Go Easy

by Jack Taylor

It doesn’t take a whole garage full of gear to make the most of southwest Montana’s outdoors. In fact, some of our favorite activities and outings require little to no specialized equipment whatsoever. So if you’re tight on cash, or just want to keep it simple, here are some ideas.

State Parks
Many of Montana’s state parks serve as one-stop destinations for recreation, camping, and culture. They’re usually located at historic sites, and most have visitor centers where you can learn about the cultural significance of the area. For example, see how the natives hunted bison at Madison Buffalo Jump, take a subterranean stroll at Lewis & Clark Caverns, or explore the lush floodplains of Missouri Headwaters. All you need is a good pair of walking shoes.

Swimming Holes
Especially in the heat of summer (or other times of year for the masochistic), taking a cool dip is a great way to immerse in the outdoors. There are rivers and streams all over the place around here, plus a healthy handful of lakes and ponds, and finding your favorite swimming hole is a fun adventure—so we won’t spoil the goods. But some of the most popular places to swim near town are Glen Lake Rotary Park (a.k.a., Bozeman Beach) and Hyalite Reservoir.

Tube Floats
Speaking of water, you don’t need to invest hundreds or thousands in a watercraft to go for a float. In fact, when the weather is warm, hordes of Bozemanites will take to lazy stretches of river aboard cheap inflatable inner-tubes to relax and soak up the sun. The lower Madison River from Warm Springs to Black’s Ford is by far the most popular destination for this type of float; in other words, if you want any inkling of solitude, go elsewhere.

Dirt Roads
There are hundreds of miles of Forest Service roads in the mountains of the Custer-Gallatin National Forest, and hundreds more miles of ranch-access roads out in the plains. Some of them may require a high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle, but many will accommodate any ol’ sedan just fine. Take a drive and see what you find. Moser CreekLittle Bear Canyon, and Springhill are good places to start.

Town Trails
Thanks to conservation easements maintained by the Gallatin Valley Land Trust (GVLT), you don’t even need to leave the Bozeman city limits to explore the out-of-doors. There are nearly 100 miles of trail in the Main Street to the Mountainstrail system that will take you back and forth across town, and even plug you into Forest Service trails in the Bridger and Gallatin ranges. So lace up your shoes and hit the dirt—there’s nothing holding you back.

Plein Air
Artistic talent be damned—grab some watercolors, colored pencils, oil pastels… whatever suits your fancy, and post up with a canvas or sheet of paper outside. You don’t need to be the next Monet to appreciate the experience of creating outdoor art. It’ll surely help you notice previously unforeseen details in your surrounding landscape, and who knows—maybe you’ll get hooked on a new hobby.

Hit the Trails

by Adam Brown

A guide to exploring Bozeman’s sprawling network of trails.

Next time you get a chance—a quiet moment under the big, blue Montana sky—take a second to look around. What do you see? First, you’ll probably notice the Bridger Range, cradling our town from the northeast. To the south, the Gallatin Range extends far back into the skyline. Southwest, the Spanish Peaks poke up, keeping the Madison Range out of view and ready to be uncovered. Due west and farther out, oftentimes fading into the horizon on hazier days, the Tobacco Roots loom in the distance. The Absarokas sit just out of view to the east, with no shortage of stones to turn.

There are more ranges to see, of course, depending on one’s particular perch. But the point is, there are foothills, peaks, canyons, and valleys in every direction. Nearly every summit can be climbed; every drainage holds a secret. Even the foothills and woods near town abound with opportunity—the amount of adventures and experiences you can have is limited only by your desire to peek around that next bend. The best part? Trails wind their way through it all, beckoning you to come forth and explore. If you need some advice to get started, here are a few classic outings.

Around Town
Gallagator: Named after an old railway line, this trail acts like an arterial pipeline through Bozeman. It’s a popular commuter path from the north to the south end of town. On it, you’ll stroll by gardens, climbing boulders, and plenty of jumping-off points onto other local trails.

East Gallatin Recreation Area: North of town, you’ll find this local hotspot. Despite its close proximity and popularity, there is plenty to do here. Get in on the action at East Gallatin Pond (“Bozeman Beach” to the locals) or duck back into a trail system hidden among the river and trees. It, too, ties into other trails, including the path to the M.

