Exploring Gorgeous Gardiner Montana

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Gardiner Montana, is a great base camp for exploring nearby Yellowstone National Park. The nation’s oldest national park is only five miles away.

Long before the Yellowstone series was a thing, I’d wanted to visit Yellowstone National Park, but logistics were always an issue. Yellowstone isn’t the easiest place to get to. But visiting our nation’s first national park is so worth the effort. The beauty of the area blew me away. Our road trip consisted of a few days in Jackson, WY, where we toured gorgeous Grand Teton National Park, and then three days in our nation’s first national park, Yellowstone. While we explored Yellowstone, we made our base camp in lovely Gardiner Montana, only 5 miles from the North entrance to the park. 

The Gateways to Yellowstone

I spent a lot of time researching the area and figuring out exactly what we wanted to do and where we wanted to stay. Most people made their home base in one of the gateway towns near the park entrances. Yellowstone is so vast that there are five different entrances. The town of West Yellowstone, MT, is the most popular entrance to the park and is situated at the park’s West entrance.  We chose to stay in Gardiner, Montana, because we wanted a more low-key stay with fewer crowds and close proximity to the North entrance.

Gardiner, MT, is a small town of fewer than 1,000 residents.  That number increases exponentially during the busy summer season, so things in town are busy. We loved the small-town vibe that Gardiner offers, in addition to the breathtaking views of the Absaroka Mountains and nearby scenic drives. Given the multiple hotels, casual restaurants, outdoor outfitters, and a killer gourmet grocery store, Gardiner had everything we needed.

Flying into Bozeman on Our Way to Gardiner, Montana

Our epic road trip began as we landed at the Bozeman, MT, airport. This is a small airport with zero hassles. We grabbed an Uber and quickly went to the off-site car rental agency. We chose off-site because the price was much lower than picking up a car at the airport. If you’re booking a trip to Yellowstone, remember that in summer,  there’s a high demand and a low supply of places to stay, cars, and just about anything.  Book your accommodations early, or you’ll likely not get what you want.

From Bozeman, we went to Jackson, Wyoming, toured Grand Teton National Park, and then headed to Gardiner. Once in Gardiner, we checked into The Roosevelt Hotel for our stay. We couldn’t have been more pleased to see pronghorn grazing across the way. We got used to seeing them around town. They make themselves at home.

Red car parked in front of brown two story motel in Gardiner, MT.

Roodevelt Hotel Gardiner, MT. Photo by SJ Morgensen

Home of the Roosevelt Arch 

The first order of business in Gardiner was getting to the iconic Roosevelt Arch that stands just outside the entrance to the park. I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of this gorgeous stone arch, dedicated by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903. This stunning arch is as photo-worthy as you’d expect, so go early before the crowds come and bring your camera. I grabbed coffee and walked down to the arch from our hotel every morning. It was cool to be there alone, with the elk snacking in the nearby field. 

Right across from Arch Park, we ventured to the visitor’s center and checked out the shops lining the street. You’ll notice signs advertising bear spray. Everyone told us it’s a good idea to have it and know how to use it if you’re venturing into the park. Better safe than sorry!

Stone arch over a road in Gardiner, MT.

The historic and iconic Roosevelt Arch in Gardiner, MT. Photo by SJ Morgensen

Custer Gallatin National Forest in Gardiner, Montana

As well as being home to the north entrance to Yellowstone, Gardiner is also home to the Custer Gallatin National Forest. The Gardiner district portion of the 13 million-acre forest borders the town of Gardiner, and we wanted to see it. We drove up Jardine Road to see incredible lush, green landscapes and stunning mountain views. Even though it was a foggy, overcast day, the views were awesome.

A wooden sign displaying Gallatin National Forest information.

Gallatin National Forest Sign in Gardiner, MT. Photo by SJ Morgensen

The Gardiner Food Scene

Since Gardiner is a small town, the food scene is understandably limited. The massive flooding in the area in 2022 forced some of the local restaurants to close, further limiting the choices in town. For dinner one night, we walked over to The Corral, the long-standing burger joint known for its buffalo burgers. This small place does great business—there was a line even though we arrived early on a rainy night. My husband’s cheeseburger was fresh and satisfying. My Caesar salad hit the spot. A fabulous alternative to hitting a restaurant is to grab delicious gourmet fare at the Gardiner Market. The market has prepared foods in the deli and a surprisingly large and favorable selection of beer, wine, liquor, and anything else you need.

A line of people waiting to get into a small restaurant in Gardiner, Montana.

The Corral In Gardiner, MT. Photo by SJ Morgensen

Giddy Up in Gardiner

The highlight of our Gardiner visit was watching an exciting horse drive through town!  We were lucky enough to be in town for the annual Hell’s A Roarin’ horse drive, held each year in May. Real cowboys move horses from the rodeo grounds in Gardiner back to their home to Jardine, about 7 miles up the mountain. Our hotel on Scott Street was the perfect vantage point to watch the cowboys wrangle the horses as they raced through town and up the mountain. Put on by Hell’s A- Roarin Outfitters, the horse drive is followed by a live auction, dinner, and dance, with net proceeds going to fund Action Trakchairs for disabled veterans. This is a cool event that you should not miss if you’re in town! 

A group of horses running through Gardiner, MT.

A horse drive through Gardiner, MT. Photo by SJ Morgensen

Other Gardiner Activities

If you want to try any outdoorsy sport like fishing, fly fishing, river rafting, or horseback riding, Gardiner is the perfect place. There are also excellent Yellowstone guides located in Gardiner. We did a guided wildlife tour through Yellowstone with Yellowstone Dreamin Adventures, an experience of a lifetime! I highly recommend this for anyone wanting to learn more about the park and spot tons of wildlife, including grizzly bears, brown bears, and wolves. These tour guides are absolute professionals!  

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Gateway to Yellowstone in Gardiner, MT

Next time you want to get away to an outdoor paradise, look no further than Gardiner. I truly feel like we barely scratched the surface of how to enjoy all that Gardiner offers. Next time our trip will include e-biking, flyfishing, a soak in the hot spring,s and maybe a glamping experience. I can’t wait to go back! Let Wander With Wonder be your guide when planning your trip to Montana or Wyoming.

Written by SJ Morgensen

SJ is a freelance writer based in Omaha, specializing in travel and food. Whether she's on an undiscovered beach in Florida or an off-the-beaten path trail in the White Mountains of Northern Arizona, SJ likes the unexpected travel experience. She especially enjoys exploring sunny U.S. destinations, chatting with locals, and digging into creative cuisine. Follow her travels on Instagram at @theprosperousblonde and on her website, TheProsperousBlonde.com.