Yellowstone is a wonderful place to visit and explore the wonder of the world’s first national park. Looking beyond the famous geysers, hot springs, and mudpots that make Yellowstone National Park second to none, there’s more to explore through the eyes of a local. From taking a float trip on the Madison River to hidden hikes for iconic views of the multicolored Grand Prismatic Spring, we’ve rounded up some of the best things to do in Yellowstone, including the best-kept secrets from our staff at Under Canvas West Yellowstone, to help you plan your perfect visit.
Local Favorite Activities
West Yellowstone, Montana is the gateway to Yellowstone National Park and is an adventure seeker’s playground. Check out these tried and true activities loved by locals.
Fly Fishing in West Yellowstone
With blue-ribbon rivers, unmatched scenery, and abundant wildlife, Montana is one of the best places to fly fish, specifically for trout. There are plenty of outfitters in West Yellowstone where you can grab the gear you’ll need and hire a fly fishing guide to show you how to fly fish so you can angle like a local with a little practice.
Pro tip: our favorite spots to fish are on the South Fork of the Madison River –which runs through Under Canvas West Yellowstone–for the abundant fish and low water levels for wading. If you are an experiences fly fisher, bring your gear and find the perfect spot to cast just minutes from camp.
Floating the Madison River
Grab a tube (or tire), cooler, and a couple of friends and float on the Madison River–a favorite way locals like to pass the time during the summer. The river is calm making it the perfect place to sit back and let the river take you on a fun, refreshing journey. If you’re day-drinking while you float, there is a shuttle to and from Bozeman for a cost that includes transportation and tubes for the day.
Pro tip: bring rope to fasten your crew’s tubes together–and don’t forget an extra tube for the cooler!
White Water Rafting the Yellowstone River
Rafting trip down Montana’s most famous river, the Yellowstone, is one of the best places for white water rafting in the U.S. There are plenty of outdoor adventure shops and guides who can take you on a half-day float trip down premier river rapids for a thrilling adventure. It is truly a unique experience because you are not just a passenger on the raft but a true driver through the rapids, working as a team.
Local Favorite Hikes
With more than 900 hiking trails to explore in Yellowstone National Park, there are many paths to choose from. Here is a list of what our locals say are their favorites because they are less busy but in no way less beautiful.
Fairy Falls Hike
This classic hike is a favorite for a couple of reasons. First, it is a kid-friendly easy 6-mile round trip hike without much elevation gain, and second, when you’re 1.5-miles into the hike you can take a side trail and go to the Grand Prismatic Spring Overlook to see the quintessential view of the blue, yellow, and orange-ringed hot spring on every Yellowstone National Park bucket list.
Lava Lake Hike
The Lava Lake hike is a great way to see striking views of a mountain lake from above. The trailhead is located in Gallatin Canyon between Big Sky and Bozeman and is a popular trail in the area and for good reason. The lake is almost exactly 3-miles from the trailhead and gains 1,600-feet of elevation in those first 3-miles means you’ll put in the work from the get-go–but we promise the views are worth it.
This mountainous area can be seen from Under Canvas Yellowstone. While it’s a long trail (13-miles round trip) the view from the top is a sight to behold. From the top, you can also see all of the Under Canvas Yellowstone property.
Local Favorite Day Trips
Switch up the scenery and take in the local sights with a day trip to some of the lesser-known towns and lakes surrounding West Yellowstone.
Cliff and Wade Lakes, Montana
The two lakes, Cliff and Wade, formed in a geologic fault that filled with spring-fed water for some of the bluest water you’ll ever see. Not only that but there are cliffs surrounding much of the lakes’ shorelines making this a picturesque landscape. Cliff Lake is larger and more isolated whereas Wade Lake is easier to get to and more popular for this reason. Grab a paddle board, camp chair, and good book for a relaxing day on the water just 1-hour from Under Canvas Yellowstone. Keep an eye out for an abundance of wildlife like prairie falcons, bald eagles, osprey, river otters, and beavers.
This good-time western town is surrounded by three beautiful mountain ranges. It is the epicenter for all outdoor recreation along the Madison River so you’ll find cowboys, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts alike here. It’s a nice place to walk around and check out little local shops and get a feel for low-key small-town life. We recommend stopping by Willie’s Distillery for a whiskey tasting. If you’re looking for a shiny keepsake, Benjie’s is a local favorite jewelry store known for having beautiful pieces at great prices.
Virginia City, Montana
Established at the discovery of gold in the 1800s, this historic town has remained authentic to how it looked hundreds of years ago. This day trip is for you if you want to step back in time and get a feel for the real Old West. Explore the town like a local would have back in the day either on foot, on horseback, or in a horse-drawn carriage. Cousins Candy Shop is a must-visit to satisfy any sweet tooth with old-fashioned candy and hand-dipped ice cream cones. Virginia City Ghost Town and Nevada City, Montana are both in the Alder Gulch just one mile from each other so we highly recommend checking out both historic towns.
Hebgen Lake, Montana
Grab a floatie and speaker for a fun-filled day by the water. You can rent a boat from Kirkwood Marina and spend the day shredding the water on a speed boat with an inner tube trailing behind or just kick back and relax. A favorite local spot to grab lunch is Happy Hour Bar & Grill on the water.
Local Favorite Restaurants
Under Canvas West Yellowstone offers on-site dining with seasonal and locally sourced breakfast and dinner offerings. You can also grab a picnic lunch on-site to enjoy while out on the trails. If you’re looking for places to dine while out and about exploring the nearby towns check out our locals’ list of favorite restaurants in West Yellowstone.
West Yellowstone Restaurants
Madison Crossing Lounge
Discover mouthwatering foods and locally-caught trout in an old-schoolhouse turned restaurant. Some of the local favorites include the horseradish mashed potatoes and Huckleberry Moscow Mule. You can wet your whistle with a wide variety of beers and lagers from Montana and around the world.
The Taco Bus
There are two different Mexican taco buses in the area. The one that’s most beloved by our Under Canvas West Yellowstone staff is the one in the gas station parking lot where you can indulge in authentic, tasty food in a flash. Make sure to try the Cali Burrito–chef’s kiss! Need more details? Ask our camp staff during your stay.
Firehole BBQ, a Yellowstone Local’s favorite features an array of smoked meats and classic American comfort sides in a rustic setting.
Hank’s Chop Shop
Hank’s Chop Shop is located 20 minutes away from Under Canvas West Yellowstone. The happy hour bar sits right on the lake and is the most West Yellowstone experience you could have!
Wild West Pizzeria
Wild West Pizzeria is a laid-back saloon and family-friendly pizzeria known for live music.
Yellowstone is one of the best places to visit in Montana and sometimes the best way to explore the destination is by doing what the locals do. Add these local favorites to your itinerary during your stay at Under Canvas West Yellowstone.