Livingston, Montana - Northern Gateway to Yellowstone

By Staff,
Downtown Livingston, Mont. Photo courtesy of Livingston Area Chamber of Commerce

Livin’ It Up

The quaint town of Livingston, Mont., has attracted cowboys, ranchers, the rich and famous and artists enamored by the scenery for more than 100 years. It's also been featured in A River Runs Through It, The Horse Whisperer and Marlboro advertisements.

It was Thomas McGuane, one of the many writers who lives in Paradise Valley, where Livinston is located, who introduced Robert Redford to Norman Maclean’s story A River Runs Through It. Redford then turned it into a feature film of the same name. The story actually takes place in the 1920s in Missoula, with the fishing happening on the Blackfoot River, but that city and river were very different by 1992, when the movie was filmed. 

Fishermen in Paradise Valley near Livingston, Mont.

Downtown Missoula was no longer all quaint red brick buildings. The Blackfoot had suffered at the hands of humans. There was the failure of a tailings reservoir that released tons of toxic sediment into its headwaters. Generations of timber harvesting had left mountain creeks and streams full of sediment, and grazing and irrigation had killed much of the native fish population. Redford knew that Livingston had a downtown that, with a little work, could be brought back to the 1920s. And the nearby Gallatin River was a healthy fishery. So Livingston was transformed into 1920s Missoula and the Gallatin River stood in for the Blackfoot. A River Runs Through It won the Oscar for best cinematography in 1993. Since the early 1990s conservation groups have been successfully working to restore the Blackfoot and the river is now close to being the great fishery it once was. 

1. International Federation of Fly Fishers

According to local John Bailey, nowhere has the variety of fishing that Livingston does. There are big rivers like the Yellowstone, which runs right through town and which you can fish year-round. There are spring creeks like Armstrong’s. And there are small stream fisheries like Mill Creek. And then there are all the secret spots local fishermen won’t dare share for publication.

It makes perfect sense then that Livingston is the headquarters for the International Federation of Fly Fishers. This group works to conserve fly fisheries around the world and educate people about the sport. It also preserves the history of the sport, which it turns out you don’t need to be a fly fisherman to appreciate. Included in its collection of thousands of flies, from antique to modern, is one tied by the illustrious British angler Frank Sawyer, who was a river keeper in the early- to mid-1900s. (The musician Sting owns one of the sections of river Sawyer was once responsible for.) Sawyer is best remembered as the inventor of sunken nymphs. These flies were unique at the time because they were tied with copper wire, which was heavier than the thread typically used at the time. 

The museum’s collection also includes memorabilia that once belonged to fly-fishing power couple Lee and Joan Wulff and a variety of rods. Lee Wulff is credited with inventing the fishing vest; Joan is considered the best female fly fisherman in the world. 5237 US 89S, Suite 11, (406) 222-9369,    

Here are the top three other places to stop.

2. Yellowstone Gateway Museum

The Yellowstone Gateway Museum. Photo by Tim O'Donoghue courtesy of Livingston Area Chamber of Commerce

Housed in a 1907 schoolhouse, this museum contains items from 12,000 years ago to present day and explores the history of the area and Yellowstone National Park. Find out more at

3. The Murray Hotel and Bar

The Murray Hotel. Photo by Tim O'Donoghue courtesy of Livingston Area Chamber of Commerce

Built in 1904, this legendary hotel ranks as one of chef Anthony Bourdain’s favorite in the world. Singer John Mayer has even shown up at the hotel bar with his guitar. It’s home to the upscale 2nd Street Bistro. Learn more at

4. Katabatic Brewing Co.

Katabatic Brewing. Photo courtesy Livingston Area Chamber of Commerce

Stop here for a microbrew and order dinner from Fiesta en Jalisco, a Mexican restaurant next door. It's named after the katabatic winds [meaning “cooling” winds] that sweep through the area. Learn more at

This piece includes excerpts from On the Road Yellowstone by Dina Mishev, a book produced in partnership with National Park Trips Media and Lyons Press. 

For more information:
Livingston Area Chamber of Commerce
Convention and Visitor Bureau
303 E. Park St, Livingston MT 59047