This post is sponsored by Explore Livingston.
There are so many things to do in Livingston, MT and Paradise Valley. I should know because we’ve lived here for more than 15 years and have thoroughly explored our adopted hometown.
Livingston is the original Gateway to Yellowstone, but it’s so much more than that. Livingston is museums, trails, fine and casual dining, and kite flying, There are blue ribbon trout streams, 14 art galleries, two theaters, and shops and boutiques.
There is art, culture, cowboys and ranchers, and the outdoors. The combination makes Livingston the perfect get-out-of-town destination. We love Livingston for all of that, but more than anything it’s the mostly beautiful, sometimes eccentric, community.
I hope when you come to visit for the weekend or on your way to Yellowstone National Park, you get a feeling of what makes Livingston so special.
If you are sold on visiting Livingston and want to get straight to the things to do, scroll down past the history section. Otherwise, keep reading for how Livingston came to be.
Visiting Livingston Right Now
There are a few things to consider before visiting Livingston, Montana right now. The global pandemic was a little slow to reach us, but has hit us full force. That doesn’t mean you can’t get out and explore, but like anywhere else in the world, you have to do it a little differently these days.
- Masks are required in Park County — Livingston’s county. This requirement is for individuals over 5-years-old in public indoor spaces and outdoor settings where social distancing cannot be maintained.
- Know before you go: Know the local public health guidelines before arriving at your destination. Check the Park County Health Department website.
- Stay home if you’re sick.
- Wash or sanitize your hands regularly and avoiding touching your face.
- Understand some services and destinations may be limited.
History of Livingston, Montana
The area around what is now Livingston was home to Native American communities at least 11,500 years ago. In Park County, not far from Livingston, Clovis (one of the New World’s earliest hunter-gatherer cultures ) skeletal remains were found with mammoth fossils. The Anzick site contains not only the largest single assemblage of Clovis artifacts but also the only known Clovis skeletal remains.
The Crow or Apsáalooke (Absaorka) people lived in the Yellowstone Basin area. They were nomadic hunters and gatherers. The Crow Nation is a federally recognized tribe and the Crow Reservation is south of Billings.
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.
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.
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.
Livingston, Montana Itinerary
Let’s start with what three perfect days in Livingston looks like for me. After the itinerary, you’ll find all the information for following my path or creating your own itinerary.
- Breakfast at Faye’s Cafe
- Summer: Float or fly fish on the Yellowstone River; Winter: Downhill ski at Bridger Bowl
- Drinks and appetizers at Uncorked Wine Bar
- Dinner at The Murray Bar or 2nd Street Bistro
- Breakfast at Pinky’s Cafe
- Grab gear and snacks at Dan Bailey’s Outdoor Company
- Summer: Hike to Pine Creek Falls; Winter: Cross-country ski at Mill Creek
- Explore downtown galleries and shops
- Drinks at Katabatic Brewery or Neptune’s Taproom
- Dinner at Neptune’s Taphouse and Eatery
- Breakfast at Tru North
- Explore Yellowstone National Park
- Dinner at Glenn’s Food and Spirits
Downtown Livingston, Montana
Historic District Walking Tour
Get a feel for Livingston past and present by wandering around the historic downtown district. You’ll find Historic Register plaques, refurbished and new murals, beautiful brick buildings, and Western fronts. Plus, you can visit many of the shops and art galleries as you ambulate downtown.
The historic downtown area includes Sax & Fryer Bookstore, the Northern Pacific Depot, commercial buildings constructed in the 1800s, the historic city hall and firehouse, the birthing hospital, and the infamous “Red Light” district.
Livingston Book Stores
Livingston and the Paradise Valley is thick with writers. This writerly hamlet has drawn folks putting pen to papers for decades. Jo Sykes, Thomas McGuane, Doug Peacock, Peter Bowen, James Harrison, Tim Cahill, Richard Brautigan, Walter Kirn, Jamie Harrison, Andrea Peacock, and Maryanne Vollers are among the literatti that have made the area home.
Sax & Fryer Co.
