by Matt & Cheryl, Feb 2022

Are you on the road trip of your dreams driving through the west to Yellowstone National Park? If so, take it from a local (heck, my grandmother grew up here) that West Yellowstone is not a place you want to miss.

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.

Interested? Check out my top 10 recommendations. You can skip to the quick reference table at the end if you are short on time (I won’t be offended).

Map of Activities

image of map of activities

1. Playmill Theatre

image of playmill theater

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.

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

image of people riding horse


Nothing makes you ponder more about the men who discovered Yellowstone than riding through the landscape on horseback. 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.

The minimum riding age is 6 years old and my 7-year-old daughter and nephew loved it! 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.

image of woman on horse holding american flag

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 alone is $15 for adults and $8 for kids. The horseback ride alone is $40.

The combo ticket is $50 for adults and $45 for kids.

The rodeo’s season is relatively short running from June 30th – Aug 22nd. Make reservations for the trail ride early as there are limited spots available.

Curious about what this small town rodeo looks like? Check out our video featuring our experience on the trail ride and watching the rodeo. Yee-Haw!

3. Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center

image of bear

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.

What is truly unique about this place is the way the animals are viewed.

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 and costs $15 for adults and $10 for children.

4. Bear World

image of bear world entrance

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.

image of bear

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.

image of bear cubs being fed

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.

kids feeding a deer

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 the carload for near $100, max 7 people, or pay per person $25 for adults and $13 for kids. You can save $1 per ticket 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.

If you want to make trip planning incredibly easy, check out our Self-guided Yellowstone Tour. It comes with a 4-day itinerary with 27 pages of maps and detailed activities with an hour-by-hour plan to get you to the most popular spots in the park including Old Faithful, Grand Prismatic Spring, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, where to see wildlife, and some hidden gems only us locals know about. Plus, a 3-hour audio guide that teaches about various features of the park and some incredible stories from the past.

5. Quake Lake and Hebgen Lake

image of lake at sunset

My family came across this area when we were unable to obtain camping inside of Yellowstone National Park. What a beautiful and strange area!

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 find out at the Quake Lake Visitor Center where you will hear the story of the 1959 Earthquake that shook Yellowstone and created a lake in a single day. It’s a sad yet interesting story you really should check out for yourself.

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.

6. Yellowstone Giant Screen

IMAX theater on the left, visitor center on the right

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 60X80 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!

Plan on the Yellowstone movie costing between $10-$14 depending on your seat and $12-$16 for feature films. 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

man holding a gun

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.

Our family loves to do zipline courses and do them often when we travel. Check out the recent zip line course we did at Rush Mountain when we recently visited South Dakota.

Alright, it’s all on you now. Check out the chart below for a quick reference and plan your own favorite adventure.

9. Ennis, Nevada City, & Virginia City, MT

woman standing in old west building

These three Montana towns are located right by each other.

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 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.

10. Mesa Falls

waterfall

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.

Where to eat in West Yellowstone

Resources

Chart of Activities

LocationDescriptionSeasonCostTips
Playmill Theatre

West Yellowstone
Family-friendly,
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


West Yellowstone
1 1/2 hour rodeo, fun for kids

The trail ride has 9 horses and 2 guides. Great for beginners
June 30-Aug 22ndRodeo
Adult $15
Child $8

Trail rides
$40 or $50 for rodeo and ride
*Get tickets early.
*Bring cash for concessions
*Dress warmly for rodeo
Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center

West Yellowstone
Grizzlies, wolves, otters, birds of prey, squirrels in incredible enclosures.Open 365 days a year. 9am-6pm
or
9am-4pm
Adult $15
Child $10
Senior $14
*Takes 2-3 hours
*One ticket is good for 2 days
*Check the whiteboard schedule for when the animals will be out
Bear World

Rexburg, Idaho
Drive-through zoo with bears, elk, bison, and wolves.

Petting zoo and small amusement park
May-mid October
9am-6pm
or
9am-5pm
$100 per carload
$25 adults
$13 kids
*1/2 day attraction
*Can purchase tickets to bottle feed baby bears
Earthquake and Hebgan Lake

27 miles northwest of
West Yellowstone
*Visitor center
*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

*Great campgrounds
Yellowstone Giant Screen

West Yellowstone
*Shows current movies and a 40 minute Yellowstone movieYear-roundYellowstone
$10-$14
Current movies
$15-$16
*Yellowstone film is a bit dated
*60 ft tall X
40 ft wide
Yellowstone Big Gun Fun

West Yellowstone
*Large variety of guns you can shoot

 15 Madison Ave, West Yellowstone, MT 59758

 (406) 646-7113
Open year-round.

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

West Yellowstone
*Ropes course, ziplines

*junior course
Seasonal
Daily
9am- 9pm

Open weekends in September
$49-99The minimum age for the big course is 6

You must get through the ropes course to do ziplines
Ennis, Virginia City, and Nevada CityOld West experiences, fishingVariesVaries
Mesa Falls

Ashton, ID
Huge waterfallYear-round

9:30-5:30
$5 per carStop at both waterfalls
Montana Whitewater

West Yellowstone
River rafting along the Madison RiverSummerMany options