West Yellowstone is the most popular entrance to Yellowstone National Park. If you’re entering Yellowstone through West Yellowstone, you should know that there are many great sites and activities outside the park as well!
West Yellowstone, Montana is the closest city to the west gate of Yellowstone National Park and has the most activities, lodging, and dining of the 5 Yellowstone entrances. Activities include biking, plays, zip lines, rodeos, horseback rides, gun shooting, bear and wolf preserves and much more.
Below are my top 10 recommendations, with a chart at the end for your convenience.
- Here’s what you need to know about the West Entrance to Yellowstone.
Map of Activities
1. Playmill Theatre
For over 50 years, the Playmill Theatre has been entertaining crowds. Each season they produce 3 family-friendly shows.
The Playmill Theatre is known for the humor and energy of the local performers and is a tradition for many who visit Yellowstone frequently. Entertainment before the show includes musical numbers and skits that you won’t want to miss.
One highlight is the unique snack bar options with reasonably priced Dole whips, fudge, Rootbeer floats, and caramel apple sundaes.
We absolutely loved watching Singing in the Rain here! The treats were delicious and the actors and actresses (who also serve the food) were so friendly and fun.
The theater’s season runs from June through Labor day with nightly shows, excluding Sunday, at 6:00 pm and 8:00 pm. A 2:00 pm matinee is also offered.
The price per show varies from $17.00 to $27.00 and you can order tickets online or by calling the theater. Shows typically sell out so buy your tickets as soon as you know your trip dates.
2. Wild West Yellowstone Rodeo and Creekside Trail Rides
Creekside Trail Rides
Enjoying a small-town, patriotic rodeo immediately afterward really makes you feel like you’ve had a western experience.
At Creekside Trail Rides, you don’t need to worry if you’ve never had experience riding a horse. The maximum number of people they take in a group is nine and two experienced guides will escort you on an easy 1-hour ride.
This is definitely for beginners. The ride mostly goes back and forth through the trees in a small area. It’s really not that scenic or fun for me because I’ve ridden horses a lot, but my daughter and nephew loved it!
The minimum riding age is 6 years old. The sunset rodeo ride begins at 6:30 pm and arrives just in time to grab a bite to eat at their concession stand and find a seat for the 8:00 pm rodeo.
West Yellowstone Rodeo
This quaint rodeo is 1.5 hours long with locals competing in bull riding, broncos, barrel racing, and more.
One of the highlights is the patriotic flag ceremony they have nightly honoring our veterans.
There is also a calf chase where all children 12 and under can enter the arena and try to pull the ribbon from the racing calf. I don’t remember what the grand prize was, but all the kids were awarded a gold dollar coin.
Tickets for the horseback ride and rodeo can be purchased separately or combined at a discount.
The rodeo’s season is relatively short running from June 30th – Aug 22nd.
3. Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center
If you want to see some amazing animals up close in an incredible way while supporting a good cause, the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center is for you!
Featuring grizzlies, wolves, otters, birds of prey, and…… squirrels (a real highlight for kids). These animals either have an injury or some bad habits that make it unsafe for them to live in the wild so they find refuge here where they live in some pretty impressive habitats.
The grizzlies and otters take shifts where the public can view them. While in their public enclosure, they search for food and you will get to see them be very active, swimming and even climbing trees!
A pamphlet is given to you when you enter letting you know a bit about each of the animals and what time they will be available for viewing. You can also check the whiteboard near the entrance for any changes for the day.
The wolves were my favorite. During my last visit, there was a family of wolves with four cubs. They were delightful to watch and it was neat to see how the family interacted.
The Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center is open 365 days a year and you’ll want to plan at least 2 hours to view the animals. Your ticket is good for 2 days.
4. Bear World
Even though Bear World is in Rexburg, Idaho, it made the list because many people drive by it on their way to West Yellowstone.