Highland Glen Nature Preserve: This small network is another great close-to-town option. Here you’ll enjoy rolling hills, forested gulches, great views of the surrounding mountains above the lush vegetation, and the occasional company of grazing cattle.

Headin’ Up
Triple Tree: A local favorite in the foothills of the Gallatin Range. Get there using one of the nearby parking areas, or hike in from Painted Hills if you want to add some extra mileage. Otherwise, you’ll be getting about four miles of pleasant, forested trail with a great overlook back north over the valley. Be aware of mountain bikers on this trail, typically riding the loop counterclockwise.

The M: Montanans sure do love putting letters on their mountains. While some denote the town below or name of the mountain, our M is dedicated to Montana State University and goes back all the way to 1915. There are two ways to get up to the M. The standard route switchbacks along the foothills, while the steep route cuts straight up the face of the mountain. There’s a reason this hike is so popular: the view across town and the valley beyond is fantastic.

Drinking Horse: This mountain got its name because it resembles a horse taking a drink from a creek, when gazed upon from the east. The trail is another favorite of folks looking to get out for a jaunt close by, any time of year. In fact, the trail averages about 150 daily users in the winter and a whopping 500 in the summer. You may not get much solitude here, but the views toward the Bangtails and back into Bridger Canyon are remarkable.

Top Notch
Chestnut Mountain: A great summit option without having to go very far. You’ll find the trailhead just inside the mouth of the Bozeman Pass, on the way to Livingston—take the Trail Creek exit. Climb up a nicely buffed-out trail that switchbacks through forest and meadows until you’re finally rewarded with incredible views of the Absarokas and Paradise Valley.

Sacajawea Peak: One of the best bangs for your buck in the Bridgers (with Baldy a close second). Starting at Fairy Lake, this trail is only about four miles round-trip, but you’ll surely feel the elevation as you climb 2,000 vertical feet to the summit. At the top, you’ll get 360-degree views, including all the aforementioned ranges. The resident mountain goats have it good.

Mt. Blackmore: This mountain has a prominent presence over the valley, constantly peering down on us from the top of the Gallatin Range. Just take a gander south and you’ll be able to make out its pyramid shape. Because of its physical and historical significance to the area, it’s well worth checking out up-close and personal. From the lower trailhead, four miles round-trip will get you to Blackmore Lake, and 12 will take you all the way to the summit and back.

Etiquette
Most of the above trails are shared with bikers—even some of the more challenging ones, like Blackmore. Generally, bikers should yield to hikers, and both should yield to horses. Downhill traffic should also yield to those coming uphill. However, this is only a rough guideline, and a more nuanced approach should be taken. Just be kind, courteous, and keep your head up—everything should work out fine. It’s often much easier for a hiker or runner to take a step off the trail and allow fast-moving bikes to pass than it is to insist otherwise.

Events
May
Spring Cleanup – Hyalite Canyon. After a long winter, Hyalite needs some love. Pitch in for a morning of bagging trash and tidying trailheads. hyalite.org

May-June
GVLT Discovery Walks – Bozeman. Meet new people and make new friends on these one-hour guided walks along the Main Street to the Mountains trail system. 80+ miles await, all of which are right here, in and around town. gvlt.org 

May-September
Wind Drinkers Fun Runs – Bozeman. If you’re looking to ramp up the pace a bit and get into trail running, join the Wind Drinkers for some casual summer jaunts. winddrinkers.org

June
Summer Trails Challenge – Hit the trails and earn money for GVLT’s trail work and conservation initiatives. gvlt.org

June-August
L&C Caverns Guided Hikes – Whitehall. Explore the drier climes west of Bozeman at Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park, where guides offer an immersive hike through the sagebrush hills. fwp.mt.gov

June 1
National Trails Day – Bozeman. This is the best day to give back to the trails that give us so much. Almost every trail-related nonprofit in town has a work day scheduled, so you’ll have plenty of options to choose from. gvlt.org 

September 28
National Public Lands Day – Bozeman. Around here, we use public lands all the time, which means they need a little love and care every year. Use this last Saturday of the month to go for a hike, do some trail maintenance, or find a new trail run. gvlt.org

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

Lines on the Water

by Eli Fournier

Fly-fishing in Southwest Montana.

