Things to do Outside Yellowstone National Park

Hey there! I am finally catching up on the blog and didn’t really know how I wanted to organize & share all of our Yellowstone information. If you follow along on our travels on Facebook or Instagram, then you may know that we arrived at West Yellowstone, MT 3 hours after the National Park Service closed Yellowstone for the first time in 34 years. We were so confused because the weather in the area was absolutely beautiful and there was no indication that Yellowstone had received flooding rains. But then we saw the footage and realized the severity of the situation way north of us. We were sad to say the least, I had spent over a year planning this trip. So, we got to work making new plans while praying that the Park would open while we were still there (which it did not). We definitely made the best of the situation and had tons of fun doing and seeing things that we would not have if Yellowstone had been open. At the end of the day, Jereme and I both agreed that our boys probably had more fun on these excursions than they would have driving around in Yellowstone for 5 days. So, if you find yourself in the area and want a variety of things to do, read on for a list of family friendly ideas!

West Yellowstone, MT

Lodging – First things first, we absolutely LOVED The Kelly Inn in West Yellowstone. The staff was so amazing and accommodating with the situation of Yellowstone being closed. They offered us some ideas on things to do in the area, which we appreciated so much! And the location was ideal, we were actually able to walk to dinner and shopping right from the hotel. It was nice to be out of the car and walking after our 20+ hour drive from Texas. Our room was so large and roomy, the free breakfast buffet was one of the best that we’ve had at a hotel, and we enjoyed the pool and hot tub during our down time. I highly recommend this lodging, which also happens to be right outside of the West entrance into Yellowstone National Park!

We got lucky, our room had a bear peeking in the window!

Dining – Our favorite restaurant in West Yellowstone was the Buffalo Bar. Our boys asked to go there every single night! We all tried buffalo for the first time and really, really loved it. The boys had buffalo nachos, I had the country fried buffalo steak and some buffalo balls (lol), and Jereme had the buffalo burger. We ended up eating there two times on the trip because we all loved the food so much! We also enjoyed Three Bears Restaurant and The Slippery Otter Pub.

Country Fried Buffalo Steak from the Buffalo Bar

Downtown – West Yellowstone is a quintessential tourist town lined with souvenir shops, restaurants, candy stores, etc. We were able to walk to all the shops from our lodging, which was really nice. The kids enjoyed getting out and exploring all of the little stores that lined the downtown area and main street. We found some great souvenirs and enjoyed chatting with the employees in the shops. Everyone was truly shocked about the Park being closed and it was always the topic of conversation!

Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center – This was such a fun activity for our first full day in West Yellowstone! My youngest son’s favorite animal is a wolf and we wanted to see wolves in Yellowstone, which we knew wasn’t a guarantee in the wild. So, we really enjoyed our experience here. What I loved most about this place is that it is a non-profit organization and the animals in the center were actually rescued and have a wonderful place to live out the rest of their days. Most of the bears were orphaned as cubs and never taught how to be wild by their mothers and were getting too close to humans/trash. It was nice to hear their stories and see them doing so well. We also enjoyed the small museum inside – it was snowing on our visit… in mid-June! So, if you don’t get your bear or wolf sighting in Yellowstone, be sure to check out this place! Our tickets were good for two days, too.

  • Website: https://grizzlyctr.givecloud.co/
  • Address: 201 S. Canyon St. West Yellowstone, MT 59758
  • Phone: (406) 646-7001
  • Hours: 9:00 am – 6:00 pm Daily
  • Rates: Adults (13+) $15, Children (5-12) $10, Seniors (62+) $14, Free under 4
Sam was our favorite bear!

Island Park, ID

UTV Riding – Island Park, ID is only about 25 minutes from West Yellowstone. When we were searching for things to do, this area kept popping up and there are several different things to do here. We chose to rent a UTV for the day with High Mountain Adventures from 8:30 am to 4:45 pm. These UTVs are street legal, so we were able to go pretty much anywhere, including the convenience store for snacks and a restaurant. Did I mention that there are also over 500 miles of trails to explore? The UTV we rented came with a GPS and the employees gave us a map and highlighted their favorite trails for us to explore! We ended up going to Big Springs and to the top of Sawtell Peak, more information about these two places below.

Big Springs – One of the first places we decided to explore on the UTV was Big Springs. It’s a natural spring that provides water to the Snake River. The whole area is beautiful and the water is crystal clear. Bring some quarters and you can buy fish food right off the bridge to feed the trout – and there are a ton! It was so fascinating to watch. No fishing is allowed here, but you can hike and walk around the springs/river. And there are several UTV trails to explore as well.

The water is so clear & there are so many trout!

Sawtell Peak – We also wanted to drive up to the top of Sawtell Peak. We may have changed our mind if we knew how cold it was going to be, remember it had snowed the day before! It was a pretty mild day in Island Park and at Big Springs, but man it was freezing when we rode up the mountain. We did bring jackets and had blankets and gloves, but despite the view, it was pretty miserable at the top. We didn’t spend a lot of time here because we were too cold, but it was a very pretty ride. I think it would be more enjoyable later in the summer!

Upper Mesa Falls – Our final adventure in Idaho was to Upper Mesa Falls. We didn’t ride the UTV here, it was too far away for that. So we headed to the falls after we returned the UTV for the day and we had about a 30 minute drive from High Mountain Adventures to Ashton, ID. This waterfall is very impressive, 114 feet tall and 200 feet wide, and I am so glad that we decided to visit! I used the AllTrails app for directions, but there are also several signs on the drive for you to follow, too. The trail is pretty short and most of it is on a boardwalk that leads you to different viewpoints. There is a $5 cash only parking fee. There’s also a small store and visitor center on site.

We could not believe the size of this waterfall!

Virginia City, MT

Ghost Town – Virginia City was such a neat place to visit and only 1.5 hours from West Yellowstone. It originally became a town from pioneers and adventurers settling there during the Gold Rush period, which also brought vigilantes and bandits to the area. It is now a very well-preserved National Historic Site that is so fun to explore. And it’s completely FREE to walk around and enter the buildings on the boardwalk. There are also several different activities that you can do as well, including a train ride to Nevada City, stagecoach rides, historic fire truck tours, and museums! Click here to learn more about visiting Virginia City!

Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park, MT

Caverns – Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park is Montana’s first state park! These caverns are a little less than 2 hours away from West Yellowstone and the scenic drive through Montana was so enjoyable! You can only visit the caves with a guided tour and they offer two options, The Paradise Tour (1.5 hours) or The Classic Tour (2 hours). Tours cost $15 per adult, $10 per child (5-14) or $5 per child under four. We did the Paradise Tour, it was recommended for kids but I wish we would’ve done the Classic Tour since it’s about 30 minutes longer inside the cave. We learned a lot about caves and had a great time, then we ate a delicious late lunch at the café on site. They served burgers, sandwiches, nuggets and it was perfect after our guided tour! Click here to learn more about visiting Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park.

As you can see, we made the best of our unfortunate circumstances at Yellowstone. I wish we could’ve visited the Park, but we still had a great time and will eventually get to YNP. Please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions that you have! And be sure to follow me on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/road_trip_queen/ – I have more videos and helpful information there.

Our faces sum up how we all felt being so close to Yellowstone, yet unable to go in the Park!

Next up, our trip to Grand Teton National Park! Be sure to check back for details and more information about our time in Wyoming.

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