Category Archives: Outdoors

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.

Watchable Wildlife

by the editors

Animals of the Montana forests.

If you haven’t noticed, Montana is a wildlife hotbed. Unless you’re from the Serengeti, the opportunity for animal encounters likely rivals anywhere you’ve been 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.

Extra Credit

While skiing may be the crowd favorite of Bozeman’s winter scene, it’s not all the area has to offer. There’s a variety of wintertime activities to partake in, no matter your inclination or experience. Here’s a partial list of alternative cold-weather activities.

Sledding
Sledding-IslaFriebe_LR

Tearing down a hill on a sled isn’t just for kids—it’s quite the thrill for anyone with a pulse. Throw in affordability, and an afternoon of sledding becomes an even more attractive pastime. Bozeman has a number of popular sledding spots, including the Snowfill Recreation Area, Peets Hill, and the Langohr Campground up Hyalite. Outside of town, suitable slopes rise in all directions. If regular sledding seems too mundane, you can always step it up a notch and go Clark Griswold–style, hitting light-speed on a greased trashcan lid.

Want to show off your sledding skills? Head to Red Lodge Winter Carnival in March. Construct a sled made only of cardboard, tape, and glue, and race down the slopes for glory.

Snowshoeing
Snowshoeing, Yellowstone National Park

If you can walk, chances are you can snowshoe—and have fun doing it. To get started, just pick a trailhead and go. Once you’ve got your balance, veer off-trail to find y

our own path, enjoying the quiet solitude of the winter woods. A beginner snowshoeing setup (shoes, poles) runs about $200 brand-new; if you’re on a budget, pick up a pair of hand-me-downs and use your ski poles.

Once you’ve got your technique down, grab your furry four-legged friend and join Heart of the Valley Animal Shelter for the Snowshoe Shuffle, a torch-lit group snowshoe and raffle with all proceeds benefitting the shelter.

Snowmobiling
Cooke City April 2017

With the power of a snowmobile underneath you, there’s a lot you can see. Whether you’re flying around West Yellowstone, Big Sky, Paradise Valley, Cooke City, or Island Park, you’ll have incredible access to some beautiful, remote places without having to work for it—and you’ll get a pretty killer adrenaline rush, too. Most places that rent snowmobiles have snowsuits, helmets, and other required accessories.

To expand your snowmobiling knowledge and explore deeper into the backcountry, take a snowmobile-specific avalanche-education course. Riders trigger almost as many slides as skiers, and it’s just as dangerous—don’t put yourselves or others at risk.

Skating
Every winter, three outdoor ice rinks pop up at Bozeman parks: Bogert, Southside, and Beall. Once the ice has set up for the season—normally in late December—the rinks stay open until 10pm every day. Southside and Bogert have warming huts for a cozy cup of hot chocolate, as well as a comfortable place to put on and take off your skates. Additional skating can be had at the Haynes Pavilion, home of the local hockey league; they rent skates for $5, plus a $5 entry fee.

If you like hockey, or want to give it a try, register for the Hocktober Scramble at the Haynes Pavilion. This fun series gives players of all levels the chance to test their skills—and have a blast doing it—in competitive pickup games.

Ice Climbing
ChrisEbeling-IceClimbing2

If you’re new to mountain country, it may seem that ice climbing is for hardened experts and crazed adrenaline junkies. But in the last few decades, ascending giant icicles has become a pastime almost anyone can enjoy. Whether you have some climbing experience already, or have only ever summited a ladder, you too can tool up and tackle the ice. Mix in a few hot-cocoa breaks and a knowledgeable friend to show you the ropes, and your once-intimidating adventure becomes both pleasant and safe. You don’t need to go far, either. Some of the world’s best ice is right down the road in Hyalite Canyon. As with other climbing equipment, avoid buying used gear from pawn shops or Craigslist. Instead, borrow from friends, rent, or invest in a setup of your own.

This one’s a no-brainer: attend the Bozeman Ice Fest! Every winter (except this one), climbing enthusiasts from all over the world flock to Hyalite to celebrate the sport. There’ll be gear demos, clinics, and tons of resources to help you learn and grow, not to mention meet some pretty cool folks.