With four distinct seasons, Yellowstone's Northern Range offers sights and activities to keep all kinds of adventurers busy throughout the year. From animals to thermal features to stunning scenery and educational opportunities, you'll wish you had just a little more time to see it all.
Although much of Yellowstone National Park is closed to vehicle traffic in winter, the route between Gardiner and Cooke City remains open all year. And it's one of the park's most scenic drives, winter or summer.
If you start from Gardiner, you'll follow park's northern entrance road south to Mammoth Hot Springs, then east on the high country Grand Loop Road. From here, you'll head through the rugged canyon between 11,000-foot Abiathar Peak 10,200-foot Amphitheater Mountain to Silver Gate and Cooke City. Total distance: just 57 miles - so take your time and enjoy the trip!
There are few better places to get in touch with your inner Ansel Adams than the Northern Range of Yellowstone National Park. Colorful hot springs, geysers and boiling pools compete with snow-capped mountains, plunging waterfalls and free-roaming wildlife for your attention. Autumn - when the aspen trees turn bright yellow - is one of the best times to capture memorable Yellowstone images.
Hot Springs Soaking
There are only a few places in the park where you have the opportunity to safely interact with Yellowstone's thermal springs, and Boiling River is one of the most exciting. Step into the Gardiner River and enjoy the unusual sensation as the hot and cold waters mix in pools along the edge of the river. The access point is between Mammoth Hot Springs and Gardiner: the small parking area isn't well-marked, and there's a half-mile hike involved, but the trek is well-worth it.
Wildlife & Bird-Watching
The diversity of Yellowstone National Park's wildlife population draws visitors from all over the world. The park is famous for its wild American Bison, but wolves, coyotes, deer, elk, bears, bighorn sheep, mountain goats and mountain lions all share the park's habitat. Birders have documented 330 bird species in the park, including graceful raptors such as bald eagles, osprey, peregrine falcon and the great horned owl.
Hiking & Backpacking
In Yellowstone National Park and its neighboring National Forests, you can find well-developed day hiking trails to less-developed back country routes. Regardless, remember that weather can change quickly and wildlife such as bears and bison are best avoided. If you're going backcountry camping in Yellowstone, you'll need a use permit.
Yellowstone National Park has a dozen campgrounds within its boundaries. In addition, a number of campgrounds with varying amenties are available in the Shoshone and Gallatin National Forests. Privately operated campgrounds and RV parks offer full amenities in the Gardiner, Silver Gate and Cooke City areas.
There are more great fishing spots in Yellowstone's Northern Range than you can shake a fly rod at. This world-class fishery has hundreds of miles of accessible rivers, streams and lakes that boast healthy populations of wild trout, including cutthroat, rainbow, brown, brook and lake trout. Keep in mind that Yellowstone has catch-and-release rules for some species and sites. Stop by one of the shops in Gardiner or Cooke City, to get the lowdown.
Want adventure but don't know where to start? Not to worry. Throughout the Northern Range there a number of business that will do the driving, pack the gear, load the boats and show you places that the average tourist will never see. Outfitters and guide services offer fishing, horseback riding, backpacking, hunting, overnight pack trips and other adventures.
You have a number of hands-on choices if you want to gain a deeper understanding of the Yellowstone ecosystem. Here are two:
Expedition: Yellowstone! - This National Park Service program gives students in fourth to eighth grade a 4- to 5-day, curriculum-based residential program that teaches the natural and cultural history of the park, as well stewardship and preservation. The historic Lamar Buffalo Ranch serves as base for the spring and fall expeditions.
The Yellowstone Association Institute - This program offers a number of ways to experience Yellowstone National Park, including private day hikes, geyser tours and wildlife watching to in-depth classes on a variety of subjects.
Gardiner boasts a variety of stores that offer an eclectic variety of books, clothing, jewelry, saddles, fishing supplies and gifts. With its scenic surroundings, it's no surprise that Gardiner is also home to a number of art galleries and photo studios. You can also pick up supplies such as camping gear, groceries and prescriptions.
The Cooke City-Silver Gate area also has a lively retail community. You can rent snowmobiles, buy a fly rod, book a rafting or sign up for a zip-line ride. Outdoors lovers will love shopping in this high mountain village.