This post is sponsored by Yellowstone Country Tourism Region
Most of us who live here in Yellowstone Country (the region in Montana outside and adjacent to Yellowstone National Park) have a favorite place. Or maybe 2 or 294,566 favorite places. It’s hard to pick just one, but every fall the Silver Gate and Cooke City area becomes my favorite.
At the beginning of November each year, a girlfriend and I rent a cabin in Silver Gate and spend several days cross-country skiing or hiking, looking for waterfalls and wildlife, gazing at the billions of stars, and chatting in front of the flames from the gas stove while doing puzzles. It’s a cozy Montana getaway that I look forward to each year.
In summer, my family and I stop by Silver Gate and Cooke City as we drive the loop through Yellowstone, over the Beartooth Highway, and down the main street in Red Lodge. Or after a hike in the northeast part of Yellowstone. Some winters Cooke City – Silver Gate is my base camp for wolf watching and cross-country skiing. Suffice to say, I love it there.
Silver Gate, Montana is just beyond Yellowstone’s Northeast Entrance. It’s a tiny town with a restaurant, and two general stores/souvenir stops. Three miles east on Highway 212 sits Cooke City, which has the highest elevation (7,708 feet) of any Montana town. Between the two of them — usually referred to as Cooke City-Silver Gate — they have a population of roughly 140 people.
The area we now know as Cooke City and Silver Gate was the homeland of the Apsaalooké (Crow) people.
Cooke City originated with mining when gold was discovered in 1870. The New World Mining District brought in rugged prospectors hoping to strike it rich.
Silver Gate was founded in 1932 as a place to serve people visiting Yellowstone. Construction requirements meant that the buildings had to be rustic and of log architecture, which gives Silver Gate so much of its charm.
I love the other Montana Gateway towns – West Yellowstone and Gardiner, but sometimes I crave someplace quiet. Silver Gate and Cooke City, Montana deliver. The Northeast Entrance is the quietest entrance to Yellowstone at any time of year, but it becomes even quieter and more remote in the shoulder seasons (fall and spring).
A couple of things to note:
- There is no cell service in either town. Once you pass Slough Creek in Yellowstone you are out of service for quite a while. The wifi in Silver Gate is satellite and slow. Don’t plan to stream videos or otherwise take up a lot of bandwidth. For some reason, the wifi in Cooke City is better.
- Because both towns are at a pretty high altitude to start, any time you hike, ski, snowmobile, or bike, you are gaining elevation. If you aren’t used to it, you may be short of breath. Go slowly and let yourself adjust.
- Drink lots of water and wear sunscreen at all times of the year. Between the altitude and the aridity, you’ll need it.
Montana Travel Guidelines (2020)
Play it Safe. When traveling in Montana during the pandemic, there are a few things to keep in mind.
- Know local public health guidelines before you arrive
- Understand locations and services could be limited
- Stay home if you are sick
Additional guidelines include:
- Plan Ahead: Check for closures, pack supplies, and have a backup plan
- Keep Space: Keep 6 feet of space from others and wear a mask in crowded spaces, inside or out
- Be Respectful: Respect local guidelines, the land, and people
- Protect the Outdoors: Minimize Impact and give wildlife space
- Explore Locally: Pick a basecamp and support local businesses
How To Get to Cooke City – Silver Gate, Montana
In summer, you can access Cooke City – Silver Gate through Yellowstone National Park, via the Beartooth Highway from Red Lodge, Montana, or via the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway in Wyoming (WY-296). By the first weekend in November, the only access is through Yellowstone via Gardiner and Mammoth Hot Springs.
Depending on how much snow has fallen, it may be possible to drive the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway until the road closes at Cooke City.
The closest airport is the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN), which is just outside of Bozeman in Belgrade, Montana. Rent a car at the airport and enter Yellowstone through Gardiner, Montana.
Things to do in Cooke City – Silver Gate, Montana
These two towns on the edge of Yellowstone are quite seasonal. When we visit in early November the only place open is the Stop the Car Trading Post.