Welcome to the fly-fishing capital of Montana, if the not entire West. If you come in search of piscine pursuits, look no further. Indeed, the fishing here lives up to its reputation, and come August, the town dress code might as well be quick-dry shorts, a sun hoody, sandals, sunglasses (with Croakies), and a lucky fishing hat. But aside from looking the part, knowing a few basics is also important. Here’s a rundown on a few of the most popular local waters. For more, pick up a copy of the Cast fishing guide, available for free at most fly shops and outdoor stores around town.

Where to Go
Madison River
From the “50-mile riffle” on its upper section, to Bear Trap Canyon and the flat meanders of its lower section, the Madison has plenty of options. A driftboat or raft is the best way to access the upper, but wading is equally effective on the lower. The flows are dam-controlled, but the water can still blow out from high-flow feeder streams. Early summer is caddis; mid-summer, salmonflies; and late-summer, mayflies and terrestrials.

Gallatin River
Perhaps the most famous trout river in the West, thanks to A River Runs Through It, the Gally is worthy of the hype. The river begins as a trickle in Yellowstone National Park and ends at its confluence with the Jefferson and the Madison at Missouri Headwaters State Park. Excellent fishing is to be had throughout, although “the Canyon” is the most-heavily pressured thanks to its fish-laden pockets, cool water temps, and easy access. The river is best fished wading from the banks—in fact, it’s illegal to fish from a boat on the upper section down to the confluence with the East Gallatin River, at Manhattan. If you’re just after a few casts in the evening, the Gallatin is tough to beat.

Yellowstone River
The Yellowstone originates south of the Park in some of the most remote country in the Lower 48. When folks around town refer to fishing on the ’Stone, however, they’re typically referencing the Paradise Valley section, from Gardiner to Livingston, and even further downstream to Big Timber. The fishing is dictated by flows. Springtime pre-runoff can be good, but the real goods are had once runoff subsides in late June. The Yellowstone is primo streamer water early-season, and dry-dropper territory later in the summer. It’s a big river, and wading can be difficult—but it’s not impossible. The best way to fish the Yellowstone is from a raft, stopping at good runs to wade.

Lakes
Both alpine lakes and lowland reservoirs can be productive at the right time of year. Just after ice-off in May, trout tend to cruise the shorelines of Ennis, Quake, Hebgen, and Henry’s lakes looking for easy meals. All these stillwaters can be effectively fished from shore in early spring before the fish move out to deeper waters. Once things warm up, the high-mountain lakes really turn on. But with so many possibilities in the Gallatin, Absaroka, and Madison ranges, narrowing down the options is challenging. Fortunately, there are a couple of good guidebooks, with one of the best being Flyfisher’s Guide to Southwest Montana’s Mountain Lakes. If you’re heading anywhere in the high country, bring a rod along—there are fish in just about every lake, pond, and creek in this corner of the state.

 

Catch & Release vs. Keep & Eat
On heavily-pressured rivers—all the ones mentioned above—catch-and-release is highly encouraged. While it’s legal to keep fish on some of these rivers, if every angler kept a daily bag limit, there would be no fish left. It’s acceptable to bonk a fish for dinner every now and then, especially if it’s unlikely to survive upon release; just try not to make a habit of it. A few standard catch-and-release practices: play fish quickly, keep them in the water, limit handling to a bare minimum, and use barbless hooks.

Bonking fish in reservoirs or at high mountain lakes is less frowned upon. In fact, a lot of folks on big alpine backpacking trips don’t bring much in the way of dinner food, instead relying on trout to fill their stomachs. Bring a packet of Idahoan mashed potatoes, some salmon-rub, and tortillas for gourmet trout burritos.

Etiquette
Fishing etiquette is pretty simple: don’t be a dick on the river. Chat with other anglers, give folks space, share your knowledge with those less experienced, and if floating, don’t dilly-dally and cause a traffic jam at the boat ramp. With some basic courtesy, you shouldn’t run into any issues on the water.

