The Oregon Trail

Western gateway to Yellowstone National Park, the Montana town of West Yellowstone (pop. 1,382, elev. 6,667 ft/2,032 m) sits just over the Idaho border and nearly on the Wyoming border, offering all the motels, gas stations, and cafés you could ever want, plus a lot more. The primary access point for early tourists visiting Yellowstone on the Oregon Shortline and Union Pacific Railroad, West Yellowstone preserves a great deal of old-style tourist facilities. The rustic old railroad station is now an engaging museum, and the town’s many roadside motels (there are more motel rooms than residents!) display a mouthwatering assembly of nifty 1950s-vintage neon signs.

There’s also a huge IMAX theater (101 S. Canyon St., 406/646-4100, $11.75), in case you prefer the Memorex version to real-life Yellowstone. The IMAX theater is adjacent to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center (201 S. Canyon St., 800/257-2570 or 406/646-7001, $15), which collects orphaned, abandoned, and “problem” bears and wolves and puts them on display rather than killing them, as is otherwise done.

West Yellowstone’s main drag, Canyon Street (US-20), is lined by cafés and Wild West souvenir shops. The excellent Book Peddler (106 N. Canyon St., 406/646-9358) boasts an espresso bar along with a wide array of fiction and nonfiction titles.

Most of West Yellowstone’s enviable collection of historic motels are off the main highway frontage, so drive around the back streets and take your pick. The arts-and-crafts-style Stage Coach Inn (209 Madison Ave., 800/842-2882 or 406/646-7381, $74 and up) has been charming visitors for more than a half-century, as has the friendly and relaxing Lazy G Motel (123 N. Hayden St., 406/646-7586, $125 and up), which has to be one of the world’s nicest little motels.

Map of the Oregon Trail through Idaho.
Map of the Oregon Trail through Idaho.

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