If the visitor center in Cooke City (Cooke City Montana Museum or Cooke City Chamber) is open stop by. The historical displays are well done and present a good overview of the history of the area. Plus, you’ll get lots of good information about what to do from the staff. And there’s wifi.
Even if they are closed, there are some neat displays outside which you can explore. The restrooms are always open.
In summer, everything is open — restaurants, gift shops, guide services, and lodging. In winter most of those places are open in Cooke City, though it’s just the one cafe/general store in Silver Gate and some lodging.
Where to Eat in Cooke City – Silver Gate
Some restaurants are only open in summer, others are open winter and summer. In the shoulder seasons there might not be anything open, so make sure you check before you go. The next town for food is hours away.
This list doesn’t cover the whole gambit, but includes my favorite restaurants in Cooke City and Silver Gate.
- Log Cabin Café, Silver Gate — My favorite place to eat in the summer is the Log Cabin Café. Their pumpkin bread is deservedly well known and you can’t beat the trout dinner. We often stop by after hiking to Trout Lake in Yellowstone to see otters and spawning trout. They have indoor and outdoor seating.
- Miners Saloon, Cooke City — “The Miner” is my go-to in Cooke City. It looks like a biker bar, and sometime is, but they serve a wide variety of craft beers, farm-to-table meals, and really good pizza. It’s family friendly until about 8 pm.
- MontAsia, Cooke City — Another summer-only place, but such good food that it has to be mentioned here. The menu includes both Montana and Malaysian dishes.
- The Bistro, Cooke City — Despite the name, this is a rustic, Western-style restaurant. They serve a mix of burgers, pasta, chicken, and other dishes.
Where to Shop in Cooke City – Silver Gate, Montana
You probably aren’t coming to Silver Gate or Cooke City to shop, but there are some cute souvenir shops that have more than the usual magnets and postcards (though they have those too).
- Silver Gate General Store and Cabins — What you’ll notice about this shop is the many metal mountain goats all over the lawn and building in summer. We have two in our yard. They have everything inside that you’d expect from a camping store — food, souvenirs etc.
- Stop the Car Trading Post, Silver Gate — The friendly owners serve up coffee drinks, ice cream, and some food. They are the only place open year round. They also sell local books, art, souvenirs, and Montana Made products.
- Cooke City Store — You can’t miss the big, red, historic building in the middle of Cooke City. It’s worth a stop just to see the historic fixtures within or to buy some penny candy. They are a general store, real estate office, and a fly fishing shop, open only in summer.
- Yellowstone Trading Post, Cooke City — They have all manner of souvenirs and Montana Made products and are open in summer.
Waterfall Chasing in Cooke City – Silver Gate, Montana
Thanks to the steep mountains surrounding Cooke City – Silver Gate and the abundant snowfall, there are a lot of waterfalls. These are a few of my favorites.
Find trail descriptions and maps to all of these waterfalls in Robert Stone’s Day Hikes in the Beartooth Mountains, available in most local bookstores or on Amazon.
- Silver Falls — (2 miles round trip) Silver Falls is a delicate waterfall that originates out of Mineral Mountain and Meridian Peak and flows into Soda Butte Creek. The trail is a little tough to find. Park one mile east of the Yellowstone Northeast Entrance Station on Highway 212. Walk 0.1 mile west and look for the unpaved road to the north. Walk up to the power lines and go left for 20 yards to an arrow pointing right. Follow that footpath through the forest to a three-way split. Go straight to another arrow and turn left on a distinct, but narrow trail. The trail curves to the right and to a T-junction. Turn left at the arrow sign and you’ll soon reach the banks of Silver Creek. Follow the creek upstream to the falls.
