Stunning mountain vistas. Meadows full of bison. Endless options for year-round outdoor adventure, from skiing and snowshoeing in the winter to hiking, biking, and fishing in the summer. Friendly, down-to-earth locals and an Old West vibe. And then, there’s the world’s most famous geyser just a short drive away, not to mention other geological wonders like bubbling mud pots and sizzling hot springs.
Choose West Yellowstone as the destination for your next family reunion, and you’ll have so much fun bonding together while enjoying some of the West’s most spectacular landscapes that you just might have to make it an annual getaway. “It’s the epitome of the American vacation destination,” says Kaitlin Johnson, executive director of the Yellowstone Historic Center. “We have it all here. We have something for everyone, which makes it the perfect destination for family gatherings.”
West Yellowstone is less than a two-hour drive from Bozeman and easily accessible from the seasonal Yellowstone Airport, which offers direct flights into West Yellowstone mid-May through mid-October. The town serves as the gateway to Yellowstone National Park, but it’s a destination in its own right for incredible outdoor adventures, from hiking to biking to lake-centric recreation. A bounty of family-friendly activities in town all but guarantee options to keep everyone in the group happy.
Finally, the area’s rich history means you can pick from extraordinarily memorable landmarks-a grand train depot built in 1926, for instance-to host your shindig. Here, we dig into the reasons why West Yellowstone is just the spot to gather the family for your next reunion-and insider tips on how to make it the most memorable one yet.
Picking the Perfect Place
West Yellowstone boasts a variety of unique spots for your family. Rick Dobson/West Yellowstone Chamber
West Yellowstone boasts a variety of unique spots for your family fete, whether you’re planning a large reunion or a small get-together. Among the noteworthy nearby options are the Historical Union Pacific Dining Lodge, the Rendezvous Trailhead Building, and the Yellowstone Airport.
History buffs will love the ambiance and historic vibe of the Historical Union Pacific Dining Lodge. Built in 1925, this stately property, a former train depot, boasts a structure that’s nearly identical to what it was nearly a century ago, with natural wood timbers, native rhyolite stone, and a grand dining room, with “history living and breathing throughout the building,” as Johnson describes it. Modern-day visitors can “experience the history of travelers coming to Yellowstone National Park on the Union Pacific Railroad. Eat where they ate. And adventure where they adventured,” she said.
Active-minded groups, meanwhile, will love the outdoor spaces of West Yellowstone Heritage Park, which covers four blocks in the Historic District and includes the main structures built by the Union Pacific Railroad between 1909 and 1929. Newly renovated bathrooms and picnic areas make it an excellent park for a family get-together. In addition, six-acre Pioneer Park is centrally located in the middle of town, with amenities that include baseball diamonds, soccer nets, playground equipment, a basketball court, a pavilion, BBQ grills, and bathrooms.
Another outdoor option is the Rendezvous Trailhead Building, sitting at the edge of nearly 22 miles of skiing, hiking, and biking trails, and offering plenty of chances to spot wildlife. While the small building does have inside amenities that can be used for gatherings, the main draw here is the bountiful adventure options nearby.
If you choose one of the gathering spots above, you can also consider dozens of lodging options for your visit. Regardless of whether you want to set up at a campsite, stay cozy in a cabin, or enjoy the convenience of a hotel, you can find a variety of room styles and amenities to fit the size and needs of your group. In addition, many other places in the area offer the chance to stay and hold your family reunion in the same spot, which can be a helpful option if anyone in your group has mobility issues.
What to Do in Town
The Yellowstone Historic Center tells the story of travel to this area of the country. West Yellowstone Chamber
One of the perks of hosting a multi-generational gathering in West Yellowstone is the abundance of local activities across all age groups and interest levels. Antsy little ones and adventurous teens will love the Zipline Adventure Park, with a ropes course, zipline, and even horseback riding. History buffs won’t want to miss a trip to the Yellowstone Historic Center. Through exhibits and programs, the museum tells the story of travel in the area, starting with the first rail service in 1908.
For a fun way to put those inevitable sibling squabbles in perspective, head to Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center, which offers the chance to see grizzly bears, birds of prey, and wolves in their natural habitat, eating, sleeping, and even scuffling. In fact, according to Kathy Pallach, the center’s marketing manager, watching bears wrestle with each other is one of the most extraordinary things visitors can witness at this educational wildlife center, which is open 365 days a year.
“Over 20 beautiful taxidermy mounts of black and grizzly bears highlight displays about bear ecology, behavior, and interactions with humans,” she says. “You can peer into a replicated black bear den or, in the warm months, attend a naturalist presentation in the outdoor amphitheater. In the Birds-of-Prey presentation, you’ll see the center’s non-releasable raptors up close and personal.”
The center is also kid-friendly, with special programs designed just for the younger set. “During Keeper Kids, children aged 5-12 will learn about what bears eat and will help the naturalist hide food for the bears while the bears are secured in the den building,” Pallach explains. “Kids who have lots of energy will enjoy our playground and the ‘wolf den.'”
If you’re visiting in the summer, look for the new Banks of the Yellowstone Riparian Habitat featuring North American river otters.
Outdoor Adventure Galore
West Yellowstone is full of family-friendly hiking trails. West Yellowstone Chamber
West Yellowstone is known as the gateway to Yellowstone National Park, the world’s first national park, established in 1872. But this famous outdoor playground is just one of the reasons active-minded families should visit. Three national forests surround the park itself, and the entire region is brimming with streams, lakes, and mountain landscapes, all of which beckon for exploration.
Of course, a visit to Yellowstone isn’t complete without seeing Old Faithful, the world’s most famous geyser, whose regular eruptions make for an epic backdrop for that requisite family photo. But the park is teeming with other geological wonders sure to enchant everyone in the family, from mud pots to hot springs to calderas. Don’t forget the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, which runs 20 miles from the Upper Falls to Lower Falls and is between 800 and 1,200 feet deep. There are also more than 300 identified waterfalls throughout the park, and Yellowstone Lake is the largest high-elevation lake in the country. All of which is to say: You may have to take a family vote to narrow down what to do.
When it comes to hiking trails, the hardest part is choosing which one to tackle. The 4.9-mile Cabin Creek Trail is a local favorite that leads to a beautiful lake. (Keep in mind, however, that the trail is a little rocky and can be slippery when wet so it may not be suitable for small children and very inexperienced hikers.)
Horse Butte Lookout Trail is a fun option that’s only about four miles round-trip and is very close to town. It’s great for families because it leads to a historic lookout tower with amazing views, and there is also a picnic area that is perfect for a lunch break. A third option is the Targhee Creek Trail. This easy, 4-mile trek follows the creek for most of the way, and your four-legged family member is allowed to join, too (on-leash only).
The streams and lakes around West Yellowstone offer year-round fishing, and paddling enthusiasts can navigate the waterways via kayak or stand-up paddleboard. You can also opt to explore the area via horseback, or, in the winter, on a snowmobile. No matter what the season, your family is sure to find a fun way to enjoy the abundant outdoor scene.
Before You Go
Enjoy stand-up paddleboarding on Hebgen Lake near West Yellowstone. Rick Dobson/West Yellowstone Chamber
West Yellowstone sits above 6,000 feet in elevation, so if you are coming from sea level, take your time on hikes, drink plenty of water, and get plenty of rest. In addition, although West Yellowstone is a year-round destination, seasonal road and national park closures go into effect every year, so be sure to take those logistics into consideration when planning a trip. Ready to bring your next family gathering to West Yellowstone? Download the Travel Planner for more information.
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 [email protected]
Featured image provided by Holly Scholl/West Yellowstone Chamber