So this is going to be my first part of my super-guide to each of Yellowstone’s villages! It made the most sense to start off with the Northern-most end of the park, and also because it’d be the easiest for me to write about, considering I lived here for 3 months.
In this mega-post, I’ll share all of the natural wonders to see, all of the places to eat, and all of the lodging options offered in Mammoth Hot Springs village here in Yellowstone National Park. So let’s start with things to do!
Everything to see and do in Mammoth Hot Springs
Travertine terraces are one of Yellowstone’s 5 famed thermal features, and the best place to see them is in the Mammoth Hot Springs village of YNP! Once you get to Mammoth, they aren’t hard to find because they tower above everything else, and you can see each formation up close and personal by walking along the boardwalks.
The travertine terraces were originally formed by flowing hot springs that leave mineral deposits over time. The resulting rock formations have a variety of mesmerizing patters, and the hot spring water allows rare extremophilic bacteria to grow in all sorts of dazzling colors and shapes. The boards walks weave up and down these terraces, allowing you to see them from several different viewpoints. It’s a lot of steps to walk, so be prepared for that, but it’s worth it for views of some of my favorite formations- like Mound Springs and Canary Springs.
From my experiences, the best possible time to visit the Terraces is as late in the summer as possible (July-August). This is because over the course of the summer, the snowmelt from the surrounding mountains causes the springs to overflow, giving the resident bacteria plenty of nutrients to grow into their clearest and most colorful forms! You should also visit either fairly early in the morning (any time before 9am), or at sunset, otherwise you’ll hardly be able to navigate the boardwalks among all of the tour groups and photo takers.
Above the Lower Terraces lies a parking lot, and that parking lot is attached to a small road that loops around the Upper Terraces. The upper terraces are a series of bacterial mats, mineral formations, and hot springs, and most of them are a lovely bright orange. They tend to be less crowded than the lower terraces, and you can get really close to a lot of them, which I like because you can really see those aforementioned mineral and bacterial patterns. You can even feel waves of heat radiating from the springs.
While you can walk around this road, I’d highly recommend driving around the upper terraces instead because there’s no sidewalk and I almost got run over a few times. My friends and I usually preferred to visit the upper terraces during the evening because it’s the least crowded then.
Historic Fort Yellowstone
When the national parks were first established, park rangers hadn’t been founded yet, and so the parks were protected from squatters and poachers by military brigades. That’s why when you walk down Mammoth Hot Springs’ Main Street, you’ll notice these giant houses, a church, and even a post office which you won’t find anywhere else in the park. From the visitor’s center, you can take a tour around the barracks to learn what life as a military resident of early Yellowstone was like.
Mammoth Hot Springs Visitor’s Center
Each major village has a visitor’s center, and Mammoth Hot Springs’ is among my favorites. That’s because here, you actually get some insight into the history of the USA’s first national park, and why the National Park Service was started.
When Teddy Roosevelt learned about the devastating poaching going on in the park and visited it for himself, he was inspired by its beauty, and kick started the park service with the intention of preserving America’s natural phenomena. The photos of poaching are both devastating and moving, and it’s amazing to visit the place that inspired the country’s conservation movements.
There are also quite a few exhibits on the local wildlife, especially elk. there’s one exhibit that teaches you elk safety, because elk are actually really scary when they decide you’re a threat.
Swimming in the Boiling River
This swimming hole is only open during mid-late summer, and even that timeline varies depending on when park rangers deem it’s safe. But if it’s open while you’re in Mammoth, I 1000% encourage you to visit! This natural swimming hole is sort of like a natural hot tub, where a hot spring source forms a waterfall at the riverbank, and when that boiling water flows into the freezing-cold mountain river, its the perfect place to sit and unwind with a gorgeous, mountainous backdrop. What’s better is that almost no one knows about this place, so be sure to keep the secret 😉 .
Here are the hikes that you can access directly from Mammoth Hot Springs village, I’ll do my best to explain the general experience each trail offers and a difficulty rating out of five.
1. Beaver Creek trail
This 3-miler is a great hike for wildlife lovers! It will take you across golden planes, clear ponds, and through lodgepine forests, complete with overhead views of the village. I’ve seen all sorts of animals on Beaver Creek trail, from wild ducks to coyotes to prairie hens in the varying terrain. One particularly amazing memory I have of this trail is watching a herd of hundreds of elk charge up a mountain side, the sounds of their hooves echoing all around. If you can time the hike so that you finish in the evening, the quarts deposits in the mountain glow like moon rocks, it’s magic.
One particular note is that this trail is not well marked, so talking to a park ranger for advice would be a good move.
I’d rate its difficulty as 2.5/5
This is a monster of a hike, about a 12 mile loop that leads you to a mountaintop overlooking Gardiner, Montana. But it’s so secluded that you’ll get some chillingly amazing sights. The secluded mountainside are covered in a rainbow of wildflowers, and the ground sparkles with obsidian deposits.
