After attending a travel conference in Billings, Montana, I made some new friends as we traveled to West Yellowstone to experience the outdoor adventures and foodie scene. We spent four full days exploring West Yellowstone and the Yellowstone National Park in the fall.
I want to say thank you to Wendy and the rest of the West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce for sponsoring this experience. All of us had such an incredible time during our stay, and I can’t wait to bring the family back with me.
Explore Yellowstone National Park
Of course, no trip to West Yellowstone would be complete without visiting the historic Yellowstone National Park. It is the world’s first national park and it is world-famous thanks to the Old Faithful Geyster and Grand Prismatic Spring.
Admission to the park is $35 for a 7-day pass or you can plan your visit around one of the fee-free days throughout the year. You can buy a Yellowstone annual pass for $70. For an extra $10, I’d recommend buying the American the Beautiful pass, which provides free entrance to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites across the U.S.
Yellowstone National Park is almost 3,500 square miles of wilderness to explore. Although it is primarily in Wyoming, it touches three states – Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.
Shortly after our visit, Yellowstone National Park appointed its first female chief ranger in its 147-year history. During our tour, we had a chance to say meet Sarah Davis as she was directing traffic away from bison that were near the road.
Inside the park, you’ll find countless water features, grizzly and black bears, wild bison, wolves, and more.
And if you can’t make it to Yellowstone right away, check out these live streams from inside Yellowstone National Park so you can virtually tour the park ahead of your visit.
Witness Old Faithful Geyser erupt
Old Faithful got its name because it erupts on a regular basis. Over the years, it has become a bit less predictable, but it does still erupt several times a day. The National Park Service offers a forecast of eruptions so you can plan your visit around specific windows of time throughout the day. This service also predicts when other geysers around the park are expected to erupt.
If your internet connection isn’t strong inside the park, you can also call the Geyser Prediction phone line at (307) 344-2751. Press 1 for Old Faithful or 2 for other geysers.
While waiting for Old Faithful, check out the historic buildings just a short walk away.
You can stay steps away from Old Faithful Geyster at the Old Faithful Inn. This hotel is more than 100 years old and is one of the most popular hotels around. It features a grand lobby that is more than 65 feet tall. Visitors can enjoy a meal or souvenir inside while exploring. I recommend grabbing some handcrafted ice cream because it was delicious.
The Old Faithful Basin Store has a secret room upstairs called the Million Dollar Room because it has canceled checks totaling over $1.8 million covering its walls. It’s incredible to see the history inside that room.
See the animals at Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center
It’s always dangerous to see animals in the wild, so the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center provides guests with an opportunity to see animals in a safe environment. It is an AZA-accredited Not-for-Profit, wildlife park, and educational facility that takes care of animals that are no longer able to survive in the wild. Admission is $15 for adults, and there are discounts for children and seniors.
As a not-for-profit agency, your tax-deductible donations, admission fees, and purchases at the gift shop support the animals under their care.
Inside the center, you’ll find an assortment of animals, including grizzly bears, gray wolves, river otters, birds-of-prey, and more. Throughout the day there are ranger talks and presentations to educate guests about these wonderful animals. The grizzly bears even perform bear-resistant product testing on trash cans and other items.
When you visit, be sure to tell Trent that I said hi! He was one of the hosts for our trip and is really knowledgeable about the animals.
Learn the history of Earthquake Lake Geologic Area
During the night of August 17, 1959, one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded in the Rocky Mountains struck the Madison River Canyon. The earthquake measured 7.5 on the Richter scale and triggered a massive landslide. Over 800 million tons of rock came crashing down into the canyon and blocked the Madison River to form Earthquake Lake.
The high velocity of wind and a wall of water swept through the canyon. Sadly, there were many campers in the canyon that night. Ultimately, 28 lives were lost.
You can learn all about this event and how it affected the Yellowstone area at the Earthquake Lake Visitor Center. The center is open seasonally from June to September. Admission is free and a movie plays on repeat so visitors can learn about that fateful night.
Hit the trails on an ATV with Yellowstone Adventures
One of the highlights of my trip was renting a Can Am Commander Max for the day from Yellowstone Adventures. These all-terrain vehicles are incredibly fun to ride. Especially when there are puddles to ride through at 40+ mph! Debbie was my partner-in-crime this afternoon, and we were a muddy mess by the time we were through.
I’m pretty sure we hit every mud puddle we saw. Our friendship was formed through maniacal laughter as we hit the gas puddle every time we saw a bit of water.
Side note: I have to apologize to our host Wendy for how muddy she got. I don’t think she knew what she signed up for with us. HAHA
You can rent a variety of ATVs and snowmobiles for full or half-day periods. ATV prices range from $149 to $389, depending on the vehicle, the number of people, and the duration of the rental. There are plenty of trails to explore, but they are not allowed inside Yellowstone National Park.
