Yellowstone’s original entrance in Gardiner, Montana, and the only one open year-round, is framed by the Roosevelt Arch. While all the literature points out this entrance is the only one open all year, few state why. The annual snowfall in Gardiner approximates 30 inches, while the rest of the Park averages 150 to 400 inches, depending on elevation. And once entering the Park from Gardiner you’ll be met with closed roads during the winter over much of the Park. So schedule a Snowcoach tour and do your homework if you’re planning to see Yellowstone during the winter (a highly recommended journey).
The arch was erected as the formal entrance to the Park in 1903 since most visitors arrived via the Northern Pacific Railroad’s nearby stop in Cinnabar, Montana. Stagecoaches made the remaining short trek to Gardiner. I cannot imagine arriving there by railroad. I cannot imagine arriving there by any means of transportation of the day. The ground boils beneath you while the mountains always coddle snow on top. Were it not for modern climate control’s tempering of these extremes, conditions would be brutal most anytime of the year.
While the arch may be Gardiner’s claim to fame and really the only thing of note to see there, it’s worth a stroll to see some of the older parts of town. The Flying Pig Camp Store has internet access and bear pepper spray, an important combination you’ll see frequently in these parts. There’s plenty of lodging, restaurants, and outfitters so it’s a well stocked and not overrun base with which to explore Yellowstone. Gardiner is 53 miles south of Livingston. Bozeman is 26 miles west of Livingston on Highway 90, providing the only airport in the area serviced by major airlines (most seasonal). Billings’ Logan International Airport (BIL) is 117 miles east of Livingston on Highway 90 and offers a much broader array of scheduled flights on major airlines.
Mammoth Hot Springs, 5 miles south of Gardiner is the Park’s headquarters and an eye opening welcome to the ancient, wild world of Yellowstone. From mid-April to early June, bison new-borns dot the ground. Bison is the correct scientific term for the North American species, but “buffalo” has become an accepted synonym. In the seventeenth century, French explorers in North America referred to the new species they encountered as “les boeufs”, meaning oxen or beeves. The English arriving later, changed the pronunciation to “la buff”. The name grew distorted as “buffle”, “buffler”, “buffillo”, and, eventually, “buffalo”.
Yellowstone has the largest free-roaming bison herd in the world, estimated at 3,500 head.
No discussion of Mammoth Hot Springs/Gardiner would be complete without a reference to the Elk that migrate in early fall when the weather cools off and they re-emerge from the coolness of higher elevations. If you stay at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, your day will begin and end with the eerie, wild sounds of male Elk bugling for the rut and a change of seasons. It’s a sound I recommend everyone hear once; it’s unforgettable.