Montana : Safety by City
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- West Yellowstone
West Yellowstone is a small town located in the southwestern corner of Montana, just outside the west entrance to Yellowstone National Park.
It has a population of around 1,300 people, but it is a popular tourist destination in its own right, especially in summer.
Yellowstone National Park is the main attraction for visitors to West Yellowstone, with its stunning natural beauty, geothermal features, and diverse wildlife.
Visitors can explore the park by foot, car, or bicycle and take in sights such as Old Faithful, the Grand Prismatic Spring, and the Yellowstone River.
West Yellowstone has its own attractions and amenities for visitors, including one of Condé Nast Traveler’s Top 20 Resort in the US – Pacific Northwest & West.
The town has a range of restaurants, shops, and accommodations, including hotels, lodges, and cabins.
It definitely gives those Old West vibes, surrounded by its own natural wonders that offer hiking, fishing, and skiing.
Overall, West Yellowstone is a charming and convenient base for visitors to Yellowstone National Park, offering easy access to the park’s natural wonders and a range of amenities for tourists.
It’s also just four miles from Wyoming and 10 miles from Idaho.
Warnings & Dangers in West Yellowstone
OVERALL RISK: LOW
There's a low overall risk here with potentially large tourist crowds but also a lot of things to do outside of Yellowstone National Park.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK: LOW
There isn't public transportation, but shuttles are available from the nearby airports. Many bus tours come through this area, and rental cars are widely available throughout the state. The town is walkable or bikeable.
PICKPOCKETS RISK: LOW
No pickpockets or purse snatchings have been reported in the past few years, which is shocking considering how many personal items are brought to this location. The potential should outweigh the low risk and keep you focused on protecting your belongings and leaving valuables locked away.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: MEDIUM
Gallatin County Emergency Management oversees the disaster plans here, and there are a lot of risks to consider—wildfires, severe winter storms, severe thunderstorms, earthquakes, and volcanoes. Treat it with a medium risk, but don't become overly concerned with the volcano risk.
MUGGING RISK: LOW
This is a low risk, with just a handful of robberies over the past decade. You should be much more protective of petty than robberies, but basic safety steps should still be followed at all times.
TERRORISM RISK: LOW
The proximity to Yellowstone might elevate the risk a little since it's a national treasure, but it's more of a risk to pay attention and report anything suspicious than the concern of a looming tragedy.
SCAMS RISK: LOW
The best advice is to avoid searching for discounts on hotels and tickets, especially when the deal seems too good to be true. Use official tourism sites or the Chamber of Commerce and research "How to Avoid a Rental Scam" to look for red flags. There are values to be found out there, but a rock-bottom deal could be nothing more than fraud.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: LOW
Another low risk here, even if you're traveling solo or with children. Yellowstone's visitors are usually very helpful, and people who live in West Yellowstone want the tourism to keep coming, so they'll be helpful as well.
TAP WATER RISK: LOW
You should know that the tap water in West Yellowstone has naturally high levels of Fluoride and should not be given to children under 10 due to the potential impact on adult teeth coming in. Read the Fluoride Level Report on the city's website for more information.
Safest Places to Visit in West Yellowstone
Destination Yellowstone is the official tourism site for West Yellowstone.
I love the travel planner as it’s broken down into download sections like outdoor adventures, bucket list items, nature, wildlife, etc.
You can also download the full planner without any personal information required.
The Yellowstone National Park website is under the National Park Service .gov domain.
I’m going to focus on things other than Yellowstone National Park because that information is readily available.
Two tips, however—download the NPS app to get all Yellowstone information on your phone and check the park alerts a month, two weeks, a week, and the three days leading up to your visit.
Floods, winter storms, summer storms, and other events can cause road closures or park closures, like in 2022.
You can also book tours of Yellowstone or add on Grand Teton National Park to the south.
Tours are available by ground and air.
Also, note that some attractions with Yellowstone in the title are outside the park.
Like Yellowstone Hot Spring, for example.
Just eight miles north of the park entrance, you can relax in hot or cold natural springs.
Do the waters have healing powers?
Let us know after you visit.
If taking a drive is more appealing to you than sitting in Yellowstone Park traffic, check out one of nearly a dozen options from the tourism website.
From exploring “The Block” around the mountains and lakes to seeing the land that was reshaped by a 1959 earthquake.
The Grizzly and Wolf Discovery center offers a chance to get up close with a grizzly or (safely) join a wolfpack while watching birds of prey play above you.
Horseback rides are available at places like the Diamond P Ranch, which is just five miles from West Yellowstone.
You’ll feel like you’re on the set of an Old Western as you ride through the mountains.
The Wild West Yellowstone Rodeo gets you closer to the horse action without having to ride, and it’s open from June through September.
Several whitewater rafting compares are headquartered in West Yellowstone, offering a chance to ride the rapids with tour guides who give safety lessons first.
I did one of these years ago with my dad, and it was unforgettable.
The Museum of Yellowstone is a must-see as you learn about the nation’s first national park and the ecology and geology within, like how the geysers work.
Pair it with a trip to Yellowstone Giant Screen Theatre with an IMAX performance that will take you back 100,000 years in time.
The Playmill Theatre brings nightly stage action in an interactive performance.
Be sure to let them know if you’re celebrating a special event.
During winter, the activities continue with skiing, snowshoeing, horse-drawn carriage rides, snowcoach tours, ice fishing, and snowmobiling.