Ride horses at the Diamond P Ranch
Although it was drizzling during our ride, we had a wonderful time riding the horses from Diamond P Ranch. I got to ride Pedro, who is “a very relaxed dude” who likes to take life nice and easy.
We ventured out into the forest and across the meadow for a leisurely ride on the trails. It’s been years since I’ve ridden a horse, and we had a great time. All of our horses had great personalities and were easy to ride.
Diamond P Ranch offers several choices of rides for visitors, ranging from a two-hour ride to a “Cowboy Cattle Drive.” To give you a sense of the price, a two-hour ride is around $80, while the cowboy experience of working cattle on a ranch is $125.
Take a ride with Yellowstone Helicopters
My other favorite part of our trip was the flying tour with Yellowstone Helicopters. We cruised through the sky to see sweeping views of the Yellowstone area while searching for herds of bison and other wildlife. It was intense and worth every penny!
Big thanks to Peggy for letting me sit in the front and geek out. She’s been in plenty of helicopters before with the military, while it was a new experience for me. The helicopters have wraparound windows, so you can enjoy almost 270* of viewing as you take in the beautiful scenery.
Our ride was only 10 minutes, but it was so amazing. There are various packages available with prices ranging from $69 (10 minutes) to $349 per person (60 minutes).
Museum and historic walking tour of West Yellowstone
The town of West Yellowstone has a rich history. You can learn more about its history at the Museum of Yellowstone inside the Union Pacific Depot. Admission is $6 or less.
The featured exhibit is “Ho! For Yellowstone” which highlights the evolution of transportation through Yellowstone. You’ll see everything from stagecoaches to modern-day snowmobiles. There are a number of historic vehicles on display, including a Mount Washburn Special stagecoach and a 1938 Model 706 yellow bus.
Movies about the history of West Yellowstone are shown daily. These film topics include the 1988 fires and the 1959 earthquake.
Staff members of the museum offer free guided walking tours of the historic district throughout the summer. Tours meet on the front porch of the Museum throughout the summer. Call the museum at (406) 646-1100 for the current tour schedule.
Experience West Yellowstone in IMAX
IMAX movies are always impressive, and the Yellowstone film is incredible. It provides a unique view of the park’s history, wildlife, geothermal activity, and spectacular grandeur like no other movie can. This state-of-the-art film technology uses 70mm film that is three times a normal 70mm film and 10 times that of 35mm. The screen is so large, you feel like you are part of the movie.
The Yellowstone IMAX movie was directed by Academy Award-winning cinematographer Reed Smoot. And the score was composed by three-time Emmy and Oscar award winner Bill Conti.
Tickets are less than $10 for regular seating and premium seating is available for $4 more. The Yellowstone IMAX movie runs about 40 minutes.
And so much more
These are just a handful of the attractions that you can experience when visiting West Yellowstone and Yellowstone National Park. You could spend your entire vacation just exploring the wildlife and water features throughout the park, but you’d be missing out on the total experience.
Some other options include:
- cross-country skiing
Here’s a map of all of the places we visited during our trip to West Yellowstone and Yellowstone National Park.
About West Yellowstone
Free information from the West Yellowstone visitor’s bureau
When planning your trip to West Yellowstone, your first stop should be the West Yellowstone TBID (aka visitor’s bureau). Their resources will help you plan your visit, find a hotel, and see what activities are happening around town. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest to ask questions or get some inspiration for your trip.
You can easily connect with the West Yellowstone visitor’s bureau to get information by texting keywords to #91090. These keywords include: sleep, eat, play, shop, mail, health, trails, maps, Yellowstone, roads, and weather.
Wendy was our gracious host for the week. She knows so much about the town and the people, and her advice on what to do ensured we had a great time. Stop by and say hi to Wendy. She’ll be sure to take care of you.
How to get to West Yellowstone
Because of the weather in Montana, the local airport operates seasonally. You can fly into Yellowstone Airport (WYS) from May through October, depending on the weather.
Delta Air Lines is the exclusive commercial carrier that flies into Yellowstone. A quick search found roundtrip flights this summer for less than $300 or starting at 36,000 SkyMiles from Nashville. To earn airline miles or cash back to pay for your flight, check out the latest offers on the best airline credit cards for free flights.
What time of year to visit West Yellowstone
West Yellowstone is a year-round vacation destination, so there’s always something to do when you visit. However, be aware that not everything is open during the winter. So, plan accordingly based on which attractions you are most excited about.
