Shutdown Alternatives: The Next Best Things in Montana’s Small Towns

Charming small towns across Montana offer a variety of authentic shopping, dining and cultural experiences.

Charming small towns across Montana offer a variety of authentic shopping, dining and cultural experiences.

Even if a resolution to the partial government shutdown is reached immediately, officials with the National Park Service have said it will take some time to reopen the parks once funding is restored.

So for those already in the area or planning to arrive soon, we’re working to provide some options from tourism experts and industry insiders in gateway towns around the parks.

We’re presenting their ideas this week in an ongoing series, Next Best Things. Nothing quite matches the unique experiences you can have in Yellowstone and Grand Teton, but these ideas represent the Next Best Things in nearby communities.

Mike Garcia, director of Voices of Montana Tourism, offers a few of his picks for the Next Best Things to see and do in small Montana towns north of Yellowstone National Park.

By Mike Garcia

Montana has more spectacular unspoiled nature than anywhere else in the lower 48 states, and that’s not limited to our national parks. Our vibrant and charming small towns serve as gateways to natural wonders throughout the state providing breathtaking experiences by day and relaxing hospitality at night.

It’s important to remember that although the federal government may be shut down, Montana’s State Parks, hundreds of day hiking trails in our national forests and our cities and towns are still open for business.

There are lots of wonderful communities within easy driving distance of Yellowstone National Park. All of them have great lodging options as well as a broad assortment of campgrounds, RV parks and other rentals.


Ennis about an hour northwest of West Yellowstone, Mont. on US Highway 287. While there, you’ll want to experience:

  • great shopping and dining and a really active art community.
  • a ton of great day hiking from trailheads near Ennis into the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.
  • Lewis & Clark Caverns State park and Madison Buffalo Jump State Park, which are just up the road about 45 minutes, and well worth the drive.
  • the Madison Valley History museum.


Dillon is about tow hours from West Yellowstone, Mont. up US Highway 287 and down state route 41. On the way, you’ll pass right by Beaverhead Rock State Park. Dillon is a wonderful spot for:

  • great shopping, including the Patagonia outlet.
  • excellent chances to view wildlife and for scenic photography at the local state parks, plus several day hiking trailheads within a half-hour drive.
  • Bannack State Park, about 25 minutes west of Dillon.
  • Clark’s Lookout state park, just a mile outside of Dillon, providing a breathtaking view of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.
  • Beaverhead County Museum.

Big Sky

Big Sky is about one hour north from West Yellowstone, Montana via US 287/US 191. This great mountain town is known for:

  • phenomenal boutique shopping and world-class dining.
  • unmatched outdoor recreation, including biking, cross-country skiing, fishing, golf, hiking, horseback riding, snow-shoeing, a zip line and high rope courses.
  • Missouri Headwaters State Park is about an hour north of Big Sky.


Bozeman is about an hour north from Gardiner, Mont. up US 89 then I-90. Bozeman is big city with a small town feel where you can find:

  • Amazing shopping, dining and art.
  • A very active outdoor recreation community that enjoys tons of hiking and biking trails in and around the city.
  • Madison Buffalo Jump State Park, just 30 minutes west on I-90 and Greycliff Prairie Dog Town State about an hour east on I-90.
  • The American Computer Museum, The Gallatin County Museum and The Museum of the Rockies, home to one of the largest collections of dinosaur fossils in the world.

For those looking to really explore the history and culture of Montana, there are over 54 state parks that are open, and provide the outdoor recreation & cultural education for all.

Mike Garcia is director of Voices of Montana Tourism.

Comments are closed.