Background: We compared short-term recovery for patients discharged to inpatient rehabilitation versus skilled nursing facilities after gastrointestinal surgery. Materials & methods: We conducted a propensity-matched cohort study of 12,939 adults discharged to inpatient rehabilitation or skilled nursing facilities after colectomy, pancreatectomy or hepatectomy at hospitals participating in the American College of Surgeons National Surgical Quality Improvement Program from 2011 to 2014. Primary outcomes were readmission and mortality rates 30 days after surgery. Results: 9259 (72%) patients were discharged to skilled nursing facilities and 3680 (28%) to inpatient rehabilitation. Median age in both groups was 76 years and 82% of patients were white. There was no difference in 30-day readmission rates (16% for skilled nursing vs 16.8% for inpatient rehabilitation) but post-discharge mortality was higher for patients discharged to skilled nursing facilities (4.4%) compared to inpatient rehabilitation (1.6%, p < 0.001). Conclusions: Increased utilization of inpatient rehabilitation services after gastrointestinal surgery may improve postoperative outcomes.