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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.

Wheels of Fortune

They say that once you learn to ride a bike, you never forget. Well, once you ride the singletrack around Bozeman, you never forget—and you never stop craving it. If you want to hit the trails, great, just be sure to do it right.

Essential Gear
Obviously, you need a bike. As with most things, it’s advisable to try before you buy. Most shops have decent rentals, and the most affordable long-term investments will be found in the shop’s demo fleet. Often, brand reps come to town with their whole lineup in tow, giving you the opportunity to demo and decide what kind of bike you want—cross-country, downhill, etc.

Bikes are expensive, so you’ll need to overcome the initial sticker-shock. That being said, as a mountain-biking mecca, our town runneth over with deals on gear. If you’re looking to spend as little as possible, start at a second-hand store, pawn shop, or the annual GVBC Bike Swap. If you’re willing to pay more, hit the bike shops. Remember that rear suspension is ideal, but expensive—if you’re a casual biker, you might be able to save a grand or more by sticking with a hardtail.

Next, you’ll need a helmet, pack, and multi-tool for those likely mechanical failures on the trail. Plus the standard outdoor equipment: extra layer, rain shell, first-aid kit, and bear spray. Padded gloves are a great option, as are glasses. Total newbies might want knee and elbow pads until the awkward always-crashing period has passed.

Where to Go
Bozeman has a bounty of trails. From beginner to expert, there are plenty to match your style and help you learn.

Beginner
If you’re a newbie, head to the old logging road up Bozeman Creek, also known as Sourdough. This all-dirt trail steadily climbs almost ten miles to Mystic Lake, but you can turn around wherever and coast effortlessly all the way back to your car. Next, check out Copper City. With several miles of manageable trails, low elevation, and a drier climate, this destination is excellent for fall or spring riding, and a good place to train your lungs before the big summer season.

In town, you can hop on the Main Street to the Mountains trail system at any point and go until the sun sets. Mosey along the Gallagator to Peets Hill, then onto Highland Glen where the trails are packed into a small area, and multiple figure eights make for fun beginner looping.

Intermediate
Once you’re comfortable riding singletrack, head over to the South Cottonwood trailhead. This creekside trail has gradual climbs, mellow descents, and loads of technical rocky sections to test your skills. It’s another out-and-back, so you can ride for two miles or ten, depending on your energy level and available time.

Up in Hyalite, the Moser Creek area has several options, all of which feature shorter climbs than some of Hyalite’s burlier rides like Emerald Lake. While Moser’s trails are on the map, there are some confusing junctions, so do some research and figure out loops that work for you.

Advanced
South of town in the Gallatin foothills is Leverich, probably Bozeman’s most popular mountain-bike trail. During the summer, the parking lot overflows with vehicles, so we suggest making some biking friends to carpool with. Although Leverich isn’t technically directional, almost everyone rides the trail clockwise, taking a left at the first junction. Right out of the gate, you’ll climb a series of relentless switchbacks before topping out along a ridge. This is a good spot to take a break—there’s more climbing ahead. After about an hour of slogging uphill, get ready for a smile-inducing downhill full of flow, berms, and a few small drops.

For a true Bozeman classic, head to the Emerald Lake trail at the southern end of Hyalite Canyon. The climb has several brutal sections, full of loose rock and steep grades. But your reward is an alpine setting rivaled by few anywhere. Even if you have to walk parts of this trail, the reward is well worth the effort.

Events
A great way to immerse yourself in the Bozeman biking scene is at the many fun events throughout the year. Meet biking buddies, enjoy a few beers, and talk shop at these classic get-togethers.

Group Rides
Several organizations around town host group rides around Bozeman. Check out Alter Cycles, Owenhouse, Pedal Project, SWMMBA, the Gallatin Valley Bicycle Club, and Bangtail to get in on these fun social events.

Tuesdays, Thursdays & Saturdays
Bike Kitchen Hours – Bozeman. One way to get a bike cheaply is to work for it. Donate hours to Bozeman’s nonprofit bike shop and your time could earn you a free bike. bozemanbikekitchen.org.

