit: melissamn / Shutterstock.com

The Yellowstone Giant Screen Theatre is located at the west entrance of the Yellowstone National Park, as the “must-see” and a rare educational opportunity of the fascinating history and geological wonders. “Yellowstone” film shows the real Yellowstone today and how it was one hundred and 100,000 years ago. The Playmill Theatre comprises a lively band of humoristic actors presenting three delightful, family Broadway musicals. 

West Yellowstone is perfect for those looking for a busy getaway, with much wild nature to wander through and fun things to engage in. Those who do not know when to take a vacation and the year-round outdoor recreation enthusiasts will rejoice with wildlife watching and great shopping along the boardwalks of the marvelous town. The summers are filled with fly fishing, river rafting, mountain biking, trail rides, and hiking enthusiasts. Wintertime's cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and touring snow coaches are just as exciting.

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