Drivers have one option after it snows in Yellowstone National Park: the obsessively plowed road between the Montana gateway towns of Gardiner and Cooke City. The 55-mile stretch passes snowbound bison, steaming hot springs, and frozen waterfalls—no wrong turns possible. Still, drive with caution. Animals like plowed roads, too. Area code is 406.
1. GARDINER At the Tumbleweed Bookstore and Café (848-2225), sip fair-trade cappuccino while reading up on grizzly maulings. Lunch is panini and wraps named for the workers’ pets. At the Lighthouse Restaurant north of town near the Yellowstone River (848-2201), enjoy sushi, lamb burgers, and curry (but no alcohol).
2. BOILING RIVER Grab your parka and swimsuit for the half-mile hike along the icy Gardiner River. At trail’s end, a stream of hot water plunges into the river, creating a mildly sulfurous Jacuzzi. You’ll remember your first step back into winter air.
3. MAMMOTH HOT SPRINGS A full-body blast of steam from the springs’ gleaming mineral terraces feels great on a cold day. You may well find bison sharing the warmth.
4. UNDINE FALLS Pull off the road—carefully. With luck, you’ll see a wall of ice against a basalt backdrop.
5. TOWER FALL Got snowshoes or cross-country skis? A 2.5-mile trek on a snow-covered road takes you to a spectacular icy cascade.
6. LAMAR VALLEY While bison and elk crowd this area, aka Yellowstone’s Serengeti, most wildlife fans focus on the wolf packs that dog the herds. Spot a stand of tripods and telephoto lenses, and wolves aren’t far away.
7. COOKE CITY This may be a wilderness outpost, but at the Bistro Café you can still get $50 chateaubriand and a $190 bottle of meursault. For less pricey decadence, try the pesto trout. 838-2160.
Illustration by Michael Klein
This article was first published in January 2007. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.