Yellowstone Off the Beaten Path

Photo by Becky Lomax

Beyond Yellowstone National Park borders to the ecosystems of the west and northwest

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Some of the best of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem lies beyond the borders of the national park that lends the region its name. This itinerary explores a portion of the country to the park’s west and northwest.

Beginning in Ashton, Idaho, put rubber to the road on the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway, a smooth ribbon of low-traffic blacktop meandering through Caribou-Targhee National Forest lands. It takes you past the pleasant Warm River Campground and then the turn into the parking area for Upper Mesa Falls. Wow!

The byway terminates on the north at the junction with US Highway 20, not far from the turn into Harriman State Park. This special place falls into the category of “Do Not Miss.” Looking for a place to stay? Check out The TroutHunter, where the on-site restaurant/tavern mixes up what just may be the Best Bloody Mary in the West.

Continue north to and through Island Park, which boasts the “longest main street in America,” at more than 30 miles. Cross the state border into Montana at Targhee Pass, then drop into West Yellowstone, a major gateway to the world’s first national park.

===> Explore more local itineraries via the RELATED links below.

Stop in and say “Hi” to the gals at Freeheel and Wheel (tell ’em Mac sent you!), procure your cowboy boots and Stetson at Eagle’s Store, then comingle with the charismatic megafauna at the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center. If you’re up for upping your heart rate or simply stretching your legs, head for the Rendezvous Trails. The system begins right at the edge of town, a community that’s full of accommodations; one cool option is Hibernation Station.

From “West,” as the locals call it, poke through the northwest corner of Yellowstone, exiting the park at Gardiner, Montana. Snoop out the nearby Boiling River for a free soak in naturally heated waters, or continue up the road to Chico Hot Springs. You may as well plan on ending your mini-trip here, because I guarantee you won’t want to leave.

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