Reconnecting with kindred spirits, recharging your batteries, and relaxing in a gorgeous outdoor setting: It’s hard to top the appeal of a girlfriend getaway. And if your crew is an outdoorsy bunch, your time together likely involves an adventurous pursuit or two, whether it’s a hardcore hike, leisurely horseback ride, or stargazing session (or all of those!). That’s why a destination like West Yellowstone, Montana, should be on your radar. Known as the gateway to Yellowstone National Park, the town teems with ways to enjoy the outdoors, no matter what kind of adventure you’re up for. Choose from endless options for hiking, hop in the saddle (bike or horse, your choice) for a car-free journey through stunning Western landscapes, or grab a fishing pole and try your hand at casting during a women’s only class.
“West Yellowstone is great because it just has everything,” says Dawn Brintnall, a Bozeman resident who has made frequent trips to the area. “No matter what you like to do—biking, fishing, skiing, wildlife watching—it has it all.”
In addition, West Yellowstone has a surprising array of options for dining and drinking, with friendly local pubs, down-home restaurants, and cozy coffee shops that make for the ideal way to fuel up before or after the day’s adventures. There are plenty of options for downtime, too, with shopping in the easily walkable downtown. So no matter what time of year you’re craving some girls-only time, West Yellowstone is just the place to gather. Here’s everything you need to know to plan for a girlfriend getaway to remember in this unforgettable part of the West.
What to Do Outdoors
With year-round adventure in Yellowstone National Park and three national forests near town, there’s no shortage of activities in and around West Yellowstone. “If your friends are avid outdoorswomen, there’s something to do pretty much any season of the year,” says Hailey Hosken, another Bozeman resident who’s also a big fan of West Yellowstone.
Wildlife watching is accessible from the Rendezvous Trailhead right in town. This spot is perfect for a leisurely walk (or snowshoeing in the winter); you can also take a drive through Yellowstone National Park. Early mornings and evenings are the best times to see larger wildlife like bears, wolves, bison, and elk, but animals also frequent certain spots in the park more than others. Many animals are visible in both colder and warmer months, though park roads are closed seasonally. (Insider tip: When the sun goes down, stick around the park for stargazing. The Old Faithful Visitor Education Center is a prime spot to gaze at the cosmos—and offers a timely reminder to be grateful for the amazing girlfriends in your life.)
Many local ranchers and outfitters also offer guided horseback rides from May until October, though some will book rides in the winter. Just outside of town, Hebgen Lake is a popular place to take out a kayak, pedal boat, or stand-up paddleboard (you can rent them at Kirkwood Resort & Marina). The lake is also considered one of the state’s premier stillwater and dry fly fisheries.
And speaking of fly fishing: If your group is eager to give this sport a go, you won’t be disappointed in Montana, a world-class angling destination. Big Sky Anglers is one of several fishing guide services that are adept at organizing trips. Pick up tips on the fine art of casting from guide Nicole Dye on a women’s-only excursion. If you decide to strike out on your own, check out the extraordinarily beautiful spots close to town on the Madison River.
In town, the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center is a not-for-profit wildlife park where you can learn about and see grizzly bears, wolves, and birds of prey. Open 365 days a year, the center makes offers an excellent chance to see Montana’s famed wildlife, especially following a morning of getting after it outside.
“The animals interact with each other and with their outdoor environments in natural and fascinating ways,” says Kathy Pallach, marketing manager for the center. “A staff naturalist is available to interpret the animals’ behavior, answer questions, and help you enjoy your visit.”
Every West Yellowstone itinerary should include taking advantage of the extensive network of local trails. The Rendezvous Trail System is groomed for cross-country skiers in the winter and is open to both hiking and biking in the summer. The Riverside Trail is a mellow, 3-mile path along the Madison River, and the Boundary Trail starts in West Yellowstone and runs just over 17 miles to the national park. And, of course, there are more than 900 miles of trails in Yellowstone itself.
“I’ve visited West Yellowstone most often in the winter, when the town is much sleepier than during the summer tourist season,” Hosken says. “The Rendezvous ski trails are incredible. Good views, top-notch grooming, and fun terrain for beginners and expert Nordic skiers alike. If you’re more into downhill skiing, there are multiple backcountry options nearby. I enjoy Telemark Meadows for a mellow tour.”
Bike enthusiasts can try to time their visit to take advantage of the several weeks during late spring when the roads in Yellowstone aren’t yet open to vehicle traffic—but are open to cyclists. “That’s when you want to go,” Brintnall says. “That’s the best way to see the park, without any traffic.”
Where to Eat and Drink
When it comes to food and drink, West Yellowstone has you covered with plenty of in-town options. Start your day with a cup of joe and a sweet treat at Mocha Mamma’s or Mountain Mama’s. For a boxed lunch to bring along on the day’s adventures, head to Ernie’s Bakery, Sandwich Shop & Deli, a locals’ favorite that’s been around for more than 30 years.
For dinner, get a true taste of Montana’s Western culture at the Parade Rest Guest Ranch. The ranch-style meals there are designed to resemble family get-togethers, with hearty options like chicken, steak, ribs, and lasagna, served with salads, vegetables, hot rolls, and homemade desserts.
“For a town of its size, it really has a lot of options when it comes to food—much more than you would expect,” Brintnall says. “You’ll find a lot of really good restaurants and just about anything you want to eat.”
If you have the energy to keep the party going, try your luck at the Buffalo Bar & Casino, or mosey over to Bullwinkle’s or the Grizzly Lounge for a nightcap as you rehash the day’s adventures.
Some requisite pampering a must-do for your getaway? Then head to Uptown Image Hair, Nails, and Tanning, just the place for a mani-pedi or well-deserved massage (call to schedule an appointment ahead of time). Afterward, be sure to take a stroll around the quaint downtown area, where shopping options include an independent bookstore, antique shops, and cozy coffee houses.
Where to Stay
Whether you’re craving a cabin experience, an authentic Western ranch, or individual hotel rooms, West Yellowstone has a variety of lodging options to suit your tastes. Many cabins and inns offer multiple bedrooms complete with kitchens and hot tubs (a dreamy way to ease sore muscles after an active day). You can also consider booking a block of hotel rooms so everyone can have her own space.
Planning Your Trip
The closest airport is the seasonal Yellowstone Airport located just outside of town, or you can fly into Bozeman and make the scenic, 90-mile drive down to West Yellowstone. Keep in mind that the town is above 6,500 feet in elevation, so be sure to drink plenty of water while you’re out and about. Getting a good night’s sleep will also lessen the effects of altitude if you are coming in from sea level. Even when it’s warm during the day, it can get very cool at night, so layering is the key to staying comfortable.
For more information on planning the ultimate girlfriend getaway to West Yellowstone, download the free Travel Planner.
Written by Abbie Mood for Matcha in partnership with West Yellowstone Chamber and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.