Browse for books at Sax & Fryer Co., 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. Their focus is on local and regional writers and topics. Bring cash, credit cards are not accepted. 109 W Callender Street
Elk River Books
Elk River Books sells antiquarian and used books with a focus on local authors and nature, but there is a wide variety of books available. They also host book readings and other events, so check their schedule to see if anything is going on while you are in town. Elk River Books shares space with Wheatgrass Gifts and the Green Door Gallery. I especially love Wheatgrass for their sustainable products. 120 North Main Street
Sacred Mysteries Bookstore
For books in the metaphysical or esoteric range, Sacred Mysteries is your place. They sell new and used books, gift items, tapestries, eastern statues, art prints, and more. 113 W Park Street #9
Livingston Art Galleries
The early ’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.
I am not going to list them all here, but pay special attention to The Frame Garden, Livingston Center for Arts and Culture/Parks Reece Gallery, and Visions West Contemporary.
While it isn’t an art gallery, finding some of local land artist Montana Banksy’s work is always a treat. She uses rocks to create ephemeral works that can be found along the Yellowstone River, near Myer’s River View Trail and other places in and around Livingston. Check her Instagram feed for her latest creations and GPS coordinates to find them.
Livingston Downtown Shops
As you walk around downtown popping into galleries, ogling the architecture, and pointing out murals, you can check out the eclectic mix of shops. Here are a few of my favorites, but no doubt you will find many more that you love.
Out of the Blue Antiques
This is one of my favorite places in Livingston, but I am not sure how to describe it. There are antiques, yes, but they aren’t stodgy; they are highly curated, funky, and fun. Kathryn does a good job of finding and displaying mid century western decor. 211 South Main Street
The Obsidian Collection
Whenever I need a gift for someone, I start at The Obsidian Collection. They have a great selection of greeting cards, funny and thoughtful gifts, Montana items, kids’ books, and toys. 108 North 2nd Street
Bob’s Outdoors is a western clothing shop run by two generations of Montanan’s. The current owner is Shelly and has a knack for choosing cute and functional pieces for men, women, and kids. Her mom was one of the first shopkeeper’s to put in ladies Woolrich flannel shirts and sweaters, boutique-style, in a traditional men’s store.The Bob’s Outdoor building is on the National Historic Register. 114 North Main Street
Livingston Kite Company
Livingston is known to be quite windy at times, so it’s fitting that we have a kite shop whose motto is “Make Peace with the Wind.” The shop has kites, of course, but is also full of puzzles, games, toys, lanterns, and other fun items. 113 Callender Street
Museums in Livingston, MT
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.
Yellowstone Gateway Museum
The Yellowstone Gateway Museum documents regional history from one of the oldest North American archaeological sites to Wild West and Yellowstone history. This is especially fun with kids as there are interactive exhibits and activities. 118 West Chinook Street
International Federation of Fly Fishers Museum
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. 5237 US Highway 89 South, Suite 11
The Depot Museum
In summer, the train depot transforms into a museum featuring displays related to Livingston’s train past and present, film in Montana, and rotating exhibits. One of my favorite things about the Depot Museum is the building itself. It was built in 1902 as the Northern Pacific Railroad’s launching point to Yellowstone National Park. The elaborate architecture was designed by the same people as was New York City’s Grand Central Station. 200 West Park Street
Theaters in Livingston, MT
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. 113 East Callender Street
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. 415 East Lewis Street
Hiking Trails in Livingston, MT
Pine Creek Falls
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 and know how to use it.
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
A few tips for recreating outdoors in the Paradise Valley or anywhere.
- Choose less crowded trails or less busy times. Most people flock to a few very popular trailheads.
- Keep your distance from other parties on the trail when possible. Scoot over to let people pass and don’t stop right on the trail. Downhill hikers yield to uphill hikers.
- Pack it in, pack it out. Plan to carry your trash home or to your hotel to dispose of it. Better yet, invest in reusable bottles and bags to minimize your trash.
- Be prepared. Carry bear spray and know how to use it. Bring a map and/or GPS (cell phones don’t work on a lot of our trails). Have more than enough water and food. Wear or carry appropriate clothing for the weather.
- Don’t stomp on plants or create new user trails. Love these public lands like you own them, because you do!
Fly Fishing in Livingston
A river runs through Livingston (and many scenes from the movie A River Runs Through It were filmed here). The Yellowstone River with its creeks and springs, have put this fishing town on the map. Fly fishing, of course.
If you need gear, advice, or a guide, stop by Dan Bailey’s Outdoor Company (209 West Park Street) or Sweetwater Fly Shop (5082 US-89).
