The Ultimate Yellowstone Drinking Tour
America's most iconic park pairs perfectly with America's favorite beverage
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Thanks to lax rules on public drinking in Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho—the three states that Yellowstone straddles—drinking (within reason) is allowed in most places in Yellowstone National Park.
But deciding what to drink can be tricky. According to the Brewer’s Association, Montana ranks fourth in the nation for breweries per capita, with 44 breweries at last count for a state with a population of just over 1 million. Wyoming—where majority of the park—is ranked fifth in the nation for most breweries-per-capita, and several of its best breweries have planned facility expansions this year in an effort to keep up with the Cowboy State’s demands. There’s never been more good beer flowing in Big Sky Country and Wyoming.
We spent a week in the park drinking all of Montana and Wyoming’s best beer and talking to local expert Doug Bailey, the head of sales for Red Lodge Ales and the chief beer guide for Zephyr’s Yellowstone beer trip, in hopes of putting together the ultimate Yellowstone drinking tour. Enjoy!
Old Faithful & Scotch Ale
During the middle of the day, viewing Old Faithful feels more like being in Disney World than a protected wild place. “About 99 percent of the visitors to Yellowstone see Old Faithful one way, standing in the big crowd on the viewing deck,” says Bailey. “However, there's a cooler way to watch it, which should be paired with a cooler beer.”
Bailey recommends coming back after dark and walking around the boardwalk to the backside of the geyser. From this vantage point, Old Faithful is backlit by the Old Faithful Inn. “Chances are you'll be out there completely alone in the dark, getting amazing views of the Milky Way and seeing something that one percent of the visitors get to see.” Bailey recommends enjoying the Heavy Horse Scotch Ale from Big Sky Brewing Co.
Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon & Pilsner
The 20-mile-long Yellowstone River has slowly formed a stunning canyon, complete with steep waterfalls and glorious pools. The trail that parallels the canyon offers tons of offshoots, which dip down to the water’s edge. Climbing back out will make you thirsty. When you get back to the top, crack open Bozeman Brewing Company’s aromatic Pinhead Pilsner. Made with Magnum and Czech Saaz hops, the beer has a light body and a dry, crisp finish.
Upper Geyser Basin & Coffee Porter
Strolling the well-worn Upper Geyser path, between spurting geysers and bubbling pools, is a sensory experience. Take time to feel the steam on your skin and to listen to the earth’s gurgles and groans. Like viewing Old Faithful, this trail turns into a tourist cluster by mid-day, so it’s best to hit in the early morning, before the fanny-packed-and-sunburned set arrive. With that in mind, you’ll want to pick a breakfast-appropriate beer, like the Camp Robber Coffee Porter from Big Sky Brewing.
Yellowstone Lake & Honey Rye
The black sand beaches of Yellowstone Lake can be scalding hot on sunny days, but if you bring a blanket, it’s a lovely place to picnic with a few beers. Bailey recommends hitting the beach at Gull Point: “It's a beautiful spot, great fishing, and an awesome view of the Yellowstone Lake Hotel across Bridge Bay.” He recommends pairing the experience with the Salmon Fly Honey Rye from Madison River Brewing Co. “Cool and refreshing, just like the breeze off the lake,” Bailey says.
The Grand Prismatic & Blonde Ale
The best way to view the largest hot spring in the nation is from above. Skip the typical turn-in for the Grand Prismatic and instead hike the trail for Fairy Falls, which grants a bird’s eye view of the feature. Watch for a small path off to the left. As you climb up the hill, you’ll see the vivid rainbow of Grand Prismatic in front of you. Settle in with a can of the Front Brewing Company’s Keep Cool Creek Blonde Ale. Even on a cool fall day you’ll have broken a sweat on the climb, and this light ale will be crisp and refreshing.
If you have time, continue up the trail to Fairy Falls. Stick your feet into the cool pool and sip on Snake River Brewing’s Pako’s IPA. A winner of the gold medal at the Great American Beer Fest and the Reno CANFEST, the Simcoe and Columbus hops are bright but not bitter and the beer is perfectly balanced. Just watch out: It’s 6.8 percent ABV.
Artist’s Paint Pots & IPA
Since this is near Old Faithful and the walk around it is short, people tend to blow through it. But Bailey says that’s a mistake. “It’s an area where you really need to slow down to really take in the magical beauty of what you are seeing.” He recommends going early in the morning, when light is just beginning to creep over the horizon. “Sit down, pull out a brew, and take your time enjoying it and just stare at all the tiny details as the colors morph with the sunrise.” Bailey’s suggestion is Red Lodge Ales Brewing Co.’s Broken Nail Double IPA. “What? There's nothing wrong with a Double IPA at sunrise! You're on vacation!”
Don’t want to have to make tough decisions about where to go and what to drink? Zephry Adventures’ Greater Yellowstone Multisport and Beer Adventure is an all-you-care-to-drink beer tour of Wyoming and Montana. Guides schlep the beer, act as DD and get you one-on-one time with brewers while you drink it all in.