A trip to Yellowstone is quite unlike a vacation to most anywhere else. You’re not really headed to the area for what man made things are around – instead, you’re heading out to Big Sky country to see nature. So, because of that, adjusting your expectations on shopping and dining is somewhat necessary.
As I mentioned previously – Charles and I are big fans of VRBO vacations. It gives us a place to stay with a kitchen and the flexibility to do what we want and not be reliant on what we can find in a town we don’t really know. Which, when weighed against a small town like West Yellowstone is a good thing.
On the flight out, we’d discussed what we wanted for dinners that week (which is a typical conversation we have each week while I’m planning meals). And based on that conversation, I made a grocery list. After we landed and got our rental car, we headed to the local Albertsons to stock up on the items we needed. (We were still in Bozeman at the time). We both knew that the shopping options in West Yellowstone were somewhat limited so, we planned accordingly. Our first night in town, we had planned on dining out, and then had figured we’d have one other night out, and would cook at home the rest of our nights at the house.
Saturday Night (well it was early evening in Montana, but we were still very much on NC time) we headed to the Three Bears Café for dinner. We had been there on our first trip to MT together, and wanted to return. It wasn’t anything fancy – but was good homey food (with plenty of leftovers) and we were satisfied.
We’d cooked tacos and a chicken and pasta dish later the week, which sorted us out for the rest of the nights we were there. Our last night in town, we didn’t want to cook again since we were leaving the next morning, so we decided to head back to the Three Bears to share a dinner together (again, very yummy homey food).
There are other options in town – it’s not that there was just one place – but it was one we liked and had special memories for us – which is why we went there. Like most towns, there was a bar and grill called The Buffalo – which had an interesting menu – but wasn’t up and running full time since it was still before the full season. There were two or three Chinese food places, a few pizza shops, a European café, a bakery, a gastro pub called the Slippery Otter (which was very good for the lunch we had there) and a few other places as well. (Including two Mexican food buses, which confused us). The establishments know their clientele and the food is plenty, delicious, and filling. There weren’t a whole lot of ‘upscale’ places around that I saw, but it’s just not really the kind of place you’d expect a dress up fancy dinner.
I was really surprised to see only one Fast Food place in town – it was a McDonalds (no surprise there) but I’m glad that there wasn’t the typical whole row of burger joints along the main drag that there tends to be in bigger towns.
Breakfasts for us were had at the house. Yogurt and cereal for me, cereal and milk for Charles. Simple stuff, but easy enough to be thrown together and had while we prepped for the day out and about.
Lunches are something you do need to plan for. Because Yellowstone is so spread out (remember, you will need a car to see everything) there are not shops or restaurants all over the place. Charles and I picnic when we’re out and about on these trips – so when we stopped at the store, we picked up lunch meat (salami), cheese, eggs (which we hard boiled), hummus and triscuits. We also grabbed bananas and apples. Most days, We had a dashboard picnic because it was either drizzly or too cold to sit outside, but a few of the days, it was so sunny and nice that we enjoyed picnicking beside a stream watching whatever was going on around us.
Each morning before we headed out for the day – we’d fill the gas tank in the car. That way, we paid non park prices and were sure we’d have enough to drive around and get back to the house. We never used a full tank – but it was one less thing we had to worry about. When Charles was getting gas, I’d grab a bottle or two of my caffeine of choice and tuck it in the cooler to sip on through the day. (I also had my water as well). Gas stations are plenty in West Yellowstone – although it does seem like they price match with each other. When one station went up a few pennies on one day – it was by the next day that the rest of them all matched the price.
For shopping – we didn’t do a whole lot of it – but there is always some that gets done. I pick up postcards to keep and send to the people at home, and they are available nearly everywhere we looked. There’s a cute little yarn and quilt shop in town, so we poked around there and I found some yarn that is the same colors as the Morning Glory Pool. And there is always the selection of tee shirt and souvenir shops, candy shops, and the like. We spent our rainy day in town puttering around and seeing what there was to see. If you’re an outdoorsman, there are outfitters that are around too – but since we’re not, I don’t know what they offer, other than knowing they do a fishing report each day, and put it on their front window, telling fishermen what flies work best to catch things. (Which I thought was curious).
Everyone we met was very kind. Obviously we didn’t get to really know anyone, and we were most definitely from out of town – but we didn’t run into anyone who was blatantly rude or inconsiderate. I was able to make polite conversation with most of the people I ran into – and we would discuss the weather, where we could see animals, and what we were into. It was a nice experience – and much more relaxing than the huge crowds at Disney that give me the heebeejeebees.
I did some research before we went – on the yarn shop and such – and most of the rest of it was just poking around in the shops and seeing what there was to see. It was a good break from the car trekking and we found some neat things – also saw some gorgeous local art (we didn’t invest in it, but it was still awesome to see).
Adjust your expectations accordingly – the draw of the area isn’t the shopping and the luxury of things – more so the beauty of the area and the land, the animals, and the people.