- Sheep Creek Falls — (0.6 miles round trip) Sheep Creek Falls is right off the road, but the trail is a little sketchy. Fortunately, if you walk up the right side of the creek you will get there. (This is the waterfall in the video above.) Park on the south side of the road just west of the Sheep Creek Bridge on Highway 212. It’s about 1.6 miles east of Silver Gate and 1.1 miles west of Cooke City. Cross the road and look for a little trail on the east (right) side of the creek going up a hill. Walk upstream until you see the magnificent waterfall. How close you get depends on how high the water is and how comfortable you are clambering over fallen logs and crossing the creek. The view on the way back is worth the trek in itself.
- Woody Creek Falls — (3 miles round trip) Woody Falls is a lovely three-tiered waterfall that drops 150 feet. We cross-country ski to the the falls, but it’s a great hiking trail too. From downtown Cooke City, turn south onto Republic Road. There is a parking area on the left before the fenced park. If it’s winter, I recommend parking here and skiing to the trailhead. In summer, keep driving, cross Soda Butte Creek, and veer left. Drive 0.2 miles to the trailhead. Walk up the jeep road for five or so minutes to a trail on the left. If you continued on the jeep road you’d wind through a bunch of old mining equipment, which is kind of cool. But, take the trail on the left and climb for about 1.25 miles to the waterfall.
- Crazy Creek Falls — (1 mile round trip) This cascade is an easy walk. What I like most about it is all the rock along the edge where you can sit, soak in the sunshine, and watch the water tumble. (See the featured photo at the top of the post) Drive 11 miles east from Cooke City to a parking area on the north side of the road. It’s right across from the Crazy Creek Campground. Follow the Crazy Lakes Trail through the woods and within a few minutes you’ll see Crazy Creek Falls. If you continue up the trail a bit and then head to the left, you get to the top of the cascades. It can be slick and the water fast, so be careful as you walk around up there. The Crazy Lake Trail continues 3.5 miles to Ivy Lake and to many other lakes beyond. Make sure you take a Crazy Creek Chair to properly enjoy. They are made over the mountains in Red Lodge.
Hiking and Ski Trails in Silver Gate and Cooke City, Montana
There are so many hiking options in this part of Yellowstone Country. I recommend grabbing Robert Stone’s Day Hikes in the Beartooth Mountains, available in most local bookstores or on Amazon and Beartooth Publishing’s Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness Outdoor Recreation Map.
I use the hiking guidebook as a starting point for choosing cross-country ski trails.
Make sure you are prepared for hiking in bear country. Carry bear spray, know how to use it, and read this article about what to do if you see a grizzly bear.
- Republic Creek Trail — (3-9 miles round trip) From Cooke City, turn south on Republic Road and cross Soda Butte Creek. Turn right and follow the road as it curves left and uphill 1.3 miles to the trailhead. The trail is pretty straightforward; walk south along Republic Creek. At 1.5 miles you’ll reach a meadow, which makes a good turn around place for a 3 mile hike. Or continue to the cirque below Republic Peak at 2.8 miles. From there you can climb to Republic Pass as 4.5 miles. The mellow lower section is nice for cross-country skiing.
- Kersey and Rock Island Lakes — (3-6 miles round trip) We usually cross-country ski to Kersey Lake but I’d love to come back and hike there and on to Rock Island Lake. From Cooke City drive 3.5 miles east and park across the road from the Chief Joseph Campground. The mellow trail crosses the Clarks Fork above a cascade at the beginning. At 0.5 miles stay to the right at the trail junction and parallel Sedge Creek to Kersey Lake, bypassing the trail to Vernon Lake at 1.2 miles. The trail continues to Rock Island Lake, another 1.5 miles beyond Kersey (at a signed junction take the right fork to Rock Island Lake).
- Colter Campground — (short) For a little ski around the Colter Campground, we turn up Lulu Pass Trail Road from Highway 212 about 1.5 miles east of Cooke City. Park 0.1 mile up the road on the right. From there, ski east into the campground and follow the campground road. Or park along Highway 212 near the campground entrance and ski in that way.
Scenic Drives Around Cooke City – Silver Gate, Montana
Even though there are only three roads into Silver Gate and Cooke City, they are all gorgeous. In fact, they are designated Scenic Byways.
