We had spent a week visiting the Badlands, Black Hills, Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Sturgis, Yellowstone, Teton. For our last day in Gardiner, Montana, my wife and I planned on doing some horseback-riding and river-rafting. The owner of our motel, Yellowstone Gateway Inn (see separate review), recommended Wild West. This rafting outfit has 2 outlets in the small town of Gardiner --- a branch close to the park entrance, and a bigger, main outlet on Scott Street West about a mile from the north entrance to Yellowstone. We walked into the branch way past office hours, and a couple of very friendly staffers ran from the bar across the street to accommodate us. They made a quick call to Wild West's owner, and we were immediately booked for the next day. We showed up at the main office at 8am (inside an L- shaped strip mall with generous parking), and were pleasantly attended to by the owners, Tracey and Mike. We paid $150 for 2 persons taking the 1-hour horseback mountain trail ride, and the 2-hour river rafting trip. The 6-mile trip up the mountain on a gravel road is breath-taking (remember that Gardiner itself is already 6000 ft above sea level). The trail ride is subcontracted to Specimen Creek Outfitters, owned and operated by an easy-going, very likeable fellow named Lloyd Johnson. He has the manner and confidence that immediately inspires trust. His place is a 70-acre ranch that he inherited from his father, and grandfather who acquired the property as a homestead in 1932. There are several structures on the ranch, including 2 large, well-appointed cabins available for rent. Lloyd owns 45 horses (leases out half of them), and 20 mules. He said he normally has 5-6 helpers during the peak season, but he was by himself today (Sep. 5, after the Labor Day weekend). We went out as a team of 5 riders --- a Louisiana farmer and his daughter, my wife and I, and Lloyd. We were on gentle, well-built quarter horses trained for mountain trails. This trail ride is not for the faint of heart. Three-quarters of the trail is on narrow, stony paths with 500-foot drops on one side. If you suffer from acrophobia, and combine it with the thin air and high altitude, you may get light-headed. But Lloyd is a great guide, and will tell good stories when you ask him --- history of the place, the wildlife that he encounters, etc. We were also accompanied by his dog, Shep, who runs ahead and sort of scouts the area and comes back agitated if a bear or a cat is nearby. The trail meanders through heavily-forested slopes, and the views of the mountains and the park are just incredible. We left the place exhilarated, and Lloyd even sent us some packed lunch to enjoy. After lunch, we again showed up at the Wild West office where Tracey and Mike fitted us with complimentary booties and rain jackets. They also have standby wetsuits for colder weather (today was a high of 28 Celsius). There were 10 of us in the group, and we piled into a 5-row Dodge van towing our rubber raft for the short, 3-minute drive to the launch area. Our guide and captain was Nick, a young amiable native of Long Beach, CA, who has spent the past 3 summers in Gardiner as a certified commercial rafter. Instructions are given after life vests are worn and checked. This was a very pleasant 7-mile trip down the Yellowstone River over Level 1-2 whitewater rapids. It's a good introduction for the beginner. Our group included a young couple from England who have been based in Denver, an older couple from Wisconsin who had just been married, a couple of MDs with their guests from India, and my wife and I. It took a little over 2 hours to negotiate 7 river miles. Along the way, we spotted a mallard, a pair of blue herons, and an osprey atop an electric pole. At the halfway mark, Mike would be waiting to take photos as the raft goes through the rougher part of the river (photos are available on a CD for $40 back at the office). At the end of the trip, the van was waiting at the riverside, and we gave Nick a hand loading the raft back on the trailer.
Both the river-raft trip and the horseback trail ride are worth the expense, and should be part and parcel of the Yellowstone experience.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.