Winter Watch-Outs

by Jack Taylor

Winter in Montana is magical. Our landscape takes on a beautiful frozen stillness that beckons us to venture out among frosty firs, blanketed meadows, and frozen waterfalls. Even as temperatures plunge below zero, we catch glimpses of wildlife adapted to survive in the snowglobe. But as humans, we’re not so adept at enduring the cold. We depend on warm clothing, heating, and shelter to make it through. The margin for error in the outdoors is thinner during winter, and a mishap can quickly turn dangerous if you’re not prepared.

Before you take on the snowy roads, make sure your vehicle is capable. Snow tires are highly recommended and will make your life easier—and safer—all winter long. Yes, it’s a big investment, but with two sets of tires for summer and winter, each will last twice as long. If you must go without, a set of chains in your car will get you out of a pickle. Make sure they fit your tires, and practice installing them so that you can do it quickly when the time comes. If you have a front- or four-wheel drive car, put them on the front tires; if rear-wheel, put them on the back. A few more items to keep in your car include a shovel for digging yourself out, jumper cables in case your battery dies, and gloves plus warm jackets (or even a sleeping bag) in case you get stuck for a long time.

Extra warm layers are also essential when venturing away from your vehicle. A good rule of thumb is to bring one layer more than you think you’ll need—better safe than sorry. When planning your layering scheme, start with a moisture-wicking baselayer made of synthetic fibers or wool. Never wear cotton for warmth in winter; if it gets wet, it won’t dry out until you’re back in a warm environment. Fleece makes a great midlayer for top and bottom, and the same rule applies for materials. A waterproof shell usually isn’t necessary given the dryness of our winters, but a windbreaker will add protection without taking up much space in your pack. On top of that, an insulated jacket with synthetic or down fill gives you lots of warmth with little extra weight to carry. Down has a better warmth-to-weight ratio, but like cotton, it will not dry in the cold, so synthetic is always a safer bet.

Summer Scaries

by Corey Hockett

In Montana, summer is about as splendid as it gets—hot enough to make jumping into the river feel refreshing, and cool enough to fall asleep at night. The mountains and water call us to the backcountry, and it’s a wonderful time to answer. But heading out half-cocked isn’t a good idea. Weather can turn quickly here, and not every critter you run into is friendly (e.g., griz and mama moose). Just because the sun’s shining doesn’t mean you needn’t take precautions.

Bozeman isn’t the hottest place on the planet, but the past few summers have been scorchers. Dehydration and heat stroke should be considered on most outings. If you’re going out for more than half a day, have a plan for water, both for drinking and cooling down. There are many creeks from which to fill your bottle (purification recommended) and dunk your head, but if you run out on a sun-baked ridge, don’t count on finding any until you hit the valley floor. I keep a full jug in the truck at all times.

If you do any fishing or wandering around river bottoms, keep an eye out for poison ivy. We have it here, and if you expose your skin to it, it will suck. Learn how to identify the plant and areas where it’s likely to grow. In general, you can’t go wrong with the old adage: leaves of three, let it be.

Up in the high country, your main watch-out is electricity, and no, I’m not talking about that radio tower marring the view. Thunder and lightning storms are common. They usually arrive in the afternoon, but look for signs early, like shifting winds and cumulus cloud build-up. If you happen to get caught in a storm, move to lower ground, take off all metal objects (watches, belts, keys), and assume lightning position (squat with hands behind your head) until it passes.

If one of those bolts connects with dry fuel, say a dead tree, it oftentimes ignites. You’ve probably heard the news—come summertime, we get forest fires. Getting caught in one while you’re out and about is not a primary concern. Start one, however, and consider yourself pilloried, plus fines and potential jail time. There are often campfire mandates during the hotter months, but if you have one when permitted, make sure you keep it contained with a rock ring, monitor it constantly, and extinguish it completely. Many a smoldering cooking fire has led to a wildfire with devastating consequences.

 

Between the Leaves

by Jack Taylor

When I first landed in Bozeman, I had boundless ambition to get out and explore, but no idea where to go. The immense volume of trails, hills, and mountains had my head spinning—how could I choose from so many options? To get a better lay of the land, I took up a job with Bozeman Parks & Recreation as a camp counselor, and learned an invaluable lesson: one doesn’t even need to leave Bozeman’s city limits to have an awesome adventure.

