When we planned our trip to Yellowstone for our June vacation, we had no idea the importance of finding what to do near Yellowstone. It was roughly two weeks before we left that the park and surrounding areas experienced historic flooding.
We waffled between going and not going. We weren’t even sure if the park would be open at all by the time we arrived. (Luckily, it opened the day after we arrived – read my top tips for navigating Yellowstone!). During the week we were there, our planned five days in the park turned into only two, due to the North Loop closure and the alternate license plate admission system.
We were prepared though. Prepared to make the most of our trip no matter what was open or closed. Because this was Big Sky Country and even if we couldn’t spend all of the time we wanted in arguably one of the most beautiful national parks, we were going to find things to do that would make this a memorable trip.
Special note: Although I did a lot of research before we went, we made no plans until we arrived. We experienced less than normal summer crowds which made this possible for us. You may need to plan in advance for some of these activities.
Figuring out what to do and where to go depends on the things you like to do, how much time you have, where you’re staying, your budget, and your level of adventure. You’ll find we were all over the map (literally and figuratively) when it came to this. Here are some of our favorite places near Yellowstone.
Things to Do in Idaho Near Yellowstone
We stayed in Island Park, Idaho because we found a great hotel for a great rate just 25 minutes from the West Entrance for Yellowstone. Unexpectedly, Idaho became a surprise hit on our vacation, not to mention we found THE nicest people everywhere we went.
St. Anthony Dune Rentals
Do you have a sense of adventure? Do you love to get your adrenaline flowing? Yeah, me neither. But my husband does. So I planned to do something just for him on this trip and I like to push myself out of my comfort zone. St. Anthony Dune Rentals accomplished both.
Almost an hour south of Island Park, you can visit St. Anthony Sand Dunes, an area consisting of “10,600 acres of clear, shifting, white quartz sand.” It’s literally a desert in the middle of eastern Idaho.
Operated out of Hansen Performance, we rented a four-person Can-Am dune buggy for two hours. It was beautiful, exhilarating, and, with my husband behind the wheel, terrifying. You make it the experience you want. Just make sure you know what’s on the other side of the dune before you go flying over it!
Craters of the Moon National Monument
After our dune buggy experience, we stopped for some sandwiches in the little town of Rexburg and tried to figure out what to do with our afternoon. I briefly mentioned a cool place I had heard of called Craters of the Moon National Monument, but it was two hours from where we were eating. If that wasn’t long enough, that would mean a three hour drive back to our hotel.
And yet, my family was game. Let’s do it! they said. And I’m so glad they did. This was one of my very favorite spots on this trip.
The park is situated in a small loop that takes about a half hour to drive through but there are fascinating places to stop. The black volcanic rock is from a volcano that erupted 2000 years ago and cooled quickly. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
We walked through fields of lava rock, hiked through a lava top, and climbed to the top of a cinder cone. We only wished that we could have stayed later as this area has a dark skies designation.
As many people do, we planned a day in Grand Teton National Park. But because we couldn’t drive through Yellowstone to get there, we drove the two hours from Island Park down to the southern entrance. And of course, we made an adventure out of the drive.
We stopped at a little place called Victor Emporium in Victor, Idaho, literally on the way to Grand Teton. The only turn required was into a parking space!
We stopped there for one reason only: huckleberry milkshakes. Huckelberry is the state fruit of Idaho and if you’re an east coaster like me, you have probably never tasted it. It’s like a large blueberry and they make sure they give you a large enough straw to suck up the chunks of fruit.
Here’s an insider tip: ask for the employee favorite, Purple Peaks, a huckleberry shake with Oreo in it!
Things to Do in Wyoming Near Yellowstone
Most of our time in Wyoming was spent Yellowstone. If you’re staying near one of the other Yellowstone entrances, I’ve heard amazing things about Cody, Wyoming. And people love Jackson, Wyoming but we didn’t get a chance to stop there. We were focused on the park!
Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park is home of the major peaks of the Teton Range. It’s worth a stop at the Visitor Center to let them know how long you’ll be there and what you like to do and they’ll make recommendations on where to go and what you can expect to see.
Although you could spend days there, we only had one so we focused on one the recommended activities, Jenny Lake. We purchased roundtrip boat tickets to take you across the crystal clear and very cold glacial lake. On the other side, you can hike to the top of Inspiration Point where you’re rewarded with lots of waterfalls and an amazing view at the top. And it was here that was got up close and personal with some smaller wildlife!
