When visiting Yellowstone National Park, don’t miss the area just to the north. Montana’s Yellowstone Country is full of delightful surprises.

Paradise Valley Horse Roundup
Courtesy of Yellowstone Productions

You don’t need to be a devout fan of the now-famous TV show to know that Montana’s Yellowstone Country is as iconic an American destination as they come. The national park is a big draw, sure, but it’s far from the only thing pulling world travelers to the region north of its bounds. In fact, you’d really be missing out by not tacking on extra time to explore the area’s endless miles dotted with charming towns that serve as your basecamp to adventure. And the best way to see it all is via one of the great Western pastimes: a good, old-fashioned road trip. Spending anywhere from three to five additional days outside the national park, you’re guaranteed to get a true taste of what Yellowstone Country has to offer.

Made up of five south-central and southwest Montana counties (Gallatin, Park, Sweet Grass, Stillwater, and Carbon), Yellowstone Country is a veritable playground for outdoor enthusiasts and culture buffs alike. We’ve mapped out three family-friendly road trips starting in Yellowstone National Park’s gateway communities, where you’ll not only experience peak adventure but savor a taste of the Old West we all crave. The down-home hospitality, slow living, and breathtaking landscapes you’ll come across along the journey are so nostalgia-inducing that they may even make you consider making a move out to Montana yourself. 

West Yellowstone to Three Forks

West Yellowstone to Three Forks Roadtrip

Courtesy of Google Maps

As gorgeous as the famous national parks are, it’s worth exploring some of the state parks and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands, too, like Missouri Headwaters or Madison Buffalo Jump state parks, both just a hop, skip, and a jump from Three Forks. This route, easily accessible from Bozeman, allows explorers to do just that. As always, it’s important to recreate responsibly, being sure to leave nothing but footprints (and good vibes) behind. While there are excellent spaces to RV and tent camp along the way, for the glamping-inclined, you’ll want to start your journey at the world-class accommodations at Under Canvas West Yellowstone. After a morning stroll in West Yellowstone, go for après at the acclaimed Bar N Ranch, which serves up a wild game Bolognese worth writing home about.

West Yellowstone Kayaking
Kayaking on the Madison River, near West Yellowstone

Eric Melzer

Making your way north, book in for a day of horseback riding with Broken Hart Ranch, which offers both day and overnight horse packing trips in the Spanish Peaks Wilderness Area. If you’d rather hoof it, go hiking through Big Sky’s spectacular mountain ranges. Known for being home to some of the world’s best snow in the winter months, it’s no surprise that they offer incredible backcountry to explore in the spring and summer seasons. Afterwards, be sure to stop into Riverhouse BBQ, which serves some of the best ribs under the big sky. To class it up at the end of your road trip, consider a stay at the historic Sacajawea Hotel, right in the heart of Yellowstone Country’s Three Forks along the Lewis and Clark Trail.

Gardiner Through Livingston to Big Timber

Gardiner to Big Timber Roadtrip

Courtesy of Google Maps

Named after an outlaw fur trapper and dotted with wildlife like bison and elk, Gardiner is the Wild West town of your dreams, hot springs included. (Yellowstone Hot Springs and Chico Hot Springs are just two area favorites.) Known as “Nature’s Favorite Entrance to Yellowstone National Park,” Gardiner is surrounded on all sides by 10 million acres of public lands, so you can set out in any direction and find adventure, like rafting, ziplining, horseback riding, and exceptional hiking. While in Gardiner, pick up some reads for your road trip at Tumbleweed Bookstore and Cafe and a bite of wood-fired pizza at Yellowstone Pizza Company before heading out for fly fishing (you’re in Montana after all.)

Gardiner, Montana
Gardiner, Montana

Andy Austin

Grab a line for first-rate casting in Big Timber, or jump in for some river rafting on the Yellowstone River, the longest free-flowing river in the lower 48. Many river-bound trips depart from Paradise Valley, punctuated by picturesque waypoints and world-class angling. The ideal basecamp is Pine Creek Lodge, a darling boutique property known for its live music, locally brewed beers, and stellar pub fare. Other excellent accommodations along the route include Under Canvas North Yellowstone, and Sage Lodge in Pray, the latter of which would make an excellent home base if you happen to be in the bustling town of Livingston during the month of July for one of Montana’s oldest rodeos. There’s a contingency of young makers and crafters that are breathing new life into this Old Western outpost, making it worthy of an overnight. 

Silver Gate-Cooke City to Columbus

Silver Gate-Cooke City to Columbus Roadtrip

Courtesy of Google Maps

Only around 140 people call Cooke City home, but in the summer it booms with outdoor enthusiasts looking to explore the nearby Custer Gallatin and Shoshone national forests. Here, you’ll enjoy “the most scenic drive in America”—the Beartooth Highway—and doses of the outdoors along the route include Cooney State Park and the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness. If woodsy waterways ripe for fishing are your speed, then a stop in Columbus is a must. Sitting at the foothills of the Beartooth Mountains where the Stillwater and Yellowstone rivers meet, it’s an angler and backpacker paradise, but it still has all the creature comforts for those looking for some solid shut-eye and culture to boot.

Red Lodge, Montana
Red Lodge, Montana

Kaden Harrison

Visit the Museum of the Beartooths for a lesson in the history of the frontiersmen and homesteaders that shaped the area, as well as artifacts of the Crow Tribe and Northern Pacific Railroad memorabilia. There’s no shortage of amazing spots to rest your head along the route, including Whispering Pines Cabins, Absaroka Mountain Lodge, or Pollard Hotel Red Lodge. They’re the perfect blend of rustic style and comfort, making your trip just the right mix of nature and nurture.