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What to do with Yellowstone Park closed in 2022 – Advice for visitors

Yellowstone Park has closed the North entrance at Gardiner, MT, and the Northeast Entrance at Silver Gate due to flood damage. While visitors to the area won’t be able to use these entrances to visit the park, there are still lots of great ways to enjoy a visit to this special area. Here are some ideas for an alternative to a Yellowstone Park Visit.

Historic 2022 Flooding Hits Yellowstone

On June 13, 2022, northern Yellowstone Park and the surrounding areas in Montana were hit with an unprecedented flood as inches of rain fell on the remaining winter snowpack. In a matter of a few hours, rivers reached levels almost twice as high as ever recorded and there was massive devastation. As a result, Yellowstone National Park closed temporarily to all visitors.

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NPS aerial photo of a section of washed out road along the Gardiner River. The river is in flood and the damage is obvious.
This photo from the National Park Service shows a washed-out road section between Gardiner, MT and Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone Park.

On Wednesday, June 22 Yellowstone reopened the southern sections of the park and the South, West, and East entrances. They plan to partially open the northern loop through the park by early July. Everything is changing quickly and the latest information is on Yellowstone’s Flood Response Page.

With parts of Yellowstone closed many people are considering changing their vacation plans. Unless visiting Yellowstone is the only reason for your trip I recommend you come and visit as you planned. You’ll discover memorable experiences just outside Yellowstone’s boundaries.

Don’t Cancel Your Trip!

Visitors planning to visit the north end of Yellowstone are wondering what to do about vacation plans as the northern entrances to Yellowstone will not reopen this season. However, Yellowstone’s natural wonders don’t stop at the boundary and there are great opportunities to visit remarkable places that most visitors overlook. Here are some alternatives that will get you into the wilds.

Visit a Waterfall

Passage Creek Falls

The hike to Passage Creek Falls is 5 miles round-trip on an easy trail. Many hikers turn around at the falls but the trail is also a primary access to the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness and on to Yellowstone Park.

The trailhead is in the Mill Creek drainage 15 miles south of Livingston in Paradise Valley. This hike is close to Chico Hot Springs and Gardiner, MT.

Pine Creek Falls

Less than 15 miles south of Livingston, Pine Creek rushes out of the Absaroka Mountains into the Yellowstone River in the heart of Paradise Valley. Two great hikes begin at the Pine Creek trailhead. A beautiful 2 1/2 mile roundtrip hike follows the creek to Pine Creek Falls. Backpackers and serious hikers can head on another 4 miles to reach Pine Creek Lake.

Visit here once and you’ll discover why visiting Pine Creek Falls is the most popular hike in the Livingston area.

Woodbine Falls

The Woodbine Falls trail is only about 3/4 mile long climbing gently on a well-designed and maintained trail. The trail ends at an overlook with excellent views of Woodbine Falls plunging down a vertical cliff wall. It’s easy to see why this is one of the most popular hiking trails in the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness.

Woodbine Falls is an easy drive from the Montana towns of Red Lodge, Columbus, Absarokee, Nye, and Roy. The access road was washed out by flood waters but the Stillwater Mine is on the road and repairs will be made quickly.

Natural Bridge Falls

At the Natural Bridge Falls, the Boulder River pours over the lip of a 105-foot tall limestone rock layer. Major channels have been cut through the limestone and at low flow, the river goes underground above the falls. The river erupts back to the surface by bursting out of the cliff wall. These underground streams are lost to view at high water as the river pours over the lip.

Natural Bridge Falls is about 25 miles south of Big Timber, MT. The falls are right on a paved road, providing a great drive and a visit to the falls without the need for much hiking.

Visit a State Park

Missouri River Headwaters State Park

The Missouri River travels more than 2,300 miles from Montana down to the Mississippi. This was the route Lewis & Clark followed as they made their “voyage of discovery” into the unexplored American west. The Missouri River originates in the park where three smaller rivers come together. Lewis & Clark exhibits, short nature hikes, interesting historical buildings, scenic vistas, and much more reward those who stop here.

Missouri River Headwaters State Park is less than 5 minutes from I 90 Exit 278. The park has vault toilets and you can spend as much time as you want exploring this park.

Pictograph Cave State Park

Located right on the edge of Billings, the Pictograph Cave State Park entrance is 5 miles from I90 Exit 452. The park features several large caves that were extensively utilized by the native people. In addition to a short hike to the caves, the park features a visitor center and lots of interpretive signing. There are flush toilets available.

This is a great place to learn more about the native people who lived in the Yellowstone region.

Madison Buffalo Jump State Park

You’ll find history and hiking at Madison Buffalo Jump State Park. Although the trails aren’t very long they’re great for stretching your legs while visiting an interesting site. Hike to the top of the buffalo jump and enjoy the views of the Madison River Valley.

It’s a little more than a half-hour drive from Bozeman, MT to Madison Buffalo Jump. Just head west on I 90 to the Logan exit and follow the signs

Greycliff Prairie Dog State Park

Located right next to I 90 at Exit 377, this tiny state park is only 98 acres with only one attraction – Prairie Dogs! It’s less than 2 minutes from the interstate to the parking lot where you can watch these delightful creatures scamper and play. The park sits right on I 90 and you’ll marvel at the display of nature right next to the road.

The Park is east of Big Timber, MT, and an easy drive from Columbus and Billings. Unfortunately, there are no toilets so you might still need a rest area.

Visit an Entrance Town

Although you can’t continue into Yellowstone Park, visiting and staying in the gateway towns of Gardiner, Red Lodge, Silver Gate, and Cooke City, MT is a unique experience. In fact, without the usual Yellowstone traffic in 2022, you’ll experience western small-town hospitality at its finest.

Gardiner, MT

Gardiner sits right on the border of Yellowstone Park and visiting the town of fewer than 1,000 residents is a unique experience. The Yellowstone River runs right through town and spending a day on the river is a memorable experience. While the river will remain flooded through late June, whitewater trips on the Yellowstone River should be available by the end of the month. Spending a full or half-day on the river is a great experience. Some of the raft trips include a float through Yankee Jim Canyon.

Red Lodge, MT

Normally, Red Lodge, MT is crowded with visitors heading to and from the famous Beartooth Highway and Beartooth Pass. While it seems likely that the road will open to climb the Red Lodge side of the pass, it’s unlikely that the road will open all the way to Yellowstone in 2022. However, staying in Red Lodge to explore the open sections of the Beartooth Highway is an unforgettable experience.

In addition to the Beartooth Highway, exploring the West Fork Rock Creek will take you into wilderness quality forests with lakes and trails to explore. Of course, the cafes, gift shops, and unique boutiques make strolling the main street a popular activity.

Cooke City/ Silver Gate

These two tiny towns sit side by side at the northeast corner of Yellowstone. Silver Gate (population 20) is right on the park boundary while Cooke City (population 75) is a couple of miles to the east. These are spectacular mountain towns that offer outstanding access to the wild lands surrounding Yellowstone.

With the NE Entrance to Yellowstone and the Beartooth Highway closed there is only one way to access these towns. WY 296 (Cheif Joseph Highway) connects to WY 120 and leads into Cody, WY. It’s a spectacular scenic drive and a great way to spend a day.

A Great Year To Visit Yellowstone

While it might not be possible to explore Yellowstone’s northern entrances in 2022, there are so many other places to go and things to experience that you’ll have a great vacation without the crowds that have become a daily occurrence in Yellowstone. The suggestions offered above barely scratch the surface of the natural wonders and unique experiences that are available. Visit this summer and you’ll agree that it’s really worth it.