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.