Bozeman’s Parks & Recreation department manages 77 parks and 67 miles of trails spanning 900 acres within city limits. You could spend years exploring these spaces and still make new discoveries every day, from the vibrant flowers of Langhor Gardens to the riffled streams of Story Mill Park and the beautiful winding trails linking it all together. With a dozen amped-up, curious kids in tow, I set off on a new journey every day. It wasn’t about logging miles or bagging peaks; it was about how much we could discover just by looking around. We built stick forts in the woods of Glen Lake Park, caught bluegill from the shores of Bozeman Pond, told ghost stories in the rain at Lindley Pavilion, and scaled climbing boulders all across town. I still go back to these places and let my imagination wander—it’s a way to relax, reflect, and draw inspiration, even if I just have an hour or less to get outside on a busy day.

In addition to self-led discovery of Bozeman’s outdoor spaces, Parks & Rec offers year-round activity programs for adults and kids alike. You can learn to swing dance or jam with musicians at Story Mansion, join organized leagues for badminton and pickleball, learn new skills like archery and ice skating, and even take free avalanche-awareness classes. Many Parks & Rec facilities are rentable and make great locations for birthday parties, family functions, cult meetings—whatever you’re into. As a bonus, the rental fees are reduced for Bozeman residents.

You can learn more about what Bozeman’s parks have to offer at bozeman.net/parks. Here, you’ll find a detailed, interactive map of all the city parks and trails maintained by the Gallatin Valley Land Trust. But take my word for it: the real joy comes in exploring these spaces with little direction or agenda. Ditch your phone and leave the fancy gear at home. Ride your bike or take a stroll and you’re bound to stumble on a park or trail before too long, and here, your Bozeman adventure begins.

Seven Wonders of the Bozone

In Bozeman, it’s impossible to do it all, but if you’re like us, you strive to. Every season presents its own set of outdoor challenges and opportunities, but there are a few activities so renowned that they bear repeating on a near-annual basis—classics, you could call them. Below is a list of seven. Do them all and you’re one step closer to becoming a true Bozemanite.

Ski the Ridge
By this we mean the ridgeline above Bridger Bowl. The Bridger Lift drops you off 600 feet from the top, where you can bootpack the rest of the way. You’ll need a beacon, and once on the Ridge, keep your wits about you—get off-route and you’re bound for serious amounts of undesired airtime.

Swim in Hyalite Reservoir
The most accessible activity on this list. You may have heard of Hyalite for any number of reasons, including, but not limited to: fishing, running, biking, and ice climbing. While each of these has its place, nothing beats a cold refreshing dip on a hot summer’s day, with the craggy peaks of the mighty Gallatin Range towering above.

Paddle the Mad Mile
Ever since A River Runs Through It became a box-office hit, the Gallatin River’s reputation has been one of fly fishing. While trout do in fact fill its waters, come spring runoff, all attention is on the foamy rapids between Lava Lake Trailhead and Upper Storm Castle. Navigate this section successfully in a watercraft and earn a badge of Bozeman honor.

Fish the Madison River
You came to Bozeman, but did you remember your fly rod? We can’t guarantee you elbow room, but there’s a reason this river is so highly sought-after. Whether it’s casting from the banks, moving to and fro in your waders, or drifting slowly down in a boat, fishing the Madison is a staple Bozeman experience.

Climb Gallatin Tower
There are a number of routes by which to do so; which specific one you choose, we don’t care. The point is, get to the top. Why? Because it is there (said someone famous). And because you’ll be rewarded with views of the river, and a charcoal grill, in case you brought hot dogs. But most importantly, because you will feel alive.

Bike the Bangtail Divide
On two wheels, you won’t find a more quintessential ride. Starting from Stone Creek, the trail climbs high above Bridger Canyon and contours north to Grassy Mountain for a beautiful descent down to Brackett Creek. Or do it in reverse. Either way, you’re looking at 23 miles of pure mountain-biking glory.