Bear World gives you a chance to see bears in a way different than anywhere else. You drive through and see free-roaming bison, wolves, black bears, grizzlies, and elk.
With your pass, you are welcome to drive through as many times as you would like throughout the day. The bears are not afraid of cars and we once had one licking our bumper.
Once you finish driving through, you walk through a large gift shop (they have free fudge samples!) and walk into the petting zoo. Chickens, baby deer and goats, and even a really fat pig will allow you to pet and feed them.
There is also an enclosure of the bear cubs. It’s really fun to watch because they are active and love to wrestle. For an additional fee, you can bottle-feed a cub.
Lastly, there is a small amusement park with kiddie rides for no additional charge. These rides are geared for children 2 years old and up.
There are picnic tables in the center of the rides so parents can keep an eye on children from one location.
Bear World is open from May through mid-October. You’ll want to plan on half a day to view all of it.
You can pay by carload or per person. You save a little if you buy online.
- If you are planning a trip to Yellowstone, check out our comprehensive post How to Plan the Perfect Trip to Yellowstone: Everything you Need to Know to get you started.
5. Quake Lake and Hebgen Lake
What a beautiful and strange area!
Hebgen Lake was formed when they put a dam in Madison Canyon in 1914.
Quake Lake was formed when a massive earthquake struck West Yellowstone in 1959, causing a landslide in Madison Canyon to blog the river.
The result? Two lakes right next to each other!
As you pass Quake Lake, you will see hundreds of trees standing up in the middle of the lake. It’s quite eerie as you wonder how the lake came to look that way.
You can learn more at the Quake Lake Visitor Center, or you can read all about that tragic night before you go.
Hebgen and Quake lakes are part of Gallatin National Forrest. You can boat and fish there as well as paddleboard and camp. Although I prefer to camp in Yellowstone, the campsites are larger, more scenic, and less expensive if you don’t mind the 27-mile drive to the west gate of Yellowstone.
- See Earthquake Lake (3-minutes)
6. Yellowstone Giant Screen
Most of us have driven by a giant screen IMAX theater, but how many of us have actually viewed a movie in one?
A typical movie screen is 40 ft wide by 30 ft tall. The screen at the Yellowstone Giant Screen is 60 x 80 feet!
Here you can view a 45-minute movie with images of Yellowstone. Although some say it reminds them of slide shows they saw at school in the 70s, it’s still Yellowstone!
If you still aren’t excited to go there, did you know they show current movies as well? What a perfect break from the elements. Plus, can you think of a better place to watch Spider-Man? You’ll earn big points with the kids!
If you buy the premium seats, it comes with free popcorn. The theater also contains a nice gift shop if you are looking for any last-minute souvenirs.
7. Yellowstone Big Gun Fun
If you’ve never shot a gun before or are looking for an opportunity to shoot some semi-automatics, rifles, and old-school guns (like from the Civil War) this might be a good spot for you. After all, you are in the West.
Although you can go through a lot of ammunition in a short time, I bet you’ll never forget it.
The employees make your safety the #1 priority. I was a bit intimidated when we tried it, but Big Gun Fun assigns one employee for each group to guide you through the entire process from getting your hearing protection gear to supervising while you shoot the guns.
You must be 12 or older and it is recommended that you make an appointment or go in early in the morning to avoid crowds. The typical hours are 11:00 am-10 pm and packages range from $30-$35 per person and for a few extra dollars, you can shoot at zombies.
8. Yellowstone Zipline Adventure Park
If you find you need a bit more adventure than the sightseeing Yellowstone has to offer, check out Yellowstone Zipline Adventure. There is a giant rope course that you must complete before you can zipline out of it. 6 years old is the minimum age to participate. What a cool opportunity to work together as a group and cheer each other on.
If you have little ones, there is a junior course as well as a place they can mine for gems.
Packages for adults range from $49-$99. One interesting feature is that you can pay a little extra to be able to come and go from the park, otherwise, once you leave, your experience is over.