After our boating and hiking adventure, we drove the loop to take in some additional wildlife and see the site of some of the original Mormon settlers.
Things to Do in Montana Near Yellowstone
After spending five nights in Island Park, which was the based for all of the things we did in Idaho and Wyoming, we moved on to our final destination in Bozeman. But we made the trip a journey – site seeing along the way and venturing out of the city for a few more adventures.
Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center
On everyone’s must-see, must-do list is the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, just outside the park entrance. Although you’ll probably see plenty of wildlife in Yellowstone, this place give you a chance to get up close and personal with wildlife you maybe didn’t see or probably saw at quite a distance (if you’re playing it safe).
Expect to see grizzly bears, wolves, birds of prey, ground squirrels (like smaller, faster prairie dogs!), river otters, and more. And no worries about snatching these animals from their natural habitat. All of these animals are either permanently injured and unable to survive in the wild (typically the birds), targeted for euthanasia because of human acclimation (like the bears), or bred in captivity.
Historic Virginia City, Montana
Looking to find the Old West in your travels? You’ll find a hint of it in Virginia City, Montana. This town came into its own in the 1860s during the gold rush. In fact, it was home of one of the largest gold strikes. But the town eventually fell into disrepair until it was slowly bought up by a couple on the 1940s and 50s.
Their goal was to preserve the history of the town and today it’s a fully restored example of a mining town. You’ll find historical displays (we loved the story of African-American businesswoman Sarah Bickford), old time watering holes, and restaurants and shops. Our favorite was Cousin’s Candy Store, where we met an working intern for the summer all the way from Jamaica!
Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park
Just an hour or so outside of Bozeman is Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park, a wonderful park that actually has absolutely nothing to do with Lewis & Clark! You’ll learn about that if you opt for the cavern tour. You’ll drive to the top of the mountains where you’ll find a small picnic area, gift shop, and cafe. And it’s near there where you can purchase tickets for one of the cavern tours.
We chose the Classic tour – a two hour adventure through the caverns. This is not your regular cavern tour. We squeezed through narrow passageways, slid down some rocks, and toured part of it by candlelight. It’s one of the best cavern tours I’ve ever been on. But be warned – there is a relatively steep 3/4 mile hike to the cave entrance for this tour!
If you’re looking for something a little more low key, whether you have elderly people in your party, small children, or some disabilities, you can try the shorter and more accessible Paradise tour. Overall, this one was one of my favorite stops in Montana!
Madison Buffalo Jump State Park
While the cavern tour took a good chunk of time, I wanted to squeeze one more activity in for the day. So we make a quick detour on our way back to Bozeman to see this remarkable area.
Madison Buffalo Jump State Park is the home to a limestone cliff used by Native Americans for over 2000 years. As the name implies, it was used to corral and incite a stampede of bison over the edge of the cliff to waiting tribe members below. It was there that the bison meat and hides would be used to sustain the people.
There’s a small gravel parking lot that gives you a view but I recommend at least making the 1/4 mile hike to the visitor plaza where you’re told the entire fascinating story of how “buffalo jumps” were accomplished.
Museum of the Rockies
On our final day in Montana, we were looking for something easy to do before our evening flights and the Museum of the Rockies was mentioned as another can’t miss attraction.
Most people visit the museum to learn more about dinosaurs, which is what it’s primarily known for. The region is a hotspot for dinosaur bones and fossils and there are many on display.
We were actually more interested in the planetarium shows. They have different shows throughout the day and we ended up watching two of them. We also loved the historical Yellowstone tourism exhibit and an actual authentic homestead set up outside the museum.
How to Find What to Do Near Yellowstone
See? There are plenty of things to do near Yellowstone if you’re looking for them. So how did I find things? Here are my top resources to help you find things to do on this trip or any trip!
- Read blogs like mine (thank for stopping by!)
- Visit the local tourism websites (VisitMT.com, VisitIdaho.org, TravelWyoming.com)
- Check out the National Park Service website which give you information about nationals parks, national monuments, scenic byways, battlefields and more
- If you like unusual or out-of-the-way destinations, you must read Atlas Obscura, one of my favorite sites when traveling!
- Ask your friends and make new friends by joining a Facebook group. I loved the community in this yellowstone National Park unofficial group!
If you have additional activities to share, I’d love to hear where you’ve been near Yellowstone!