Hike or Run Mount Baldy
By now, you know where the “M” is. But have you traveled above the big white letter to the broad prominent peak in the distance? If not, do so. Grunt your way past false peaks to summit one of Bozeman’s most famous. Then, look out at the sweeping Gallatin Valley below and give thanks that by some stroke of fortune you ended up where you did.

Deal Me In

by the editors

The true dirtbag ski/trout bums of Old Bozeman may be gone, but the spirit of spending every last dime on gear remains. Sure, some things are worth full price; but for others, it pays to shop smart. Here’s how to maximize enjoyment while minimizing cash outlay.

Coupons
First thing, start with this guide. Part of its purpose is to make life easier for newcomers to Bozeman’s outdoor scene, and one way we do that is by dedicating a large section to cash-saving coupons. Flip to the back, clip the coupons, save money—it’s that simple.

Sales
For straight-up retail shopping, hunt around for the big sales. Downtown Bozeman hosts summer and winter Crazy Days, a long weekend each season dedicated to inventory-liquidating sales along Main Street, including outdoor stores. Big holiday sales occur throughout the year, as well. To really save cash, buy gear post-season—for example, snagging new skis in the spring, when stores are trying to scuttle leftover winter gear, can mean up to 50% off.

Swaps
Another option is gear swaps. There’s a ski swap in November hosted by the Bridger Ski Foundation, a bike swap in spring put on by the Gallatin Valley Bicycle Club, and a boat swap in May at the Barn. All three swaps have huge inventories at massive discounts, and you can sell your used gear, too. Just make sure to show up early, ‘cause the best stuff goes fast.

Second-Hand
As one might expect, Bozeman’s pawn shops teem with used gear and apparel. There are even a few second-hand stores devoted entirely to outdoor equipment. Area thrift stores are loaded with hidden treasures, too. Spend some time perusing the inventory, and make it a habit to stop by different stores every so often—new goods arrive daily, and the best deals are all about timing.

Rentals
Sometimes gear is cost-prohibitive regardless of the price. Or maybe you’re not sure you’re going to like a new sport, in which case it pays to try before you buy. If you’re an MSU student or alumnus, hit the Outdoor Rec Center for the best prices. Otherwise, check out any of the half-dozen rental outfits around town, for everything from mountain bikes to whitewater rafts.

Gone Fishin’

by the editors

The Bozeman area has some of the best trout water in the world, and you have the privilege of being less than an hour from three world-renowned rivers, plus dozens of other fishing options. From alpine lakes in the backcountry to valley streams near town, southwest Montana is truly is an angler’s paradise.

If you’re new to the sport or the area, the first thing you’ll want to do is grab a copy of the Cast fishing guide. This local publication is crammed full of everything you need to know about fishing around here. With a little practice—and plenty of patience—you’ll be hooking into beefy browns and ‘bows in short order. Here’s some basic information to get you started.

Essential Gear
To the novice, the quantity, diversity, and variation—not to mention prices—of fishing gear can be overwhelming. Luckily, you don’t need to fill a whole garage with gear or take out a loan have fun and catch fish.

For fly fishing, you’ll need a rod, reel, line, leader, and tippet. A good 9-foot, 5-weight, fast-action rod should handle everything from lightweight dry flies to heavier streamers. Match it with a 5-weight reel and a WF5 (weight-forward 5-weight) fly line. A 9-foot 5X leader and a range of tippet material, from 2X-6X, should accommodate most scenarios. Confused? Don’t worry; it makes sense once it’s all in your hands.

Next, you’ll need waders and wading boots, especially if you plan to fish in late fall, winter, and/or early spring when the water temps are chilly. Be sure to use a wading belt so your waders don’t fill with water in the event of a slip. Polarized sunglasses are great for spotting fish.

Get a small chest-pack, butt-pack, or vest to keep your smaller gear, and organize your flies in a fly box or sleeve. Be sure to carry nippers for trimming line, floatant to keep your dry flies on top of the water, and pliers or forceps for removing hooks.

Spin anglers can keep it way simpler, with a medium or medium-light spinning rod, a light or medium spinning reel, and some 8-pound monofilament. Grab a few spoons and spinners and you’ll be catching fish in no time. 

