Cooke City

Gateway Cities: Red Lodge, Cooke City

The road to the Lamar Valley begins at the Tower-Roosevelt Junction, where you’ll head north across the Yellowstone River and right into some prime wildlife-viewing areas. Yellowstone National Park is a natural study in contrasts, and the Lamar Valley features stunning vistas and scenic vantages. You will be tempted to exceed the Yellowstone speed limit -– the traffic will be light and the road wide open – but don’t: you will probably miss some manner of wildlife along the way. The Lamar Valley is where wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone, and a pack still patrols the area. The Lamar buffalo herd is also a sizable presence; it is usually within close view of the road and quite often occupying a chunk of the road. Stop next to the turnoff to the Pebble Creek campground; the opposite mountain ridge (to the southeast of the road) is a favorite haunt of grizzlies, particularly in the spring and early summer. As you head north, the road narrows and the air grows chillier as the elevation rises. As you approach the Northeast Entrance, start looking for moose. Throw in some antelope and elk, and you have some of the greatest potential for viewing wildlife in the Park.

After you pass through the Northeast Entrance, head through Silver Gate and then westward to Cooke City. There’s not much to Silver Gate –- some houses, cabins and a very good restaurant – so the real end point here is Cooke City. One of the gateway cities to Yellowstone National Park, Cooke City is a prime stop for those entering the park from Billings and the scenic Beartooth National Highway via the Northwest Entrance. The main street here looks pretty much like it did 50 or 75 years ago, but Cooke City has transitioned from a city reliant on mining and logging to one reliant on tourism -– good news for you, as there’s much more to do in the old days, when town basically meant a bed for sleeping and a bar for drinking.

Cooke City Main Street

The Cooke City Store has been around since the late 1800s, and much of the décor dates from that time. (Yes, that antique cash register is still functional.) The general store also serves as an unofficial gathering spot for Cooke City residents, and if you’re interested in fishing Troy or Beth can sell you a license and guide you to where the trout are biting. If you’re hungry, the Bistro Café and the Beartooth Café serve above-average food all day.

(The postcard above seems to be very old. It is. But it’s surprising how little Cooke City has changed over the years. The general store is in this picture: it’s the white building on the left side of the road. Many of the buildings on both sides of the road still stand.)

If you have time, continue north on Hwy. 212 past the Big Moose Resort — for about five miles — to the headwaters of the Clarks Fork River. It’s a short walk from the parking lot to a bridge suspended over one of the prettiest waterfalls in the whole region.

Depending on where you start in the Park it’s conceivably possible to do this trip in less than a day, but don’t rush things. The Lamar Valley should be savored, and that means taking your time on the road.

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