While your road trip to the park will be packed with adventure, don’t miss some of the amazing museums near Yellowstone. Full of fascinating exhibits, these museums will provide you with another perspective on the places you travel, as well as enable you to stretch your legs and learn something new. When you arrive, there are even more museums inside the park.
1. Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyo.
Your ticket to the five museums housed in this center is good for two consecutive days ⎯ and you may find yourself lingering way longer than you imagined. Called “The Smithsonian of the West” by the late James Michener, the quality, hands-on exhibits housed in the Plains Indian Museum, Draper Natural History Museum, Cody Firearm Museum, Whitney Western Art Museum and the Buffalo Bill Museum offer something for everyone. (centerofthewest.org 307-587-4771)
2. National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson, Wyo.
Visitors often use the adjective “magnificent” to describe this world-class wildlife art museum that overlooks the National Elk Refuge just outside of Jackson. Among the more than 5,000 catalogued items are works from Ansel Adams and George Catlin, as well as artifacts from 2500 B.C. The Children’s Discovery Center has animal costumes, a hands-on Artist’s Studio, among other activities. (wildlifeart.org 307-733-5771)
3. Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Mont.
Calling all dinosaur buffs! Explore one of the world’s largest and most significant collections of dinosaur fossils in Bozeman’s Museum of the Rockies just 90 minutes from Yellowstone. The collection, located at Montana State University, was put together by renowned paleontologist Jack Horner, who advised Steven Spielberg on the TV series Terra Nova as well as consulted for all Jurassic Park movies. Other attractions include a state-of-the-art planetarium, a fantastic regional history exhibit and short-term exhibits. (museumoftherockies.org 406-994-2251)
4. The Idaho Potato Museum in Blackfoot, Idaho
Discover more about your favorite road trip snack at The Idaho Potato Museum located in the old Oregon Short Line Railroad Depot in Blackfoot, Idaho. From an exhibit of Mr. Potato Head to a jacket made of potato sacks, you will learn about the history of potatoes, the agricultural process and quirky facts. Don’t forget to pick up a Darth Tater t-shirt in the museum’s small gift shop. (idahopotatomuseum.com 208-785-2517)
5. American West Heritage Center in Wellsville, Utah
Travel back in time to experience life during the early frontier days at this interactive center. Volunteers dressed in period clothing reenact chores on a 1917 working farm, a Shoshone encampment, pioneer settlement and mountain man camp. Visitors can make period crafts, pet baby animals, go for pony rides and watch volunteers bake bread in a wood stove. (awhc.org 435-245-6050)
6. Heart Mountain Interpretive Center in Powell, Wyo.
For a moving lesson on civil rights and triumph of the human spirit, visit this one-time internment camp where 14,000 Japanese-Americans lived after Pearl Harbor was bombed. Photographs, videos and oral histories place you in the shoes of those who lived here. A monument commemorates those Japanese-American men who fought for the United States during the war. (heartmountain.org 307-754-8000)
7. The Museum of the National Park Ranger in Yellowstone National Park
Tucked in the northwestern part of the park, stop here to avoid crowds and learn about the history of national park rangers. Staffed by volunteer retired rangers, it features a 25-minute film and exhibits on the history of rangers in our National Parks. (Yellowstone’s Norris Campground Entrance; 307-344-7353; www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/museum-of-the-national-park-ranger.htm)
8. Albright Visitor Center in Yellowstone National Park
Check out the renovated Albright Visitor Center in Mammoth Hot Springs built in 1909. Featuring interactive exhibits, the center showcases the wildlife inhabiting the park’s northern reaches, as well as how the National Park Service and the park itself evolved. It’s definitely worth stopping in here. (Yellowstone’s Mammoth Hot Springs Area; 307-344-2263; www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/albright-visitor-center.htm)