Prepped for Anything

by Jamie Rankin

Southwest Montana offers outdoor pursuits of all difficulty levels—and some that walk a fine line between risk and reward. But regardless of the challenge and level of expertise (or lack thereof), accidents happen. Every outdoor-goer should have knowledge on how to optimize safety, and how to handle an unexpected turn for the worse. Here’s a rundown on some courses we recommend for safety, survival, and for growing your outdoor skillset.

Wilderness First Aid
No medical experience? No problem. Wilderness First Aid (WFA) preps students on basic medical practices in an outdoor setting. From assessing a patient to improvising splints with outdoor gear, this course will prepare you to stabilize a situation until a trained medical professional can step in. There are many local course providers; a web search should lead you to a course that fits your schedule. For students, check out MSU’s outdoor-activity classes.

Wilderness First Responder
If you’ve mastered the basics and want more medical preparation, take a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course. These 80-hour courses are a mix of classroom time and accident scenarios; they teach students the skills needed stabilize a patient for an extended period of time. The same organizations that offer WFAs typically teach WFR courses as well.

Belay Certification
If you want to get into climbing but aren’t sure where to begin, Spire Climbing Center is a great place to start. As a member, you get access to beginner- and intermediate-level climbing instruction; including auto-belay, standard belay, and more. Already know the basics? Spire has an assortment of classes and clinics for intermediate and advanced climbers, too. 

Green University
Botanist and outdoorsman Thomas Elpel holds workshops, classes, and events focused on wilderness survival skills and sustainable living. From fire-starting, deer processing, and foraging to making buckskin clothing, Elpel will teach you how to be confident and self-sufficient in the woods.

Avalanche Courses
When venturing into the backcountry in winter, avalanche danger is ever-present. Snow conditions can be tricky to read, so a course is critical in gaining basic competency—both in avoiding slides and rescuing fellow skiers should they be caught in one. Courses can be taken through Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center (GNFAC), Montana Alpine Guides (MAG), MSU, Beartooth Powder Guides, and Big Sky Backcountry Guides.

Mountain-Bike Clinics
Crosscut Mountain Sports Center offers an assortment of mountain-biking clinics for all skill levels and ages, including introductory courses, skills-specific classes, and even guided rides. Developing your two-wheeled talent will not only allow you to push yourself in a safer manner, but will also make the sport more fun.

Idiom Index

Welcome to Montana—as you’ve probably noticed, there’s some lingo getting thrown around that you might not have heard before. Study this cheat-sheet to familiarize yourself with a few common terms & phrases, along with likely scenarios, before making a fool of yourself out there on the streets of Bozeman.

Road soda (a.k.a., roadie)
It’s Friday afternoon, you’re done with midterms or a big project at work, and it’s time to head out for a long weekend in the mountains. “Hey, pass me a roadie, would ya?”

Tag soup
You’re sitting around the dinner table, choking down the cheapest ground beef you could find at T&C, explaining to friends that you came home empty-handed from a hunting trip. “Tough conditions out there; we ate tag soup.”

No friends on a powder day
Your ski buddies stop at a flat spot to regroup and declare how great the day is. You come flying by, blasting them with snow, carving turns across the untracked meadow they were all admiring. “No friends on a power day, suckers!”

Cowboy (or cowgirl) up
Your friend’s being a ninny: “Wow, that’s a lot of whitewater! House Rock looks pretty scary. It never feels that big from the road. What if I flip?” “Aw, put on your PFD and cowboy up already.”

Whiskey ditch
You’ve got an exam tomorrow and need to slow down, but can’t leave the bar yet ’cause there’s a really hot guy who keeps checking you out. “Bartender, I’ll take a whiskey ditch.”

Ain’t my first rodeo
As you inspect your flat mountain-bike tire, blown halfway up Leverich, your new riding partner comes in hot with a patch kit and unsolicited instructions. “Easy, tiger. I got this. It ain’t my first rodeo.”

Crick (as opposed to “creek”)
You’re chatting with a rancher about hunting his place and where to leave your truck. “Should I park over there by the crick?”

Bikini hatch
Your friends want to fish the lower Madison on a blazing hot Saturday afternoon. “Are you kidding me? The bikini hatch will be full swing. You’re more likely to hook a tuber than a brown.”

You don’t have to outrun a griz, just your friends
Your friend from Wisconsin is a little worried about going backpacking in the Madison Range; she heard about all the bears in those mountains, and how fast they are. “It’ll be fine! Just remember, you don’t have to outrun a griz, just your friends.”