Where to Go
Hyalite Creek
The road to Hyalite Reservoir follows this creek and there are plenty of pullouts. Small rainbow trout are plentiful, and a well-presented dry fly—or a small spinner pulled through a pool—will almost certainly entice a strike. For slightly larger fish, head up to the reservoir.

Gallatin River
The valley’s namesake waterway is a great option, thanks to its abundant public access, proximity to town, and high numbers of fish. Whether you fish the upper river in Gallatin Canyon or the lower section out in the valley, take the time to walk a ways away from your car for better, more peaceful fishing. The lower stretch holds larger fish and can provide good dry-fly fishing, especially on cloudy days. Cameron Bridge, Axtell Bridge, and Williams Bridge are all great starting points. Further south, Hwy. 191 follows the river through the canyon on the way to Big Sky and numerous pullouts access the river. Spin fishermen can find plenty of action from the mouth of the river all the way to its terminus at Headwaters State Park.

Lower Madison River
Head west and reach the fish-filled Lower Madison in less than 30 minutes. Wade in at any one of the dozens of pull-outs and work the shallow river, focusing on channels, pocket-water, and weedbeds. Although this section of river is not the best for dry flies, nymphing can be productive. Spoons and spinners tend to get hung up on weeds, but careful casts can produce fish. If you’re after voluminous small rainbows and the occasional big brown, the Lower’ Madison’s your spot.

Catch & Release
On most Bozeman-area waterways, it’s perfectly legal—and moral—to keep a few fish for supper; however, catch-and-release fishing is the norm around here. Problem is, the ethic only works if you do it right—and many people don’t. If you’re going to throw your catch back, make sure to follow the rules, so that it doesn’t go belly-up a few hours later.

  • Play fish quickly: land your fish as quickly as possible and don’t play it to exhaustion.
  • Use a landing net: it reduces the time required to land a fish and keeps it from thrashing about; try to use one made of a soft, smooth material.
  • Dunk your mitts: always wet your hands before handling a fish: dry fingers damage a fish’s protective slime layer.
  • Avoid the gills: gill filaments are sensitive and easily injured.
  • Remove the hook quickly: use forceps or needle-nose pliers for small or deeply-embedded hooks.
  • Keep ‘em wet: a wet fish is a happy fish. You can lift it up for a quick photo, but only for a few seconds; otherwise, keep it submersed.
  • Cut ‘em loose: when you can’t remove a hook quickly or cleanly, cut the line as close to the knot as possible.
  • Release with care: hold the fish upright underwater and allow it to swim away under its own power; if necessary, hold the fish out of the current until it revives.
  • Bag the bleeders: bleeding fish will almost certainly die; if regulations allow, put them in your creel and enjoy an organic, free-range supper.

Events
The fishing calendar is full year-round, but certain events are crowd favorites. Below are a few highlights; for more, check out outsidebozeman.com/events.

Fly Tying
Several shops in the area offer free classes, so you’ll be whipping up Wooly Buggers in no time. Among others, check out Sweetwater Fly Shop for Tuesday evening Open Vise Night and Willie’s Distillery in Ennis for Bugs & Bourbon on Wednesdays.

Second Wednesday, Monthly
Madison-Gallatin Trout Unlimited Meetings – Bozeman. Good fishing starts with healthy rivers and healthy trout populations. Learn more about how TU is ensuring both locally. mgtuorg.

February
TroutFest Banquet – Bozeman. The Madison-Gallatin chapter of Trout Unlimited hosts its annual fundraiser every February. The local TU chapter is instrumental in fighting for access, keeping rivers clean, and keeping trout healthy. mgtu.org.

May
Chica de Mayo – Bozeman. Join the River’s Edge for this females-only celebration of all things fly fishing. theriversedge.com.

June
Gallatin River Festival – Bozeman. Celebrate the waterway we all love with neighbors, friends, and fellow fishing fanatics. All proceeds go toward ensuring the Gallatin stays clean, cold, and clear for generations to come. gallatinrivertaskforce.org.

August
Fly Fishing & Outdoor Festival – Ennis. If you fish, odds are you’ll be spending lots of time in Ennis, about an hour southwest of Bozeman. Celebrate the end of summer with vendors, fly-tying demos, casting clinics, and more. ennischamber.com.