I’d rate its difficulty as 4/5
3. Lava Creek
This hike takes you down into the valley below Mammoth Hot Springs. It takes you for a brief stint along lava creek, and then through the desert, passing Undine Falls around 6.5 miles in before finally ending at the trailhead to Wraith Falls, about 8 miles before ending at the road, but my friends and I often turned around before then. My favorite part of this hike is actually the suspension bridge over the Boiling River at the very beginning of the trail.
The majority of terrain is desertous and in direct sunlight, so make sure you’re smarter than me and pack plenty of water.
This rating depends on how far you go, but it’s pretty flat so I’d give it a 1.5/5 for difficulty.
4. The Hoodoos
This is one of my favorites!
From the upper terraces, you can take a trail that leads around the mountainside to a field full of massive boulders. These boulders are called ‘the Hoodoos’, and you are allowed to climb them. ‘Bouldering’ is so much fun, its something I’d never experienced before but is a fantastic experience for nature lovers and climbers. It’s about a 3-mile round trip.
I’d rate its difficulty as 2.5/5
What and where to eat
Having worked at one of the restaurants in Mammoth, I would recommend you make the 10-15 minute drive outside the park to Gardiner, Montana for food. Whether you go to the local grocery store or one of its many restaurants, it’s cheaper and a lot better tasting too. Some of my favorite places in Gardiner to eat are Yellowstone Pizza, Wonderland Cafe, and Tumbleweed Cafe.
The Terrace Grill
This is a fast food place in the center of Mammoth. Unfortunately, it is neither fast, nor cheap, nor good. But it’s convenient. One thing I can say is that there’s a variety of options. In addition to the standard breakfast, lunch, and dinner fast food fare, they’ve also got chili and soup, salads, alcohol, and some to-go foods like hummus and sandwiches. The ice cream parlor attached is good, they serve delicious and local Wilcoxen’s ice cream, and you’ve gotta try the huckleberry flavor, it’s a Yellowstone staple!
The Dining Room
I actually went on a date here and it was quite nice! The Dining Room is Mammoth’s only sit-down restaurant. Prices are insane but the food is good. It’s extremely crowded and reservations are booked up fast, so be sure to schedule one ahead of time. The burrata plate is an especially tasty appetizer.
The General Store
If all else fails, the Yellowstone general store has plenty of sodas and perishable food items. Most times, this is the fastest option if you need a meal in a pinch! Just like all places inside the park, its expensive but less so than the restaurants.
Where to stay in Mammoth Hot Springs
Pro tip: book hotels in Yellowstone as soon as you can! I have friends who work in the call center that told me this- hotel rooms in the park become available for booking 1.5 years in advance, and they get booked up almost immediately. If you aren’t able to get one right away, call often and ask if there are any cancellations. Campsites and hotels outside the park are booked months in advance, but campsites outside the park are last to fill up. I hope that helps!
The Mammoth Hotel
Having done some housekeeping here, it’s a pretty nice place! It’s high cost and fairly standard in terms of hotel rooms with cozy blankets, cute bear-shaped soaps, and AC as the standouts. Keep note that there’s no wifi. Also, most of the rooms do NOT have private bathrooms, there is a communal restroom like you would experience in a college dorm, but they are clean and well maintained.
Mammoth personal cabins
These are pretty cushy. It’s nearly identical to a hotel room at the Mammoth Hotel, but you get your own bathroom and peace and quiet. There are even some cabins with hot tubs, which is something you won’t find anywhere else in the park!
The Mammoth Campground
The Mammoth campground is quite nice, its a lovely, well-maintained site with tons of trees and great bathrooms. Overall, the campsite has a great feel and I always saw visitors making friends and hanging out together here. There’s an amphitheater too and on Sundays, they hold church services.
Hotels in Gardiner, Montana
Gardiner has plenty of hotels if you need them in a pinch. They are all fairly standard for hotel rooms, but I can almost guarantee you they’re cheaper than at the Mammoth Hotel and cabins. I stayed with my parents at the Days Inn and it was nice.
Camping in Gardiner, Montana
Gardiner has a few campsites, and when everywhere is booked up, they will be your saving grace. This is also the best value for where to stay in the Mammoth area. Some friends and I camped at Eagle Creek campground, and it was a great experience. Spacious sites and plenty of fire pits for use. Best of all, it’s free!!
2 thoughts on “Everything to see, what to eat, and where to stay in Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone”
We would like to come next year when the elk are in rutt.Could you please tell me what dates would be the best?
Hi Bonnie! Elk rut typically starts mid-August and reaches its height in mid-September. It is certainly a sight to see (and hear, they are loud), and I hope you have a great time!