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.

On any given day you could run into Earl Craig, Montana’s poet laureate who works as a farrier—someone who shoes horses—when not writing poetry; or John Bailey, the fly-fishing expert who coached Brad Pitt in casting for the movie A River Runs Through It.

It was Thomas McGuane, one of the many writers who lives in Paradise Valley, near where Livingston 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 Missoula and its river were very different by 1992 when the movie was filmed. 

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. 

Downtown Livingston

Downtown Livingston, Mont.

Downtown Livingston, Mont. 

Today, explore downtown Livingston and its lively restaurants and shops, some of which have been around since the 1800s. Still owned by the Fryer family, the iconic Sax & Fryer Co. bookstore and stationary store opened in 1883 and is the oldest stationary store in Montana. It moved to its new location on 109 W Callender St. in 1914. A block away is the Murray Hotel and Bar, built in 1904, which is home to the upscale 2nd Street Bistro. When he was alive, chef Anthony Bourdain ranked it as one of his favorite in the world. But he's not the only high-profile pop culture figure to visit. Singer John Mayer has shown up at the hotel bar with his guitar.

Speaking of which, there’s an incredible music scene in this town of 7,800- check out The Mint Bar and Grill, The Office Lounge and Liquor Store, Pine Creek Lodge and Chico Saloon at Chico Hot Springs.

You’ll even get a window into the history of Yellowstone at the Yellowstone Gateway Museum (Livingston was the original gateway town to the park). Housed in a 1907 schoolhouse, this museum contains area items from 12,000 years ago to present day and explores area and Yellowstone history. Learn more below. 

Then get outside. Drive 15 minutes south of Livingston to the Pine Creek Campground. Walk 1.5 miles to reach Pine Creek Falls or five miles to reach Pine Creek Lake.

Here are four other places to check out. 

1. International Federation of Fly Fishers

Fishermen in Paradise Valley near Livingston, Mont.

Fishermen in Paradise Valley near Livingston, Mont.

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, flyfishersinternational.org    

2. Yellowstone Gateway Museum

The Yellowstone Gateway Museum.

The Yellowstone Gateway Museum

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 yellowstonegatewaymuseum.org.

3. The Murray Hotel and Bar

The Murray Hotel

The Murray Hotel

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 murrayhotel.com.

4. Katabatic Brewing Co.

Katabatic Brewing.

Katabatic Brewing

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 katabaticbrewing.com.

For more information:
Livingston Area Chamber of Commerce
Convention and Visitor Bureau
406-222-0850
303 E. Park St, Livingston MT 59047
discoverlivingston.com

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.

Related

The "richest hill on earth"

Butte, Montana, the Richest Hill on Earth

Visit a pit mine, a giant statue, and a distillery, then dance at a signature event at this melting pot of friendly people between Yellowstone and Glacier national parks.

Gardiner, Montana

Gardiner, Montana - Yellowstone's Northern Gateway

Quaint Gardiner sits on the north edge of Yellowstone, making it a convenient gateway town. It's the only year-round park entrance.

Star Bakery in Virginia City, a ghost town in Montana

10 True Montana Gems between Yellowstone and Glacier National Park

You'll find everything from spirits and sapphires to ghost towns and river canyons. Here are our top picks for places to stop in southwest Montana.

A girl sticks her feet into Lake Hebgen near West Yellowstone, Montana

7 Sights in West Yellowstone

The town of West Yellowstone sits right at the West Entrance to Yellowstone. Here are the top 7 ways to avoid the park’s crowds and see the best of the area.

Montana elk grazing in early summer

Lewistown, The Heart of Montana

From big game hunting to fishing, camping, biking, hiking and skiing, take advantage of the outdoor recreation opportunities in the beautiful Judith Basin.

Night sky in Medicine Rocks State Park in Southeast Montana

Go Big in Southeast Montana

Big skies and big culture meet in these authentic Montana cowboy towns on the way to Yellowstone

Rafting the Missouri River in Great Falls, Montana

Navigating Water and Vibrant Art in Great Falls, Montana

You’ll find one of the West’s most vibrant storytellers in Great Falls, Mont. and Lewis & Clark rivers to raft or walk.

Missoula bike trails and river access for kayaking

Top 10 Things to Do in Missoula, Montana

Unique, cool, hip, and serene, Missoula has the unparalleled natural beauty and cultural vibrancy to make your experience unforgettable.

Downtown Ennis, Montana

Ennis is Montana’s Drinking Town With a Fishing Problem

Halfway between Yellowstone and Glacier national parks, this colorful town holds on to its western roots.