Elevation: 5314 FT
With a strong nod to the Old West (and not just because it's named after an outlaw fur trapper), Gardiner excels at being quaint but happens to be a full-service town specializing in wilderness, wildlife, whitewater, and western welcomes. The Yellowstone River runs right through this no-fuss community of just under 900 residents who are greatly outnumbered by antelope, bison, deer and elk.
Gardiner has survived the boom and bust of the gold rush, devastating fires, and the coming and going of the railroad. Today Gardiner serves travelers from all over the world. This basecamp community in the aptly names Paradise Valley is surrounded on all sides by 10 million acres of public lands, so you can set out in any direction and find adventure, like rafting, ziplining, horseback riding, and world-class hiking and fly-fishing.
Gardiner is “Nature’s Favorite Entrance to Yellowstone National Park” and will get you in via the iconic Roosevelt Arch in any season, offering the only wintertime personal-vehicle entrance. The winter drive from Gardiner to Tower Junction to Cooke City lets you experience the magic of the park's quiet off season, which means you can Nordic ski and sightsee and watch wildlife in the Lamar Valley—a hot spot for wolves in the winter. In the warmer months, bring your fly rod and your hiking boots.
Also, Gardiner is a mere 5 miles from the park's impressive Mammoth Hot Springs terraces with a stop along the way at the famed Boiling River, the only hot springs in the park you can (despite its name) actually swim in. Don’t miss the Albright Visitor Center in Mammoth.
Gardiner is located on the 45th parallel, the halfway point between the equator and the North Pole.
Curious why the name Gardiner is spelled differently from the Gardner River and John Gardner, the fur trapper for which the river and town get their names? That “i” was added likely because of a phonetic misspelling when pronounced by native West Virginia Mountain Man Jim Bridger.
Gardiner gives you access to the Northern Range—the northern section of Yellowstone National Park—where you’ll find the park’s largest herds of bison and elk, as well as coyotes, foxes, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, plus the occasional wolf, moose, and bear (both black and grizzly). Because Gardiner provides the only year-round entrance to the park for personal vehicle, Gardiner is a basecamp sure bet any time of year. Winter is especially magical for Nordic skiers, snowshoers, and photographers on the lookout for gray wolves. Don’t miss the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (including Lower Falls) and Hayden Valley. If you’d prefer to leave the driving to someone else, consider a snowcoach tour of the park.
Live Like a Local
Gardiner knows how to celebrate its roots. Each May, on Memorial Day weekend, the town hosts the Hells A-Roarin' Horse Drive an authentic Wild West tradition followed by a barbecue with cowboy poetry and live music. For a true taste of small-town Yellowstone Country, hit up this wildly fun event. Other events that should be on your radar include the Gardiner Rodeo (June), Gardiner Brewfest (July), Gardiner Christmas Stroll and Tree Lighting (December), Chili Cook-Off (January), and Jardine Ski Run (February).