September
TwoFly Benefit – Bozeman. At the end of the summer, 30-some boats set out with 60-some donors, slinging their favorite two flies in support of the Museum of the Rockies. A fun event for a great cause: our local museum. museumoftherockies.org.

Editor’s note: Dates are subject to change based on weather and other factors. For the most updated information, visit outsidebozeman.com/events.

Finding the Flow

by Corey Hockett

If you haven’t noticed, Montana is home to a unique and dynamic web of water. It’s likely one of the reasons you’re here, to some degree or another. Be it a meandering stream or furious, technical whitewater; whether it’s a committing excursion deep in the backcountry or a float after work—in Bozeman, there are paddling opportunities abound.

Purpose
Before shoving off, there are a few obvious questions you’re going to have to ask yourself. Two of them being, what are you interested in doing, and how are you interested in doing it? ‘Round here, there’s a river for every craft, but your experience level is going to narrow your options on where to go. For whitewater fanatics, the Gallatin, sections of the Yellowstone, and the Madison’s esteemed Bear Trap Canyon are your go-tos. If adrenaline pulsation isn’t your thing, or you’re just starting out, head out to the Jefferson or lower Madison. These waters are great for canoes, paddleboards, and a six-pack in the cooler. If you seek something between these two extremes, a float down the lower Yellowstone offers calm stretches between short bouts of big waves and fast water.

Gear
With every activity comes a spread of accessories, some of them necessary, some of them not. Don’t buy the newest whitewater getup with all the bells and whistles your first season just to show everyone how hip you look. You’ll likely be called upon to do something you have no idea how to do—and you’ll make a fool of yourself. Get some experience first, then reassess on what it is you actually need.

There are some fundamental things you needn’t leave without, however. Number one: the PFD. Do not venture on the waterways without a suitable life jacket, even if you don’t plan on wearing one. Montana law mandates one in possession, anyway—for every vessel under 16 feet, that is. Next, you’re going to have to decide what type of craft you plan on going in, and in turn, which paddle you need. Kayakers and packrafters wield double-bladed paddles, while canoeists, paddleboarders, and rafters use single-blade models.

Depending on how much water you want to run, and how often you want to do it, there are plenty of other items to add to your gear list. I never leave without a dry bag, usually filled with an extra layer, lunch, and a small repair kit. Unless you only want to float in July and August in the sunshine, you’re going to have to dress warm. A splash jacket, dry-top, or drysuit will work wonders when it comes to Montana’s frigid waters. If you’re running anything more than Class II, you should get a helmet, serrated river knife, and possibly a throw rope. We’re starting to reach superfluous territory now, but river booties and gloves are nice luxuries to have on colder days.

Game Time
When it comes time to hit the water, have a plan. No matter how mellow you anticipate the float going, it’s always good to have at least something skeletal in place. Rivers are not where you should get in over your head, ever. Booze cruises can turn into Type 3 sufferfests as fast as a canoe can tip. Scout rapids if you’re pushing your skillset or haven’t been through them before. If you’re new to a certain craft, or unfamiliar with the water, go with a partner you trust. And when testing your capability, try hard things in easy water—you’ll thank yourself when you find out that hitting your roll in the Mad Mile is much different than the college pool.

The swollen streams of spring are coming, no matter if you’re waiting through winter for them, or riding their very currents. Grab a paddle and a partner—Bozeman’s blue arteries await.

Know the Code

by  Ej Porth

A few rules for Bozeman area trails.

We’re pretty lucky to have the 80-mile Main Street to the Mountains trail system right outside our back door. From campus, you can get downtown or to the top of a mountain—the options are endless. Bikers, runners, dog owners, commuters, and walkers keep the trails busy, making it everyone’s responsibility to follow the rules so we can care for our community trails and respect fellow users. Being a good trail user is a big deal here in Bozeman. Nothing gets you more glares and frustrated sighs than bad trail etiquette. But don’t worry—we’ll give you the lowdown on how to fit in and do your part. Here’s what you can do to be an A+ trail user.