I’ll never leave Montana, brother
You’re a recent engineering graduate, still living on ramen and Coors Light. Your friend asks, “Where are you gonna go now, to make a pile of money?” “I’ll never leave Montana, brother.”

The Bozeman Essentials

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 are some of our favorites. Do them all and you’re one step closer to becoming a true Bozemanite.

Bike Hyalite Canyon
You may have heard of Hyalite for any number of reasons, including, but not limited to: fishing, running, hiking, and ice climbing. But thanks to all those activities, it sees more than its fair share of traffic—to the point of madness. From April 1 – May 15, however, the road is closed to motor vehicles. Hop on a bike and enjoy some of the best road riding of the year on Hyalite Canyon asphalt.

Fish Gallatin Canyon
Or “the Canyon,” as locals call it, Gallatin Canyon served as the backdrop for A River Runs Through It, and has been attracting anglers for a long, long while. It’s tough to beat casting dries to rising trout just 30 minutes from town. You’ll find everything from riffles to deep pocket water and thin eddy lines, with a plethora of hatches throughout the season. With fishing this good, though, we can’t guarantee you elbow room.

Paddle the Mad Mile
Fishing ain’t the only thing the Gallatin’s known for. Come spring, before the bugs are out ’n’ about, paddling takes the cake on this river’s frothing waters. Warm up on an easier section between Moose Creek and Lava Lake, then run a gauntlet of foamy rapids known as “the Mad Mile” downstream to Upper Storm Castle. Navigate this section successfully in a watercraft and earn a badge of Bozeman honor.

Float the Lower Madison
Whether in a drift boat, raft, inner tube, or with nothing but a life jacket, floating the Lower Madison is a staple Bozeman experience. Known to locals as the “bikini hatch,” this mid-summer lazy-river float is a Mecca for dirtbags, yuppies, weekend warriors, and college students alike. Grab a sixer and hit the water.

Climb Neat Rock
With routes ranging from 5.6 to 5.14, there’s something to suit every climber’s fancy at this near-roadside crag on the banks of the Madison River. The rock is solid gneiss and the dry environment makes for good climbing conditions almost year-round. Make it a double-header with the aforementioned float, or spend a night at one of many nearby campgrounds for a weekend getaway.

Bike Leverich
On two wheels, you won’t find a more quintessential ride. This dirt singletrack loop climbs for nearly a thousand feet, then bombs right back down—just make sure you ride it in a clockwise fashion. Serious bikers have been known to lap it, and don’t be surprised if you get passed by these fellers your first time out.

Ski Bridger Bowl
Just 16 miles from downtown, the skiing doesn’t get much better than this. With the “Bridger Bowl Cloud” often hanging over the mountain, the snow’s decent, too. Ski a few laps before work, or play hooky from school to bootpack 600 feet to “the Ridge.” Don’t tackle it as a beginner, though, ’cause you’re likely bound for some serious airtime.

Hike Sacagawea Peak
The queen of the Bridgers rises to just shy of 10,000 feet in elevation, while a convenient access road to Fairy Lake makes tagging this summit a fairly casual outing. You’ll start below treeline, but soon emerge into the alpine zone dotted with crystal-blue lakes, snow-choked gullies, and jagged ridgelines. Fret not; the trail itself follows easy terrain, and the views from the top are impeccable.

Code of the West

by Courtney King

Many folks are moving to Montana through a great migration from cities and areas that are experiencing wildfires, riots, and hurricanes. If you are among the newbies, welcome—and help us preserve our Montana lifestyle through the Code of the West.

The Code of the West is a set of informal laws that originally shaped the cowboy culture of the Old West, and is still active today. What are these unwritten rules, and why are they important? If you come from a bigger city where it’s more acceptable not to speak to strangers and keep to yourself, know that it’s basically the complete opposite here. If you come from California and wonder why you feel shunned all of a sudden, there’s a backstory to this behavior. Previous newcomers tried to bring Californian ways to Montana that simply were not well-received.

