Livingston Montana Lodging & Dining Recommendations
You’ve gotta eat and sleep (and drink!) sometime, right? Here are our recommendations.
If you’re camping or staying in a VRBO or AirBNB (boo, details on why at the bottom of the page), note that all major towns have full-sized supermarkets, but many of the crossroads burgs may not even have convenience stores.
Livingston Lodging & Dining
Several chains have locations in Livingston. There are also several fine independent hotels/motels. Lodging in Livingston is generally cheaper than in Bozeman, Gardiner or other YNP border towns, or inside the park itself.
- Fairfield Inn & Suites: Livingston’s newest hotel and very convenient to head out of town to fish near. Great Thai and Mexican restaurants across the street. For what it’s worth, I probably have more clients stay here than anywhere else in Livingston.
- Murray Hotel: An authentic and historic early 20th-century midtown hotel that makes a great place to stay if that’s what you’re after. Note that the rooms are rather loud, given the “historic” part and the popular bar downstairs. Fantastic French restaurant and a solid pizza place and bar attached, and the property is within walking distance to most other Livingston bars, restaurants, and both of Livingston’s breweries.
- Livingston Inn: Old-timey motel. Convenient for getting out of town, but right next to the Interstate.
- Country Motor Inn: No-frills motel.
Livingston Dining & Drinks
Livingston is a town of roughly 10,000 people, but it has two breweries, two Thai restaurants, a French-inspired restaurant that hosted Anthony Bourdain twice, and one of the country’s 50 best restaurants according to the New York Times. My (Walter’s) wife and I don’t go to Bozeman to eat out very often, because Livingston restaurants are as good or better, cheaper, and less crowded.
- Los Pinos: Mexican restaurant near the I-90 interchange. Open for lunch as well as dinner. Fantastic food that’s a little different and a cut above the standard “combo plate and sombrero” Tex-Mex restaurant. Recently featured in Food & Wine, even if the space looks like a diner. Only downside is it’s BYOB if you want alcohol. My wife and I bring our own cerveza or pre-make a giant bottle of margaritas. If it sounds like we eat here more often than anywhere else, it’s because we do. Get the mahi-mahi tacos!
- Big Sky Thai: The real deal. This place was once closed while the owner took her citizenship test. So tasty we still go back even though they once lost a gift certificate my wife’s mom gave me for my birthday.
- Second Street Bistro: Attached to the Murray Hotel. Reservations as much as a month in advance required. French-trained and French-inspired. My wife and I eat here on very special occasions.
- Livingston Bar & Grill: They have a great old bar, but this is really a higher-end restaurant. Reservations recommended.
- Mint Bar: Best burgers and fish & chips in Livingston. Also really good salads with homemade dressings (odd for a dive bar). Always busy.
- Neptune’s Taphouse & Eatery: Surf-inspired restaurant and bar with lots of local beers, good burgers, and fantastic sushi (really).
- Campione: We’ve never actually eaten here, but this one made the NY Times best list.
- Neptune’s Brewery and Katabatic are our local breweries and beer-pubs. Both are great. My wife and I are dark beer fans and both do it well. Note that Neptune’s Brewery is not in the same location as the taphouse.
Paradise Valley Lodging & Dining
If fishing the Yellowstone between Livingston and Gardiner or in Yellowstone Park, one of the following establishments might make sense. The food in the valley is just as good as it is in Livingston.
- Chico Hot Springs Resort, Emigrant: Historic hot spring resort with detached cabins and multiple styles of hotel room, though some are “historic” in that they lack in-room bathrooms. A bar & grill, casual restaurant, and fantastic fine-dining restaurant with attached high-end bar are all on-site.
- Yellowstone Valley Lodge, Pray: These cabins have great views of the river but aren’t really riverside from a fishing perspective. They’re very convenient for getting picked up by guides and are near the midpoint of one of my favorite float stretches. Great high-end grill on-site.
- Emigrant Saloon & Livery Stable: Old-west style cafe next door to an attached bar. Excellent burgers. Have not tried their dinner offerings, though the beer is cold.
- Follow Yer Nose BBQ and Wildflour Bakery: Businesses may be under the same ownership. Best barbecue in the region, and it has actually gotten good reviews from people from places where they actually know how to make barbecue.
- Chico Hot Springs Dining Room: In Chico Hot Springs Resort. Reservations Required. Delicious old-fashioned fine dining with an immense and $$$$ wine list. The other on-site restaurant and bar are strictly fast fare.
- Yellowstone Valley Grill: Attached to Yellowstone Valley Lodge. Reservations required. Local and seasonal fine dining.
Bozeman Lodging & Dining
Bozeman, including its bedroom communities of Belgrade (the airport) and Four Corners, is the largest city in the region and one of the fanciest small cities in the country (median home price about a million bucks in 2023). As such it is home to all major hotel chains and most national fast food and other restaurants. As such, we won’t give many specific suggestions here.
Some general guidelines:
- If you’re going to be picked up by your guide for trips to the Madison River or Sitz Lake, choose a hotel near the I-90 and 19th Street interchange (there’s a Hilton Garden, so it’s not like you’re staying in a fleabag motel). The downtown hotels have very limited parking and the traffic can be awful. If driving to meet your guide, the downtown hotels do have more restaurants within walking distance.
- Bozeman is a very expensive place to start a sit-down restaurant, so a lot of the best food is found in the innumerable food trucks, especially if you’re looking for something reasonably priced.