Places to Avoid in West Yellowstone
You don’t need to worry about parts of town too dangerous to visit or hotels that are unsafe.
This is a safe area to visit and not large enough to have a bad side of town.
The worst mistake someone can make here is doing something they aren’t educated about or trained for, including basic activities like hiking if they aren’t used to the elevation, as West Yellowstone is at 6,600 feet and only goes up from there.
Altitude sickness can set in during the first day or two if you do too much too quickly.
That’s why a scenic drive or tour would be great for the first activity.
A West Yellowstone 40-year-old man was killed by a grizzly bear just outside the town near Baker’s Hole Campground.
The man was experienced in nature but made the mistake of going alone and either stumbled upon or got too close to a bear defending a moose carcass.
This shouldn’t make you afraid to visit the area but should prompt you to research bear encounters and safety steps.
Safety Tips for Traveling to West Yellowstone
- West Yellowstone does have its own police department. They can be found on Facebook @Westyellowstonepolice or by calling (406)646-7600.
- If you’re visiting Yellowstone in the winter, you’ll be at the wrong entrance if you try to get in through West Yellowstone. The Western entrance closes around the first of November and stays closed through late April. The North Entrance is open year-round, and that’s 3–4 hours away from West Yellowstone. Check out Gardiner, Montana, for information about a winter Yellowstone trip.
- Sign up for the Gallatin County Emergency Management system to get updates about severe weather, road closures, and other emergency situations. Follow @ReadyGallatin on social media, so you can get updates that way as well.
- Several search and rescue calls in the spring of 2023 show just how quickly conditions can change when you’re in the wild. Snow that is cold and firmly packed in the morning can start to thaw, leaving trails impassible in snowmobiles or causing exertion for those trying to cross-country ski. Never go into the wilderness without telling someone where you are going and when to be worried if you don’t return.
- Use Inciweb to track wildfires in the region and check air quality. A small fire can quickly grow out of control, and a seemingly big fire could be a planned burn. It helps to know the facts before you head out.
- Use the MDT Traveler Information System app to check road conditions, see traffic cameras, and look for construction zones. There are only a handful of roads in this area, and if an accident backs up traffic, you’ll be waiting a long time. Fill up gas every chance you get. If you’re traveling into Idaho, use 511 Idaho.
- I just found a website for the West Yellowstone Tourism Business Improvement District, which is a great tool for finding verified and non-fraudulent lodging. You can also use the Chamber of Commerce website.
- We always advise people in bear country to bring bear spray, but three people who ran into an angry bear shared this advice, “Carry bear spray; you never know when you’re going to need it. Don’t put it in your backpack; keep it on the outside. You don’t have time to take it out. Know how to get it out of the holster. Know how to remove the safety. When a bear is charging at you, it’s important that the spray isn’t delayed.”
- As a general rule of thumb, stay 100 yards away from bears, bison, and moose. Whenever possible, stay in the safety of your vehicle. If a herd of animals is blocking the roadway, you’re on their timeline. Just wait for them to pass.
- Watch out for wildlife on the roadways, especially at night. In late 2022, 13 bison were killed when a semi-truck and several other cars hit the herd on the road just north of West Yellowstone. Bison are especially hard to see at night since they are dark-colored and don’t have reflective eyes, like deer.
So... How Safe Is West Yellowstone Really?
It’s hard to use the official crime data per population to give the crime rate here because tens of thousands of people pass through this town each year.
However, the crime rate is so low that even when you do figure out crime per 100,000 people, it’s still unbelievably low.
West Yellowstone hasn’t had more than a dozen violent crimes in a year going all the way back to 2000
Aside from 2019, the town hadn’t had more than three since 2007.
There were eight in 2019.
More than half of violent crimes happen in homes, lowering the risk for guests even more.
Theft rates are also low, with anywhere from one to 24 incidents per year since 2006.
In 2021, there were 16.
West Yellowstone is also a great place to stock up on everything you need for a trip to Yellowstone National Park.
Look for cars, backpacks, and other safety lists available from the city, park, and emergency management, so you have everything you need in this beautiful region.
How Does West Yellowstone Compare?
|Santiago de Chile (Chile)
|Hong Kong (China)
International visitors need either a visa or visa waiver if they are from an eligible country. The information is listed on the U.S. State Department website for easy research. A passport that isn't within six months of expiring is also required.
The U.S. Dollar is the only currency you can use here. Exchange currency before you get to West Yellowstone. Try to book as much as you can in advance to avoid pulling out your wallet and credit card more often.
West Yellowstone stays pretty cool throughout the year, but the short summers are comfortably warm, near 70°(F). In Yellowstone park, the temperatures will change with the elevation, so always bring an extra jacket or hoodie. Pack comfortable walking or hiking shoes and dress for the season. Winters are cold and snowy. You'll need plenty of layers.
West Yellowstone does have an airport just northwest of town, but it is only open in the summer with routes to Salt Lake City or Denver. Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport is 90 miles north, which should take about two hours.
Comprehensive travel insurance is a smart purchase since there are natural dangers in this region. Most tours and tickets you'll buy will include a liability waiver in the fine print, so you want to make sure you have the best protection possible in case the worst happens. At a minimum, insure the flights since severe or winter weather can lead road blocks and airports on hold.
West Yellowstone Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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Montana - Safety by City