How to visit Yellowstone’s gateway towns in Southwest Montana this summer

While much of the park has reopened after recent flood damage, some areas remain closed to visitors

On June 12, record-breaking rain and snowmelt caused the Yellowstone River to flood, leaving behind severe damage to roads and other infrastructure in the northern section of Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding communities. It was an unprecedented disaster, timed right at the start of the summer travel season.

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Since then, the park has been working hard to re-open. Many travelers who’ve planned a visit to the Yellowstone region are wondering what to do next. Here are the latest updates and tips to help you experience a Montana summer vacation while supporting the park’s gateway towns.

Yellowstone National Park updates

On June 22, the park’s East (Cody, Wyoming), South (Grand Teton/Jackson, Wyoming), and West (West Yellowstone, Montana) entrances along the southern loop reopened. With that announcement came a new Alternating License Plate System, which was phased out on July 2 when most of the park’s north loop was reopened. Now that 93 percent of the park’s roads are accessible, all vehicles can enter the park without reservations or specific license plate numbers.

Yellowstone is working to reconnect Mammoth Hot Springs with Gardiner and Cooke City as soon as possible with temporary solutions. The park is also looking to restore limited visitor vehicle access to the North Entrance, but the exact timing is unclear. On June 30, Yellowstone announced that visitors can access the park on foot through the North and Northeast entrances to fish and hike in open areas. At the time of publication, travelers accompanied by commercial guides are also allowed to enter through the Northwestern entrance via Old Gardiner Road, as reported by the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

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Access the latest updates from the National Park Service by visiting the Yellowstone National Park website, or sign up to receive road alerts by texting “82190” to 888-777 (an automatic text reply will confirm receipt and provide instructions). 

For the most part, trails and campsites located in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem are now open, with a few exceptions. Visit the Custer Gallatin National Forest website and Montana Fish & Wildlife website for the most up-to-date information about public lands outside of the national park. 

View of a river at golden hour with a small town along its banks
The Yellowstone River in Gardiner, Montana. | Photo: Sanna Boman

Visit Southwest Montana like a local

Yellowstone’s charming and adventure-filled gateway towns are open for business. It’s a rare chance to experience Montana’s famous hiking trails, live music, and local food without the usual summer crowds. There are endless opportunities for adventure and fun in this part of Montana, even without access to Yellowstone National Park. 

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As a current resident of Park County, Montana, here are my recommendations for a trip to Southwest Montana this summer.


Cooke City and Silver Gate

You can access Cooke City and Silver Gate via Chief Joseph Highway (Wyoming Highway 296) from the southeast as parts of Yellowstone’s Northeast Entrance road and the Beartooth Highway are closed for repairs. There’s no cell phone service here, so be prepared to go off the grid.

Things to do

  • Learn about the area’s history at the Cooke City visitor center. 
  • Go mountain biking or ATVing.
  • Visit the Cooke City General Store, which looks much the same as it did in the late 1800s.

Eat and drink

Nearby campgrounds


Gardiner

Gardiner is typically a busy summer destination, serving as the home base for thousands of Yellowstone visitors. 

Things to do

Eat and drink

Nearby campgrounds


Animal grazing with RV parked at a safe distance away
Eagle Creek Campground in Gardiner, Montana. | Photo: Sarah Hubbart
Crowd at rodeo in American West
Rodeo in Livingston, Montana. | Photo: Sarah Hubbart

Livingston

Livingston was the original gateway to Yellowstone during the days of railroad travel. Today, this charming and historic town attracts artists, cowboys, and outdoor enthusiasts.

Things to do

Eat and drink

Nearby campgrounds


Paradise Valley

Paradise Valley is located between Livingston and Yellowstone’s North Entrance in Gardiner. The valley is dotted with small towns, including Emigrant, Chico, Pray, and Pine Creek.

Things to do

Eat and drink

Nearby campgrounds


Open door of RV looking at scenic views and camp chair set up at fire pit
Campsite near Red Lodge, Montana. | Photo: Sarah Hubbart
Small crowd at a campground with stage and performers
Concert at Pine Creek Lodge. | Photo: Sarah Hubbart

Red Lodge

Red Lodge is the last stop before driving the iconic Beartooth Highway (which is currently closed for repairs) to Cooke City and Yellowstone’s Northeast Entrance. The historic downtown is known for its proximity to some of the best skiing, hiking, and fishing in the area.

Things to do

Eat and drink

Nearby campgrounds


Help keep Montana communities afloat

If you’re considering a trip to Montana soon, use the tips above as a starting point for your summer bucket list. These communities continue to rebuild from the devastating flood as they welcome back visitors.

You can help keep small towns afloat while enjoying all Montana has to offer. Don’t forget to recreate responsibly and follow Leave No Trace principles while visiting public lands and Big Sky Country.

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