- I don’t personally eat in Bozeman much unless you count the Costco food court, but my wife is fond of Montana Ale Works and Shine
Gardiner Lodging & Dining
Gardiner has been overrun by out-of-towners eager to make a buck since I last lived there, and the quality of lodging and dining has plummeted (the prices haven’t). That said, Gardiner is a great place to stay if you are fishing the upper Yellowstone near Gardiner or especially inside Yellowstone National Park.
The following lodging suggestions are locally-owned. I suggest avoiding places that were clearly once large homes that have been subdivided into individual units or apartment complexes. Many of the smaller places that claim to be called “inns,” “lodges,” “guesthouses,” or even hotels are really just converted low-cost housing generally owned by out-of-state owners. If you wonder why it takes an hour to get your $30 burnt cheeseburger from a surly college student worker in Gardiner, it’s because of places like this; most young locals have been priced out and had to move to Livingston (like I did).
- Yellowstone River Motel: Convenient to both fishing and dining, but located off the main drag and thus quiet, this basic motel offers both rooms and suites and is the most cost-effective place to stay in Gardiner. The owners are local and provide discounted lodging to their employees. They even gave my wife and I a huge price break for lodging for our wedding party.
- Absaroka Lodge: Reasonably-priced and locally-owned, with a great view of the river and within walking distance of most restaurants and bars as well as the supermarket. Not really riverside since there’s a steep hill down to the river.
- Yellowstone Big Rock Inn: Same ownership as the Absaroka and the most recently built full-size hotel in Gardiner.
Looking to cook your own meals and have a bit more space? The following free-standing cottages and cabins were never used as full-time housing, so we suggest them instead of vacation rentals.
- Hillcrest Cottages: Located off the main drag on a gravel road known locally as “Dog S— Alley,” but don’t let that dissuade you. Reasonable walking distance to just about everything in town.
- Yellowstone Riverside Cottages: Only “riverside” if you’re sure-footed and the Yellowstone’s flows are under about 4000cfs, but the fishing right through town from the cabins to the bridge and beyond is actually exceptional. I used to live in an awful rental shack (still awful, now worth $700,000 on Zillow) half a block downstream and would run half-day guided trips starting at “Crumble Home” as my then-fiance called our place.
- Jim Bridger Explorer Cabins: The former dilapidated “Jim Bridger Cabins” on the same site were demolished and replaced by these much nicer cabins.
Dining quality and availability changes in Gardiner rapidly depending on which businesses are open and who is cooking (the good line cooks play musical chairs). A catastrophic fire in 2020 gutted an entire block and destroyed two bars and a couple restaurants, none of which have been rebuilt. So we suggest:
- FOOD TRUCKS! Gardiner food trucks are generally scrappy locally-owned small businesses. How scrappy? One ice cream truck was owned by a local high school student and seems to have successfully funded her first couple years of college.
- Wonderland Cafe: Burgers and beers.
- Tumbleweed Cafe: Breakfast and sandwiches, plus a curated selection of books for the Yellowstone area.
- The Gardiner Market has a good selection for a small-town supermarket, including grab & go meals.
Lodging & Dining Elsewhere
As you head east from Livingston towards the Boulder and Stillwater Rivers, options start to thin out. We do not have any specific lodging suggestions for Big Timber and Columbus, the towns most convenient to these rivers. We generally suggest using reviews to decide where to stay and eat.
In Helena, the Staggering Ox is a well-known local sandwich spot, Lucca’s is fantastic high-end Italian, and the Mexican place next door to McDonald’s is quite good. All the big chain hotels and many nicer places are found in Helena.
In Wolf Creek and Craig, check out Lazy I Beerworks. Shockingly long beer list for a small bar next to the Interstate. Izaak’s in Craig is locally lauded, but I have always found it loud and overpriced. I usually stay at the Wolf Creek Angler’s attached motel, but it is very rustic. Lodging options in this area are pretty thin, so you might otherwise need to stay at an AirBNB or one of the high-end angling lodges in the area, or commute from Helena.
What’s Our Deal with AirBNB/VRBO?
We suggest avoiding most places you find on AirBNB or VRBO. Why? Almost all vacation rentals in the region were recently converted from long-term rental housing, including some that were once allocated for low-income residents. These residents were served eviction papers with minimum legal notice in the dead of winter the day the low-income covenants expired. Some evictees were in their 80s and had lived in the units for decades.
Most of the owners for such places are out-of-state investors who regard the region as a piggy bank to be smashed at their leisure. This shift has made it very difficult for working people to find places to live around here. Many seasonal workers live in tents, in storage units (not kidding), in their vehicles, or under the bridge. If you’re curious why restaurants and bars are woefully understaffed, blame vacation rentals.
Short-term rentals are actually one of the biggest obstacles to growing Yellowstone Country Fly Fishing. Simply put, there’s nowhere for young, up-and-coming independent guides to live. One of my guides now has six roommates to make ends meet in Big Sky. Most young guides come out here, guide for a season or two, then have to move somewhere they can actually afford a house or at least a mobile home. That makes it hard to establish a roster.
If you do opt to rent a short-term rental, try for a place out of town since most of these were built specifically as rentals and thus don’t hurt the working-people housing supply. If a property looks like a former apartment complex whose owners slapped on a new coat of paint or a house subdivided into individual units, it is. My old apartment was $275 a night the last time I checked, and it was nothing special even at $480 a month…