Obey the posted signs and trail regulations. If a trail is closed, it’s closed for a reason. If a sign tells you to slow down on your bike, hit the brakes.

Stay on the trail. It might seem like a good idea to take a shortcut between switchbacks, but this can actually create serious damage to the trail. We need to respect the natural areas around the trail as well. On that note, don’t pick the flowers.

Don’t bike or walk on the muddy trails. Especially In the springtime, using muddy trails can cause serious damage and may require significant repair later on. Follow some of the Bozeman trail conditions on Facebook to see what trails are dry and ready to use.

Stay right on the trail. Just like when you’re driving, pass on the left.

Don’t litter. Duh.

If you’re a biker, yield to walkers. They have right of way. Slow down, use a bell, or call out “On your left!” before passing.

Downhill bike riders yield to uphill bike riders. It’s safer and easier for everyone.

If you bring a dog, PICK UP THE POOP! There are dog-poop stations with bags and trash cans all along the trail system. Don’t just pick it up and leave the bag on the side of the trail. You’ll forget about it. Ignoring your dog’s poop will bring very bad trail karma your way.

Obey leash rules. You’re representing all dog owners—help us look good. And no, your dog is not an exception to the rule because it’s “really well-behaved.” We all think that about our dogs, but it isn’t always true.

Pick up a Main Street to the Mountains trail map at the Gallatin Valley Land Trust office (212 S. Wallace, #102) or at local retailers.

Bozeman Bucket List

by the editors

It’s impossible, even in a lifetime of living in Bozeman, to do it all. That being said, there are a few must-dos to tick off as soon as possible, for a proper enrollment into the outdoor life of the Bozone. Here’s a starter list to accelerate your initiation.

Spring/Summer

Hike the M

Bike to Mystic Lake

Run whitewater on the Gallatin

Rock climb at Practice Rock

Join the bikini hatch on the Madison River

Catch a trout on the Yellowstone

Hike, run, or ride the Main Street to the Mountains trails

Enter a classic local trail race (Baldy Blitz, Bridger Trail Run, Ridge Run, etc.)

Fall/Winter

Hunt elk in the mountains

Stay in a backcountry cabin or yurt

Soak in the Boiling River

Sled down Peets Hill

Cross-country ski in Hyalite

Ski the Ridge at Bridger Bowl

Ride the Big Sky tram up Lone Peak

The Most Dangerous Game

by the editors

The Montana mountains may be a refuge from the strains of life, but they too come with their fair share of stress—mainly, the not-so-friendly creatures that call them home. With a little awareness and education, though, you’ll escape your encounters with nothing but a great story. Here’s what’s out there, and what to do when you meet the locals.

Mountain Lion (Puma concolor)
Where to Find It: Mountains, but may roam urban areas in search of prey. Most active at dusk.

How to Avoid Trouble: At night, wear an extra headlamp facing backward. The light will blind a mountain lion and discourage it from stalking you.

If Trouble Finds You: Stand upright and face the cougar. Make a lot of noise and if attacked, fight back. Never run.

Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos horribilis)
Where to Find It: If you’re in the mountains of Montana, you’re in bear country.

How to Avoid Trouble: Carry bear spray and store your food safely—in a bear canister or hung up. Be noisy so you don’t surprise one. 

If Trouble Finds You: Avoid eye contact and stay calm. Slowly back away from the bear. If it charges, wait till it’s about 30 feet away, then let the spray fly. Should the spray not stop it, submit completely—collapse onto your stomach, use your hands to protect your head and neck, and pray to whatever gods you can think of.

Moose (Alces americanus)
Where to Find It: Open grassy fields, marshlands, and moist drainages.

How to Avoid Trouble: Make noise when out hiking and biking, and carry bear spray just in case. 

If Trouble Finds You: If it’s blocking your way, wait it out. If it charges, run away and get a tree between you and the angry moose. A squirt of bear spray should send it running.

Prairie Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis)
Where to Find It: Dens, under rocks, houses, or anywhere else a snake can fit in open, arid country. The banks of the Madison are prime real estate in the warmer months.

How to Avoid Trouble: Listen for the rattle and keep your distance. Avoid reaching into dark places and running through sagebrush.