Yellowstone River Rising: Paradise Valley- Gardiner Road

*In June 2022, The Yellowstone River caused catastrophic flooding throughout Yellowstone and many of Yellowstone’s northern gateway communities. I want to raise awareness about the beauty and resilience of Yellowstone River communities.

Communities like Red Lodge, Cooke City, Gardiner and Livingston MT are open for business. In this blog series I’m showcasing the beauty and wonder of this gorgeous region.

How you can help:

In my last entry we explored my favorite Montana town – Livingston. Today we’re heading south from Livingston on Highway 89 and entering the Paradise Valley.

Entering The Paradise Valley, a wayward wind kicks up, rustling the miles of wide open amber golden grasses. The Yellowstone River broadly cuts and carves the valley. This real life ‘canvas’ is so beautiful and vast that you cannot believe it is real. The Paradise Valley is filled grassland of rich yellows, golds, burnt umbers and vibrant greens – which though subdued create a vibrancy on the valley floor.

The Yellowstone sparkles under the sun, as the shadow of the Absarokas and Gallatin Ranges hug the valley.

The land, though sparsely populated includes a hearty community of locals who love the land and will do anything to protect this bit of ‘paradise.’

What to do in The Paradise Valley:

The Paradise Valley is a recreation lovers dream – area guest ranches offer the chance to saddle up and go on horseback.

If you enjoy fishing – fly-fishing on The Yellowstone River and neighboring creeks is pure blue-ribbon.

Rafting on The Yellowstone is fun for the whole family.

Take time to pray in the hamlet of Pray Montana, where you can stop in a roadside tiny chapel (open for prayer) and enjoy dramatic views of nearby Emigrant Peak, which rises over the valley as a guardian peak.

The town of Emigrant, MT (an old mining town) is the perfect place stop for gas and good meal.

Emigrant Peak view from Livingston, MT

The Paradise Valley narrows a few miles after Emigrant MT transitioning to the formidable beauty of Yankee Jim Canyon.

Located thirteen miles north of Yellowstone National Park, The Yankee Jim Canyon is a narrow small canyon, less than five miles that attracts whitewater enthusiasts. The rapids in Yankee Jim Canyon are the most powerful rapids on the Yellowstone River that are not within the water restrictions of Yellowstone National Park.

The name Yankee Jim is tied to the history of the area when prospector turned toll collector James George. Yankee Jim charged a toll for passage through the canyon for many years. This article from Distinctly Montana dives into the history of Yankee Jim and his ‘tussle’ with Rudyard Kipling (who visited the park in the 1880s)

Several scenic turnouts provide perfect photo ops for drivers to stop and enjoy the view.

Coming out of Yankee Jim Canyon, the rugged tapestry of the Absaroka and almost a high desert sage combine with the lush beauty of the forests in the distance.

Each bend and break in the stretch of highway from Yankee Jim to Gardiner MT is jaw dropping. Unique geologic formations form as a preamble to the gates of Yellowstone National Park.

One unique formation is Devils Slide…click here to learn more.

Chico Hot Springs:

Everyone deserves a ‘spa’ day in a thermal hot spring.

Unfortunately, Yellowstone’s thermal features are far too hot for soaking (with the exception of Boiling Springs and one area near Firehole Falls)…

Fear not…you can enjoy the relaxing thermal healing waters of a Montana hot spring right outside of Gardiner MT at the historic Chico Hot Springs

Since 1900 Chico Hot Springs has served as the premier hot springs spa and resort in The Paradise Valley. Check into their wonderful hotel for a restful stay; enjoy a delicious meal in the dining room and have fun the the relaxing thermal waters to SAFELY SOAK in Yellowstone Country. To learn more click here.

From Chico’s website

Gardiner MT – the oldest entrance into Yellowstone National Park

Gardiner captures the true western spirit of Yellowstone Country. Located at the junction of the Gardner and Yellowstone Rivers Gardiner is surrounded by the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness to the North and the Custer/Gallatin National Forest to the West, and of course a little gem called Yellowstone National Park to the south.

Gardiner is the original entrance to Yellowstone, lying a few miles north of Mammoth Hot Springs (in Yellowstone). It has always served as a headquarters for many park related industry and services. The history and culture of Gardiner are uniquely intertwined with Yellowstone and the surrounding scenery.

While Gardiner is known as a ‘gateway’ to Yellowstone – Gardiner is so much more…it is a vibrant community filled with wonderful people, businesses, culture and recreational opportunity you won’t find anywhere else in the world.

Quick history:

References to the area known as Gardner’s Hole, named for fur trapper Johnson Gardner, date to the mid-1830s. Stories of fantastical features on the landscape spewing steam, and bubbling mud with water hot enough to cook a trout in minutes, huge mountains, vast rivers and lakes full of fish, massive herds of elk and bison– and giant bears!

Not a lot is known about Johnson Gardner. An article about him in a 1903 issue of the Gardiner Wonderland newspaper rated him as “an outlaw and in general a worthless, dissolute character.” (from Gardiner’s tourism site)

Gardner River but Gardiner MT…Why?

It is believed that when Gardiner was named in 1870 by the Washburn-Langford-Doane party named the place Gardiner (adding an extra i). Gardiner is the oldest known place name in the region outside of Yellowstone Park.

The confluence of the Gardner and Yellowstone rivers is the prime spot for water recreation. Gardiner’s unique location at the threshold of Yellowstone’s northern entrance (The Yellowstone Roosevelt Arch can be seen from downtown Gardiner) – allows for recreation, wildlife viewing and unparalleled western beauty.

Unfortunately the June 2022 floods ripped apart the connecting road from Gardiner to Mammoth, washing it away in a matter of hours. While reconstruction is a priority, the flood waters unfortunately caused mud slides that will demand for a long term approach to rebuilding the architecture.

Because of this damage, Gardiner is unfortunately cut off from Yellowstone and Mammoth Hot Springs – even though they are a few miles away.

Because of this many have canceled their Gardiner reservations and either rebooked elsewhere or canceled entire Yellowstone trips.

Please don’t do this! Gardiner is a treasure and part of Yellowstone even if you cannot access the park directly at this time.

Taking time to drive the fifty miles down from Livingston through The Paradise Valley and Yankee Jim Canyon to Gardiner is worth your time and money.

Even when the main park road is open, I used to spend several days just in the Gardiner area enjoying outdoor recreations and perusing the downtown shops and enjoying the wonderful coffee and food at local restaurants.

Gardiner is still open for business and is waiting to provide you the BEST vacation you can imagine. You can still tie it into your Yellowstone vacation…simply add on a detour from West Yellowstone, MT – up 191 to Bozeman, then east to Livingston and south to Gardiner – this itinerary is bar none the most scenic drive in America!

To learn all about Gardiner and book an amazing trip click here.

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