- Spring – when most attractions re-open; animals are having babies; flowers start to bloom
- Summer – unlimited access to attractions for visitors to explore; hiking, rafting, fishing, biking, and more
- Fall – elk mating season; spectacular scenery as the leaves change colors
- Winter – with an annual snowfall of 143 inches, it’s a snowy paradise; cross-country skiing, ice fishing, sled dog tours, snowmobiling, and more
A great way to beat the summer heat is to plan a winter trip to West Yellowstone, Montana. Learn more at https://t.co/OLEiMFRKuB.
Photo by Carolyn Fox.
.#WestYellowstoneWinter #WestYellowstoneMontana #WestYellowstoneMT #WestYellowstone #Montana #WYMT #YellowstoneCountry pic.twitter.com/hj0sAV8Nov
— DestYellowstone (@WYellowstoneMT) July 7, 2020
Annual events in West Yellowstone
No matter what time of year that you visit, there is always something going on in West Yellowstone. Here are a few of the annual events that you can plan your trip around:
- January – Kids’N’Snow Weekend
- February – Taste of the Trails
- March – Yellowstone Rendezvous Ski Race
- April – National Parks Free Day
- May – Earthquake Lake Visitor Center opens for the season
- June – National Trails Day
- July – Wild West Yellowstone Rodeo
- August – Diamond P Shootout
- September – Annual Knothead Jamboree
- October – Old Faithful Cycle Tour
- November – Yellowstone Ski Festival
- December – Christmas for the Critters
Visit the West Yellowstone visitor’s center for the latest roster of events.
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Two weeks until the West Entrance to Yellowstone Opens for Winter Travel. Dec 15 – Mar 15 allows you to enjoy guided snowcoach and snowmobile trips into Yellowstone National Park. Learn more about guided tours from the link in our profile. . Photo courtesy of Yellowstone. . . . . #WestYellowstoneMTLove #HeartOfYellowstone #YellowstoneNationalPark #YellowstonePark #Yellowstone #WestYellowstoneMontana #WestYellowstoneMT #WestYellowstone #Montana #YNP #FindYourPark #nps #nationalpark #nationalparks #goparks #nationalparkgeek #nationalparkservice #encuentratuparque #americasbestidea #usinterior #nationalparklife #sharetheexperience #nationalparksusa #snowcoach #snowmobile #YellowstoneCountry #VisitMontana #VisitMT
Always be careful of the wildlife and water features
Whenever you visit West Yellowstone and the Yellowstone National Park, remember that every animal that you see is wild and unpredictable. This is not a zoo where the animals are behind cages and you can get close to them without fear. You never know when an animal will charge a person or a vehicle, so maintain your distance and always be on the lookout.
The same thing goes for the water features and geysers found throughout Yellowstone National Park. Some of the water is incredibly hot and it will burn you.
Unfortunately, people do get injured every year inside the park. Such as the lady gored by a bison, the person who fell into a hot spring while taking pictures, or the man who died after falling into a hot spring. Yellowstone is gorgeous, but you do have to be careful.
Where should you stay in West Yellowstone
There are many hotels in West Yellowstone, but not too many major hotel brands where you can use points to book your stay. Most of the hotels are independently owned, so you are best off booking with the Capital One Venture Card or using Chase Ultimate Rewards. Or you can save up to 40% with cash back by using the Dosh cash back app to book your room.
The major hotel brands are:
- Best Western Desert Inn (40,000 pts/night)
- Best Western Weston Inn (40,000 pts/night)
- Holiday Inn West Yellowstone (45,000 pts/night)
- Worldmark West Yellowstone (timeshare that you may use Wyndham Points)
You can also search out Airbnb rentals. Use my Airbnb referral link to save up to $35 off your first trip.
I’ve at the Worldmark West Yellowstone during my first visit a couple of years ago. It was a nice property with an indoor pool and is across the street from the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center.
During this trip, we stayed at the Yellowstone Lodge. It was also in the middle of town and very easy to walk to restaurants and city attractions.
Enjoy the local cuisine
You wouldn’t necessarily think of a small town as having a wide variety of food, but I had some amazing culinary experiences while visiting West Yellowstone. We enjoyed Spanish tapas, local steaks, bison burgers, Mexican tacos, and so much more. Read all about it in my West Yellowstone Food Tour review.
The Bald Thoughts
We packed in an incredible amount of activities during the short four-day visit to West Yellowstone. I had a lot of new experiences, like flying in a helicopter and splashing in the mud with the Can Am ATV, that I’ll remember forever. And I’m really happy to have made new friends with Peggy, Debbie, Annette, Trent, and Wendy.
I wish we had more time to explore Yellowstone National Park, but there was so many other activities to do, we had to find the right balance. Next time that I visit West Yellowstone, I’ll plan to stay at least a week to that we can enjoy more of what West Yellowstone has to offer.