The pioneers of the West, agree with them or not, paved the way to civilization using laws of the land. While things have changed with the times, in Bozeman we stay true to the best of those values. Statutory morals centered on hospitality, fair play, loyalty, and respect for the land and each other. We treat others as we want to be treated, and we still hold the contract of a gentleman’s agreement to a high standard. Most folks still consider a handshake a contract.

The Code’s implications can be as simple as waving to a passerby driving down your road, to striking up a brief conversation with someone out on the trail. Montana is not a hurried lifestyle; take your time and enjoy it. If you’re coming from out of state, embrace your new different life.

Back in the day, anyone who broke the Code became a social outcast. Here is a brief list still applicable today as it was back then—if not in the literal sense, at least in the figurative.

  • Don’t inquire into a person’s past. Take the measure of a man for what he is today.
  • Don’t ask a rancher how many cattle she has; that’s like asking how much money she has in the bank.
  • Close the gate when you open it.
  • Say howdy to folks on the trail (and pick up your dog’s indiscretions).
  • Never order anything weaker than whiskey.
  • Always fill your whiskey glass to the brim.
  • Do not practice ingratitude.
  • A cowboy always helps someone in need, even a stranger or an enemy.
  • Real cowboys are modest. A braggart who is “all gurgle and no guts” is not tolerated.
  • Respect the land and the environment by not smoking in hazardous fire areas, and not disfiguring rocks, trees, or other natural areas.
  • Honesty is absolute—your word is your bond; a handshake is more binding than a contract.

Post Wisely

by Corey Hockett

We live in a funny time. An age where announcing one’s experiences outweighs living the experience itself. If you don’t have a picture, did your trail run even happen? If your photo wasn’t affirmed with 1,000 cyber hearts, was your bike ride even worth it? If you climb a mountain, but fail to take a reel of it, were you there at all? So goes the thought process of the digital age.

Let me preface this by saying that I am a millennial who has social-media accounts and does in fact post from time to time. I have a camera and I understand the appeal of sharing images with one’s community. But must we do this with every last activity, every single outing? Is it too much to exercise a little discretion? We in Montana are still lucky enough to enjoy places to ourselves. Let’s do our best to keep it that way.

For the locals out there grumbling aloud about busy trailheads, head to the next drainage over. The one without a parking lot. Sure, it might be a little further from where you intended to go, but isn’t that what we’ve loved about this place all along? The opportunity to explore and discover?

Now, for those of you who have stumbled upon an area seemingly unbeknownst to others, please, for the love of all that is holy, keep it to yourself! Recognize the sacredness of such a thing and don’t ruin it by advertising it to your whole social network. Step back and realize that the reason the place seems so lovely and enjoyable is that there’s nothing around but the natural world. Crazy, huh?

As bewildered as I am over this, it’s clear that some folks are unable to move through their days without providing constant updates to their digital followership. Slaves to their vibrating, attention-sucking, brain-numbing devices, they need affirmation from others that the life they live is in fact a good one. To this, I say fine. If you want to post a photo of all the fish you caught in your secret hole, great—just don’t include easily recognizable landmarks. This same stretch of water could be quietly enjoyed by others, too. Choose a frame with an indistinct background and a caption that conceals the location’s identity. You get to show off your fish and preserve the solitude for others. Win-win.

I understand that as an outdoor guidebook, we play a role in the increased visitation to certain locations. There’s no way around it. However, we do so judiciously. No place that we promote, in print or online, is a secret spot—they’re all well-documented on maps and in other guidebooks; they’re all well-known among the local outdoor populace. “Secret” and “favorite” are not the same thing. Part of our job is to facilitate outdoor recreation—and newcomers (to town, or to a certain activity) need to know where to go. Sometimes that helps protect a place from mankind’s ravenous propensity to rape, pillage, develop, and commodify; other times, it simply leads to overcrowding. This is a conundrum, and if you think we could do a better job, tell us.

The point is, we live in a time where social media is everywhere. Like it or not, this includes our outdoor spaces. Thus, our responsibility—and I mean everyone here—is to use it in a manner that encourages healthy engagement with nature. What does “healthy” mean? In loose terms, it’s creating awareness for wild places under threat while keeping quiet about the so-called “undiscovered” spots. As for knowing which is which, it can only be up to the individual. But it ain’t that tough.

Post wisely, my friends.