This is a seasonal activity with daily hours from 9:00 am- 8:00 pm.
9. Ennis, Nevada City, & Virginia City, MT
These three Montana towns are located right by each other. We LOVED our visit to these places!
These three Gold Rush towns have some crazy Old West history. Overnight, these towns were flooded with thousands of prospectors. They became extremely rowdy, virtually lawless, towns.
Virginia City was large enough that it was once the territorial capital of Montana.
Today you can take a train ride, let the kids pan for gold, and visit living history museums.
There are many well-preserved Old West buildings.
Ennis, MT is also famous for its fly fishing, and you can book fly fishing tours here.
- Watch our 5-minute video on Virginia City or our 2-minute video on Ennis
10. Mesa Falls
Mesa Falls is a great little stop on your way into West Yellowstone. It’s located between Ashton, ID and Island Park, ID.
It’s a short visit, but a big, roaring waterfall. Take the scenic walk to get right up next to it.
It’s run by the Forest Service and only costs $5 to visit.
It also has a very nice visitor center with wildlife inside.
Note that there are an Upper Falls and a Lower Falls. The Upper Falls are next to the Visitor Center, and the Lower Falls are about a mile south.
Bonus: River Rafting
You can do scenic floats or whitewater rafting in this area through Montana Whitewater Rafting Company.
The Madison River is really gorgeous and it’s really popular for floats and fishing.
This entire area is really scenic, and I would highly recommend it. Floating the river gets you to places you wouldn’t normally see from the road or by hiking.
I’ve seen eagles perched in the trees along the river as they scope it out for food.
In our video at the top of this post, you’ll see us floating the river in our own raft.
Chart of Activities
skits and music before play,
fun concessions- caramel apple sundaes and rootbeer floats
|June-Labor Day||$17-$27||*2 shows a night 6 pm, 8:30 pm|
*Matinee Sat 2 pm
*Get tickets early
|Wild West Rodeo and|
Creekside Trail Rides
|1 1/2 hour rodeo, fun for kids|
The trail ride has 9 horses and 2 guides. Great for beginners
|June 30-Aug 22nd||Rodeo|
$40 or $50 for rodeo and ride
|*Get tickets early.|
*Bring cash for concessions
*Dress warmly for rodeo
|Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center|
|Grizzlies, wolves, otters, birds of prey, squirrels in incredible enclosures.||Open 365 days a year. 9am-6pm|
|*Takes 2-3 hours|
*One ticket is good for 2 days
*Check the whiteboard schedule for when the animals will be out
|Drive-through zoo with bears, elk, bison, and wolves.|
Petting zoo and small amusement park
|$100 per carload|
|*1/2 day attraction|
*Can purchase tickets to bottle feed baby bears
|Earthquake and Hebgan Lake|
27 miles northwest of
*Learn about the tragic 1959 Earthquake that created Quake lake
|Memorial Day-Labor Day|
10 am- 5 or 6 pm
|Free||*Fishing is allowed in both lakes|
|Yellowstone Giant Screen|
|*Shows current movies and a 40 minute Yellowstone movie||Year-round||Yellowstone|
|*Yellowstone film is a bit dated|
*60 ft tall X
40 ft wide
|Yellowstone Big Gun Fun|
|*Large variety of guns you can shoot|
15 Madison Ave, West Yellowstone, MT 59758
11 am- 10 pm hours may vary by season
|Packages range from $30-55 per person||*Must be 12 or older|
*Go in the morning or make an appt to beat the crowds
|Yellowstone Zipline Adventure Park|
|*Ropes course, ziplines|
Open weekends in September
|$49-99||The minimum age for the big course is 6|
You must get through the ropes course to do ziplines
|Ennis, Virginia City, and Nevada City||Old West experiences, fishing||Varies||Varies|
|$5 per car||Stop at both waterfalls|
|River rafting along the Madison River||Summer||Many options|
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