Mondays, April-June
Dig Days – Bozeman. Kick off the spring season with some dig days hosted by the Southwest Montana Mountain Bike Association. They’ll start in town, on trails like Highland Glen, then work their way uphill as the snow melts. southwestmontanamba.org.

May
GVBC Bike Swap – Bozeman. Your chance to score sweet deals on used biking gear and last season’s models. Go early and get in line—the best stuff flies off the shelves. gallatinvalleybicycleclub.org

May-August
Montana Enduro Series – MT. If you’re serious about mountain biking, tackle some serious spring/summer competition. Four towns, four races, plenty of grueling uphill, and always a wild ride down. montanaenduro.com.

June
Bike to Work Week – Bozeman. Commuting by the power of two legs is good for us and the environment, and it cuts down on traffic congestion, too. During this fun week, you’ll be treated to free coffee, breakfast, and beer at select locations round town, just for riding your bike to work. gallatinvalleybicycleclub.org.

July
Moser Shake’N’Bake – Hyalite. Choose either the 40- or 20-mile race and enjoy a combination of singletrack, double-track, and roads, with spectacular views. facebook.com/mosershakenbake.

September 26
National Public Lands Day – Bozeman. Before midterms roll around, join the Southwest Montana Mountain Bike Association for a day of giving back to the trails. southwestmontanamba.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.

The Blue Light District

by Cordelia Pryor

Welcome to Bozeman! Whether you’re a student, ski bum, trout bum, young professional, remote worker, retiree, or a traveler just passing through, Bozeman has a plethora of top-notch outdoor-recreation opportunities to offer. But where to begin? Finding one’s way in a new locale is no mean feat. Worry not, friend—the Blue LightGuide is here to help.

New to the outdoors, or at least the Montana variety? Inside this guide you’ll find tons of useful info, from gear and etiquette tips to the area’s top fishing spots and biking trails. Tight on cash? The coupons in the back can feed, clothe, and outfit you for all your excursions. Day or night, total newbie or just looking for some pointers, this guide has something for everyone, every season.

Whence the name, you ask? Well, atop the iconic Baxter Hotel is a blue light that flashes whenever Bridger Bowl gets two inches of fresh snow or more. As that flashing bulb ushers skiers to Bridger’s snow-covered slopes, we hope this guide ushers you to Bozeman’s outdoors: the fields, forests, mountains, and rivers that make this place so special.

However you choose to take to the trails—by foot, bike, or ski—the Gallatin Valley welcomes you warmly with an abundance of wildlife, awe-inspiring views, and new challenges each day. Make no mistake, this place has its pitfalls—winter can be brutal, summer hot and smoky, spring muddy and unpredictable, and fall nonexistent. But amid it all, there is a singular Montana splendor, and this guide will help you find it.

So, while you’re out there enjoying everything Bozeman has to offer, remind yourself of how lucky you are to have found this place. Endless opportunity awaits and all you have to do is reach out and grab it. Once again: welcome, and we hope to see you out there, reaching for fun and fulfillment in all directions. Good luck, and Godspeed.

 

The Bozeman Code

by Drew Pogge

Hey you!

Howdy. Welcome to town. Now that you’re here, it’s your responsibility to help us keep Bozeman the kind of place that attracted all of us here in the first place. There are plenty of examples of places that have been loved to death—please don’t Boulder-up our town. Here are a few things you should know about living here so it—and we—will survive.

#1: Slow it down. Everything. There’s no need for road rage or impatience at the coffee shop. We’re all headed in the same direction and you’ll get there when you get there. A relaxed Montana mosey is a benefit of living here—don’t be an uptight ass.

#2: Lend a hand. Forget the East Coast “What’s in it for me?” attitude. Here, we look out for one another. Hold that door, let that car into traffic, and if someone looks like they need help, ask. The next time you’re stuck in a ditch, we’ll surely return the favor.