Floating & Rafting the Yellowstone River
We spend our summers floating down the river on a raft. Usually with several other families on their rafts. If you didn’t bring one with you, you can rent one from Rubber Ducky River Rentals (15 Mt Baldy Dr).
If a guided raft trip, either white water or scenic, is more your cup of tea, there are a bunch of rafting companies. Most of them are located in Gardiner and I don’t have a preference, so I suggest you Google that.
Best Places to Eat and Drink in Livingston
Restaurants in Livingston
Sarah Faye’s motto is “We love to Nourish the Mind, Body, and Soul through Food, Art, and Love. Peace, Love, and Happiness is our vibe.” She’ll make whatever you want or let her get creative and make something special. I like to have a vague idea of what I want and then let Sarah go to town! 415 E Lewis Street
Creative comfort food, cooked from scratch. Chef and owner, Morgan Milton, serves beef from the ranch he grew up on, local foods, and bread made by his mom. The food is always good at Pinky’s and I recommend taking advantage of the “breakfast all day” policy. 109 South Main Street
I spend way too much time at Coffee Crossing. Or not enough, depending on how you look at it. They serve up all the coffee and tea drinks, plus have breakfast and lunch food and pastries. I love the breakfast sandwich with a ginger cookie. Sometimes the only outing of our day is to walk to Coffee Crossing and get hot chocolate for the kids. 104 North Second Street
Trû North Café
If you want to sit on a couch with a frothy hot drink or a black coffee and chat about the state of your world, this is the place to go. Or sit by the fire and chow down on breakfast or lunch. 104 North Main Street
The Murray Bar
This is our standard spot for meeting with friends, drinking a beer or cocktail, and having a delicious dinner. Food comes from the kitchen of Gil’s Goods, which is owned by the same person and right next door. Family friendly until 8 pm and live music many nights. 201 West Park Street
2nd Street Bistro
Fine dining from Brian, the owner/chef at Gil’s Goods and the Murray Bar. They serve small plates of French-inspired foods, along with a little Italian food and Montana influenced bites. It’s not the best for vegetarians, but you fancy carnivores will love it. 123 North Second Street
Neptune’s Taphouse and Eatery
Sushi, mile high cocktails, and ocean inspired food and revelry. I would eat at Neptune’s every night if I could. There’s a distinctive Jimmy Buffet feel (did you know he wrote “Livingston Saturday Night” about our town?) and the tropical ambiance is a nice break from Western decor. They have a great roof top bar and outdoor seating. 232 South Main Street
Glenn’s Food and Spirits
Glenn’s is known for steaks, burgers, and in Anders’ mind, ravioli. Glenn, the owner and bartender, is the consummate bar keep. He’s been serving drinks to Livingston locals and visitors for decades. The patio with its fairy lights is one of the best outdoor eating areas in town. 122 North Main Street
Katabatic Brewing Company
Named for a type of wind that comes off the mountains, this brewery serves up a mean IPA, and a variety of tasty brews. And their homemade root beer can’t be beat. 117 West Park Street
You have to get a few blocks out of downtown to find Neptune’s, but you will be glad you did. The have a large outdoor seating area, or sidle up to the bar and watch the fish in the aquarium with a delicious beer in your hand. 119 North L Street
Where to Stay in Livingston, Montana
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
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
The Murray Hotel is a local landmark. Anthony Bourdain, the former host of the Travel Channel’s “No Reservations” and CNN’s “Parts Unknown,” called it one of his top 10 favorite hotels. The hotel has 30 rooms and suites and is located downtown. It has a rich history that you have to visit to understand. See prices for the Murray Hotel in Livingston and make reservations.
Fairfield Inn and Suites
Livingston’s newest hotel is clean, modern, and freeway adjacent. There is a pool and fitness center, plus free breakfast. See prices for the Livingston Fairfield Inn and Suites and make reservations.
Find other hotels in Livingston, Montana here.
Livingston Vacation Rentals
Like everywhere else, there are vacation rentals popping up in Livingston every day it seems. Whether you want a condo downtown, a little house in a cute neighborhood, or a huge spread in the Paradise Valley, you’ll find something.
If you want to learn more about how to spend the perfect day outdoors around Livingston, check out my podcast episode on Locals Know Best, where I speak all about how to have a fantastic day outdoors in both summer and winter.
If you want to stay longer than a vacation, find a job in Livingston here.