Entrances to Yellowstone NP: Gardiner, MT at North Entrance
After three days of the nightmare of dealing with the crowds and traffic at Yellowstone, I needed a break! Next up on my agenda was to drive the Beartooth Scenic Byway from the northeast entrance into Yellowstone up to Red Lodge, Montana. I’ve heard all my life that this was the most beautiful and amazing drive in the whole country so I was really looking forward to it. I needed to spend a few days catching up on website work so I wanted to find a campsite along the way where I could get internet in camp. The most likely looking place was at Gardiner, MT which is at the north entrance into Yellowstone in the Gallatin NF. So I downloaded the MVUM for the Gallatin NF, and sure enough it listed lots of dispersed camping very near town. That’s where I was going next!
After another drive through Yellowstone I arrived in the small but very nice town of Gardiner. Like nearly everything associated with the National Parks it is primarily a tourist trap, and like most northern states, they can’t do much road work in the winter so they double-up in the summer. The main road into Yellowstone through Gardiner was all torn up so getting around was more difficult. It’s a typical small-town tourist-trap, lots of tourist stuff with many restaurants and gas stations and one small grocery store. As is usual, it was overpriced but not as much as most. I was able to shop without paying too much more than national store prices.
It also had a National Forest Ranger office so I stopped in. My experience in Rangers office is pretty spotty, when you ask them about camping they universally want to send you to a pay campground, but if you then ask about dispersed camping some are helpful and some are not. I get the impression a lot of these Rangers in the offices either don’t drive around so they don’t know the area, or they simply don’t want to help you. I got lucky this time and she was very knowledgeable and helpful about where to camp. One question I ask now is “Where can I get cell/data signal for my Smartphone?” Most Rangers will try to guess, but she knew for sure! So I headed up to the area she told me about. She was right, I got 4g signal the whole way and soon found a nice campsite to settle into for a few days.
It was a very nice camp with big mountains on both sides of me and a nice walk for Cody and I. There were no other campers and only occasional traffic on the road. Elk are everywhere in this area so we had elk very close to camp. It’s a perfect base-camp to stay at and make day-trips into Yellowstone. It’s only about 5 miles to Mammoth Spring and another 30 miles to the LaMarr Valley which is one of the best places for wildlife with tons of buffalo, elk, antelope and even its own wolf pack. It’s also one of the prettiest drives in the park
One other thing we did while we were there was to drive just south of town slightly into Yellowstone and stop and walk along the Gardener River. It’s a beautiful little river in a valley full of big trees. Cody loves splashing around in the water and I enjoyed the cool shade and the nice breeze that blows along it. A very pleasant few hours!
One more thing for this post. The three entrances into Yellowstone from Montana are all in the Gallatin NF. So while I was in the Gallatin NF Rangers office in Gardiner I got a copy of the MVUM for each area. There is an abundance of dispersed camping in the Forest around each, and where you can dispersed camp is clearly marked on the maps. In fact I’m typing this in a dispersed campsite in the Gallatin NF literally looing down at West Yellowstone, MT just about a mile from Yellowstone NP which is at the West entrance. I used the MVUM I picked up at Gardiner to find it. The same thing with Cooke City, MT which is at the northeastern entrance into Yellowstone NP.
I highly recommend Gardiner as a base camp to explore YNP!