#3: Buy local. For the love of all that is good and sweet and dear, don’t let Bozeman become like Colorado’s Front Range chain-store purgatory. Just because we have an Olive Garden doesn’t mean you should eat there. And shop local—Amazon should be a last resort.

#4: Don’t be a cliché or try to play a role. Just because you live in Montana doesn’t make you a cowboy or a Patagonia fashion model. We like you just the way you are, so have fun and forget the BS Bozeman “image.”

#5: Get yourself some outdoor education. Before you can become a verifiable badass skier, climber, paddler, hunter, or angler, you need to know how to handle yourself in an emergency. Take a Wilderness First Aid class and an avalanche course, hire a guide for a day or two, and apprentice with some experienced friends. Trial and error is for cooking, not outdoor survival.

#6: Don’t become a snob. Yes, Bozeman is incredibly awesome, but the rest of Montana is pretty amazing too. No one likes arrogance or entitlement—least of all people who live in “real” Montana. Step outside the Bozeman bubble when you get the chance.

#7: Learn about the history of this valley and its residents. More genuine badasses have graced these forests and canyons than almost anywhere else, from Jim Bridger and John Colter to Jack Tackle and Alex Lowe. Know who they are and emulate them.

#8: Try something new every season. Hunt, fish, climb, bike, ski, ride—there’s always a new challenge.

#9: Work harder than you play. But play pretty damn hard.

#10: Enjoy every day. This is a place you’ll always remember, even if you decide the winters are too cold and you go back to California. Make the most of your time here, be it five months or 50 years.

Town Trails

by the editors

Around Bozeman, trailheads are everywhere—but did you know that dozens of trails run right through town? They’re part of the Main Street to the Mountains trail system, and you can hop on these- in-town trails nearly anywhere. Whether you’re sneaking in a mid-day run or a half-day biking excursion, here are a few options to consider.

The Gallagator
This trail connects Bogert Park and Peets Hill to the MSU campus on the south end of town. It follows Bozeman Creek for much of its length, passing the Langhor gardens and climbing boulder along the way. Numerous access points exist along the length of this trail; the main one is at the base of Peets Hill.

Peets Hill
If you’re on a quick jaunt or dog-walk on the Gallagator, be sure check out Peets Hill. It’s not only a popular spot to gaze out over the valley, but offers sledding in the winter and picture-perfect sunsets year-round. Peets Hill also makes a great jumping-off point, as it connects to Lindley Park and the Highland Glen trails.

Highland Glen
A newer addition to Bozeman’s trail system, Highland Glen Nature Preserve offers singletrack for bikers, runners, and dog-walkers alike. It has three access points: at the sports complex off Haggerty Ln., via Hyalite View Trail above the hospital, and near the Painted Hills trailhead off Kagy. These trails are groomed in the winter for cross-country skiing.

East Gallatin Rec Area
This easy trail meanders around Glen Lake and through thick forest along the East Gallatin River. This is the perfect spot for a quick mid-day lap or a leisurely day spent in the water and sun. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, amble over to Map Brewing for some grub and a growler.

Story Hills
The Story Hills rise moderately from the northeast corner of town. Though private, this property is open to the public during daylight hours. The sunny single-track is great for in-town biking, running, or dog-walking with nice views of the town and valley. It’s often busy, so hit it early in the morning or for a nice sunset stroll.

For longer outings, use the town trails to connect to these popular spots just outside city limits.

M Trail
At the mouth of Bridger Canyon is the landmark M, created by Montana State University students in 1915. There are two routes to the M from the trailhead. A steep, direct path branches right at the first junction, where an easier and longer ascent makes a hard left. This trail is very popular—the views of the Gallatin Valley are spectacular, and hikers use the trail as a lunchbreak loop or out-and-back.

Drinking Horse
Drinking Horse Mountain is the prominent hill across from the M. Its trail starts out meandering along the fish hatchery to a bridge over Bridger Creek, after which a junction presents two options. Going left puts you on a steeper ascent, with multiple switchbacks and plentiful shade. The path to the right is longer and more gradual, with open views of the Gallatin Range. Drinking Horse is a dog-friendly trail; however, keep in mind the high density of people and pups when deciding whether to let your dog off the leash. 

