Livingston is known for its winter winds. Cold air rushes up the Paradise Valley from Yellowstone National Park, tosses trash cans around, catches plastic bags in trees and knocks over small children.
But there is much more than wind in the original Gateway to Yellowstone. From museums, to trails, to dining and kite flying, Livingston is the perfect get-out-of-town destination.
“When visitors come during the off-season, I tell them our year-round museum (Yellowstone Gateway Museum) is always open,” said Leslie Fiegel, the executive director of the Livingston Convention and Visitor Bureau. Fiegel also recommends fishing, strolling through downtown’s 14 art galleries, eating at one of Livingston’s 27 restaurants, hiking and theater.
The area around what is now Livingston was home to Native American communities at least 11,500 years ago. William Clark and some of the Corps of Discovery camped here on their way to meet Meriwether Lewis at the headwaters of the Missouri River. The railroad arrived in 1882 and put Livingston on the map. The spot where the plains met the mountains became the Northern Pacific Railroad’s biggest facility between Seattle and St. Paul, Minn. When a spur line from Livingston to Yellowstone was completed, Livingston became the gateway to Yellowstone National Park. Four trains arrived each day with tourists from the east hoping to see geysers, hot pots, waterfalls and the Wild West. But first, they wanted a hot bath, food, tourist supplies and a place to rest.
“I’ve visited Livingston in every season,” said Brian Anderson of Billings. “I love the stone buildings downtown, the great restaurants and getting outside — fishing, hiking or just floating the river.”
Whether it’s art galleries, theater, history or the Great Outdoors that draws you in, Clark’s campsite and the original entrance to Yellowstone National Park is well equipped to host travelers from across the state with its many hotels, shops and recreational opportunities.
Historic District Walking Tour
Get a feel for Livingston past and present by taking a self-guided walking tour of the historic downtown district. Maps can be picked up at the Chamber of Commerce/CVB office at 303 E. Park St.
Browse for books at Sax & Fryer, Livingston’s oldest continuous business and the oldest stationary store in the state of Montana. Founded in 1883, it moved to its current Callender Street address in 1914 and has been there ever since. Bring cash, credit cards are not accepted.
The walking tour also includes the Northern Pacific Depot, commercial buildings constructed in the 1800s, the historic city hall and firehouse, the birthing hospital (currently being renovated), and the infamous “Red Light” district.
The earl ’70s brought an influx of young artists to the area. Painters including Russell Chatham and Parks Reece opened galleries, as did other artists of various styles and techniques. Today, Livingston boasts 14 galleries in the downtown areas.
The original gateway to Yellowstone National Park, Livingston has a rich and complex history dating back more than a century. The two museums in town offer travelers to the area a comprehensive look at local heritage, milestone events, and the legendary people who helped shape this special place.
The Yellowstone Gateway Museum documents regional history from one of the oldest North American archaeological sites to Wild West and Yellowstone history.
The rich history of the International Federation of Fly Fishers is well documented in the collection of angling artifacts, literature and art on display. The collection and library span over a century of artifacts and books that truly represent the culture and history of fly fishing.
Two community theater groups, the Blue Slipper Theater and the Dulcie Theater, stage live performances year-round.
For 50 years, the Blue Slipper Theater has hosted a variety of comedic and dramatic productions. The building housed the Livingston Post and later the Park County News before becoming home to the theater.
The Dulcie Theater in the Shane Lalani Center for the Arts also stages community theater productions. Other artsy activities take place there, including film showings, musical performances and workshops.
A 2-mile (round trip) hike leads through the forest and along a creek to the gorgeous Pine Creek Falls. The trail is busy in summer, but this time of year you could have it to yourself during the week. Upon crossing the bridge at the falls, find a spot just downstream or up to the left to hang out and picnic.
From Livingston drive south on Highway 89. Turn left on Pine Creek Road, then turn right on East River Road. Turn left on Luccock Park Road where a signed is posted for the Pine Creek Campground. The trailhead is at the back of the campground. Bring bear spray.
Don’t miss these other local hiking trails:
- Six Trails in Livingston, Montana
- Suce Creek Trail, From Paradise Valley in the Absaroka Mountains, 15 min to trailhead from Livingston
- Livingston Peak Trail, from Swingley Road in the Absaroka Mountains, 45 min to trailhead from Livingston
- Ramshorn Peak Trail, From Paradise Valley in the Gallatin Range, 60 min to trailhead from Livingston
The Livingston Kite Company and Mass Ascensions
Livingston has a variety of cute shops, and the Livingston Kite Company is one of the best. Its motto is “Embrace the wind.” It does that by flying kites. In addition to the shop, LKC hosts Mass Ascensions on the first Sunday of every month beginning in May at 4 p.m. Locals and tourists gather at Northside Park with their kites for a little carefree fun. Mass Ascensions are weather dependent so check the Livingston Kite Company Facebook page or call 406-222-5483.
Fly fishing lures anglers to Livingston throughout most of the year and, according to Dan Gigone at Sweetwater Fly Shop, the fishing is “pretty good right now. It’s nice and warm when the wind isn’t blowing.”
Gigone recommends fishing almost anywhere on the Yellowstone River in the Paradise Valley, but if it’s windy, keep heading south to above Yankee Jim Canyon. Nymphs are being used to trick fish right now, but around the end of March expect blue winged olive mayflies and the bigger March brown mayflies to hatch. Then it’s time to tie on a fly.
You can’t do everything Livingston has to offer in a day. Luckily there are plenty of places to spend the night.
A Stone’s Throw Bed and Breakfast is close to downtown and the Yellowstone River. Every fixture, every piece of art in the 6,000-square-foot B&B has a story. It was made by a Montana friend or acquired locally. The three guest bedrooms each have an en suite bathroom, outlets and USB ports at the desk and above both bedside tables, comfortable beds, gorgeous art work and plenty of space for hanging clothes and gear. Breakfasts are creative, delicious and filling. (Read about my stay here.)
The Murray Hotel is a local landmark. Anthony Bourdain, the former host of the Travel Channel’s “No Reservations” and now playing a similar role on CNN’s “Parts Unknown,” called it one of his top 10 favorite hotels. The hotel has 30 rooms and suites and is located downtown.
This story originally appeared in the Great Falls Tribune, March 15, 2016.