- Beartooth All-American Scenic Highway — ( US – 212) This astounding 68-mile road connects Cooke City and Red Lodge via the Beartooth Pass. It’s only open in summer and is the highest elevation road in the northern Rockies. There are many pullouts along the way to enjoy the epic vistas. Explore the Beartooth Highway
- Chief Joseph Scenic Byway — (WY – 296) The Chief Joseph Scenic Byway connects Cody, Wyoming with the Beartooth Highway and Cooke City. It’s 46 miles and follows the route taken by Chief Joseph as he led the Nez Perce Indians in fleeing from the U.S. Army. You can read more about their journey in my piece on Montana battlefields.
- Yellowstone Northeast Entrance Road — (US – 212) The 52 miles between Gardiner, Montana and Silver Gate may be some of the best wildlife watching habitat in the world. The road passes through Blacktail Butte Plateau, the Northern Range, Lamar Valley, and past Barronette Peak.
Guided Activities in Cooke City – Silver Gate, Montana
I haven’t hired a guide out of Silver Gate or Cooke City, but there are several activities where one could be helpful.
Skiing and Hiking in Cooke City – Silver Gate, Montana
In winter backcountry ski guides can you get into the mountains safely. My dream trip is to go backcountry skiing with Beartooth Powder Guides and spend a couple of nights in either their cabin or their yurt. They lead guided hikes in the summer.
Yellowstone Ski Tours also offers custom ski tours.
Snowmobiling in Cooke City – Silver Gate, Montana
Cooke City is awash with snowmobiles in winter. While I couldn’t find any guided services, there are several places to rent snowmobiles in Cooke City, and no doubt, the folks that work there will set you up with a trail that matches your abilities and interests.
Horseback Riding in Cooke City – Silver Gate, Montana
For horseback riding in Cooke City – Silver Gate, check out the chamber’s page. Riding through this spectacular backcountry is another item on my dream list. Let me know if you go and who you go with!
Fishing in Cooke City – Silver Gate, Montana
Wildlife Watching in and around Cooke City – Silver Gate, Montana
Wildlife watching in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley is something you’ll never forget. Silver Gate is the closest community to the fabled “Serengeti of America,” and is a good base camp for watching wildlife in the park.
We’ve seen bears, bison, moose, and an assortment of smaller critters right in Silver Gate. From there and Cooke City you can find all kinds of wildlife. Check out these places the Cooke City – Silver Gate Chamber recommends.
The Silver Gate General Store (open in summer) rents spotting scopes.
Where to Stay in Silver Gate and Cooke City, Montana
We always rent the Lamar Cabin. It’s my favorite place in Silver Gate, but not the only option. The cabin is cute, comfortable, and has great views. It’s a perfect spot to cook, hang out, and scour maps for our outings. There is another cabin next door, the Silver Falls Cabin, which is owned by the same people and is a little larger.
You can check out other lodging in Cooke City – Silver Gate here.
- Hotels in Cooke City – Silver Gate, Montana
- VRBOs in Cooke City – Silver Gate, Montana
- Airbnbs in Cooke City – Silver Gate, Montana
Best Hiking Guidebooks for the Beartooths
- Day Hikes in the Beartooth Mountains by Robert Stone
- Hiking the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness by Bill Schneider
- Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness East Map [Cooke City, Red Lodge] (National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map, 722)
More On Red Lodge, Cooke City- Silver Gate, and the Beartooth Highway
- Visiting Red Lodge in Winter
- Summer Red Lodge Itinerary
- Hike the Silver Run Ski Trails, Red Lodge
- Hike South Fork Grove Creek, Red Lodge
- Playing and Staying in Cooke City and Silver Gate, Montana
- Things To Do in Cooke City Montana in Winter
- Best Places to Stay Near Yellowstone National Park
- Things To Do Beyond Yellowstone’s Borders
- Explore the Beartooth Highway