Triple Tree
Use the Painted Hills trail off Kagy to connect to Triple Tree, a shaded loop trail in the Gallatin foothills. The trail crosses Limestone Creek several times as it winds its way up to an overlook with gorgeous valley views.

Watchable Wildlife

by the editors

Animals of the Montana forests.

Montana is a wildlife hotbed. Unless you’re from the Serengeti, the wildlife-viewing opportunities around here probably surpass anything you’ve seen before. Any given hike can produce half a dozen megafauna sightings, and all the major species seen by Lewis and Clark are still around. Here are some of the usual suspects.

Deer
Hike, bike, run, or ride any mountain trail between Big Timber and Dillon, and you’ll likely see mule deer. Their ubiquity doesn’t make them any less impressive. These ungulates are built for mountain travel. Tell them apart from white-tailed deer by their black-tipped tails, donkey-like ears, and hopping gait. Whitetail tend to stick to the agricultural lowlands, and when spooked, their fluffy white tails flare straight up as they bound away.

Mule deer raise their heads from grazing.

Elk
While it’s rare to see elk on the trail, it does happen, especially if you hike in the sage-flecked meadows of Yellowstone Park. More likely, you’ll see huge herds on your way to and from the trailhead, often grouped on private land in the valleys, safe from hunters’ bullets. Dawn and dusk, fall, winter, and spring are the best times to spot elk, and Paradise and Madison valleys are both full of them.

A bull elk in velvet
Birds of Prey
Eagles, falcons, and hawks enliven Montana’s big, blue sky, and fall is an excellent time to observe them in huge numbers. Many hawk species migrate along the Bridger Range in October, so hike up to the ridge and bust out the binos. Along our many rivers and streams, look for bald eagles, a formerly endangered species that has made a huge comeback. Out in the open fields, hawks and falcons perch on power poles and fencelines, looking for rodents scurrying through the grass.
A common sight along Montana Rivers

Canines
Foxes and coyotes are fairly common sights around these parts. They’re similar in size, but the former’s bright-orange coat makes it unmistakable. While folks new to town might see coyotes as majestic wildlife, many locals see them as a nuisance. Still, watching one lope across an open field as the sun sets on the mountains is a sight to behold. Wolves are far less common, especially outside Yellowstone Park. Inside the Park, if your goal is to see Canis lupus, head in early and follow the naturalist tour-guide vans. The Lamar Valley is a good bet.

Jenny Golding

Small Mammals
Small critters get much less fanfare, but they’re worth mentioning. A few standouts are marmots, pikas, and gophers (aka, Richardson’s ground squirrels). Marmots are fairly common in the alpine, and you can find them by following their high-pitched chirps. Their call is a warning cry, and they’ll start screaming as soon as you’re on their radar. Pikas are far less common, and indeed, they’re in trouble, due to warming temps. They occupy large rock clusters and if you spot large splotches of white droppings, odds are a pika is inside. Gophers are the pigeons of southwest Montana. From spring through mid-summer, they’re everywhere and no local would fault you for picking off one or two with a pellet gun.

Small animal tracks through the snow.

Ursines & Felines
The “coolest” animals are usually the toothiest. Around here, that means bears, cougars, bobcats, and lynx. Our area has good populations of grizzly and black bears, but odds of seeing a grizzly are pretty low outside of Yellowstone. Black bears are far more common. Tell them apart by the shape of their faces and the telltale hump above the griz’s shoulder. Bobcats are also fairly common, but far stealthier than bears. For one, they’re much smaller—about the size of a medium-sized dog—and they tend to stalk their prey silently, whereas bears are primarily scavengers, wandering around from smell to smell in search of their next meal. Cougars and lynx are extremely hard to see in the wild. Their stealth is unrivaled in the animal kingdom, and if you see one, count yourself among the lucky few.

Up close and personal with a cougar.