Established in 1880, Gardiner emerged from the need to provide services and activities for visitors to Yellowstone National Park. This role is still being played to this day. Gardiner remains the only gateway community with year-round access to Yellowstone.
The location is a very pretty one, at the junction of the Gardner and Yellowstone Rivers, sandwiched between the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness to the North, the Gallatin Wilderness to the West, and the world's first and most famous national park - Yellowstone - to the South. Just south of town lies a low tract of land, small in extent, then rising in broken hills to Sepulcher Mountain. This is winter feeding ground for large numbers of pronghorn, bison, and elk.
Part of Gardiner’s greatness lies in its superb winter climate. With an elevation of 5,259 feet it is surrounded by mountains that are deeply covered with a white mantle, but the valley will seem as if it belonged to a region a thousand miles southward. There is rarely sufficient snowfall to even take account.
Few towns have the distinction of being named for suc h a colorful character, and fewer the irony of having misspelled it. In August of 1870, The Washburn-Langford-Doan party named the town “Gardiner” for Johnson Gardner, an early trapper who frequented the area. An article about him in the April 23, 1903 issue of the Gardiner Wonderland newspaper rated him as “an outlaw and in general a worthless, dissolute character.” The misspelling has been traced to a conversation between Jim Bridger and N.P. Langford in Virginia City, just before the Langford-Washburn-Doan Expedition, Bridger (being from Virginia) spelled Gardner with an “I”. The real origin of the typo falls into doubt, upon realizing that Gardner was an illiterate. The Gardner River and Gardner’s Hole were named after him. Gardiner is the oldest known name in the region outside of Yellowstone Park.
Gardiner has survived a rough and tumble existence of gold rushes, the railroad and destructive fires. A tough little frontier town, it fed and sheltered miners, entertained early soldiers who ran Yellowstone Park and learned to host the pioneer visitor. Gardiner has matured and grown to meet the needs of today’s visitors. It is a good town to spend time rich in history, surrounded by bountiful wildlife, in the heart of some of the West’s finest country.