Gardiner Getaway

Gardiner Getaway

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Patterson, Amber

With the ski hills shut down and the local trails slathered in mud, spring’s a great time to jump in the car for a close-to-home road trip—and Gardiner is a great place to start. Spectacular views, friendly folks, raging whitewater, and abundant wildlife are just a few reasons to make the drive south to Yellowstone’s only year-round entrance.

Veteran wildlife watchers know that the Gardiner area is a haunt for elk, bison, deer, pronghorn, and the occasional black or grizzly bear, moose, wolf, and coyote. While you’re tooling the back roads, keep an eye out for shed antlers; elk typically start dropping their “horns” in early April. Be sure you’re outside Park boundaries, and observe any Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ closure dates.

For spring whitewater, the notorious “Town Stretch” starts just south of the bridge, where the Gardner River empties into the Yellowstone. Several miles of roiling Class II and III rapids await, so jump in your kayak or raft (or canoe, if you’re properly equipped and mildly suicidal) and let ‘er rip. Hire one of the many guides in town or run it yourself; just be sure you know where to get out of the water. If you miss the McConnel (3 miles north of town) or Corwin Springs (6 miles north) fishing access sites, you’ll face a long, rapid-less float to Yankee Jim Canyon, the next available takeout.

Yankee Jim has excellent whitewater too; put in at Joe Brown, just south of the canyon, and take out at the Carbella bridge. After a lap or two, grab your chalk bag and hit the rocks—Yankee Jim campground has several huge boulders scattered about for some short but challenging climbing.

Even in the warmest spring, snow still clings to Gardiner’s high-elevation peaks. For some memorable spring skiing, hit Electric Peak, the highest point in the Gallatin Range. It’s a long slog, but the north ridge has some great lines, including “The Dogleg,” a sweet couloir offering a 4,000-foot descent.

And of course, you can always pony up the entrance fee and hop into Yellowstone Park. Check out the elk at Mammoth Hot Springs, or take a drive through the Lamar Valley to see vast herds of bison. On the way back, enjoy a long soak in the Boiling River. Be sure to call the Park (307-344-7381) ahead of time, because the hot spring is often closed in the springtime due to hazardous runoff.

May 2: Park to Paradise Triathlon. This event combines boating (8 miles), biking (18 miles), and running (5 miles). Enter solo or as a team. Register on race day from 9-10 am at Carbella’s Fishing Access; race starts at 10:30.
June 7: Yellowstone Days Festival and 5k Fun Run. Registration at 9 am; race starts at 10. Following the 5k is a day filled with food, music, film, and fun.
June 20-21: NRA Gardiner Rodeo. Rodeo takes place north of town at the Jim Duffy Arena on Highway 89. There’s also a dance on Friday night and a parade on Saturday.

The road from Gardiner to Mammoth and on to Cooke City is always open, but beyond that roads are closed until April 17.
Opening dates are:
April 17–West side roads open to motor vehicles. Mammoth to Norris Junction to Madison Junction to Old Faithful; Madison Junction to West Entrance; Norris Junction to Canyon.
May 1–Canyon to Lake; Lake to East Entrance.
May 8–Tower to Tower Fall; Lake to West Thumb; West Thumb to Old Faithful; South to Old Faithful. Cooke City via Colter Pass to the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway intersection to the Long Lake gate open soon thereafter.
May 22 (if snow and plow conditions allow)−Tower Falls to Canyon via Dunraven Pass; Long Lake Gate to Red Lodge via Beartooth Pass.

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