Category Archives: Outdoors

Study Up

by Jack Taylor

You’ve made it to Bozeman, and you’re ready to explore southwest Montana’s endless expanses. But where to go first? Start out by doing some research—it pays to have a plan for every excursion. Thankfully, you have a wealth of resources at your disposal to find the best trail, mountain, or stream for your next outing. Here are some of our top picks for getting the lay of the land.

Printed Guides
Nothing beats a quality, dedicated guidebook. Build a bookshelf collection for your favorite outdoor activities, and make sure these are included:

  • Day Hikes around Bozeman (Day Hikes Books, $16)
  • Southern Montana Singletrack (Beartooth Publishing, $30)
  • Bozeman Rock Climbs (High Gravity Press, $25)
  • Paddling Montana (Falcon Guides, $25)
  • Cast: Fishing Southwest Montana (Outside Media Group, free)
  • The House of Hyalite (Joe Josephson, $36)
  • Peaks and Couloirs of Southwest Montana (Chris Kussmaul, $45)

Printed Maps
Even in the age of digital everything, a good ol’ printed map is an invaluable resource. For close-to-home outings, start with the Gallatin Valley Land Trust’s map, which covers all the trails in and around Bozeman proper. It’s available from retailers around town for $3. (For a digital version, download one for free at gvlt.org/trails/trail-map.)

For Bozeman’s premier backyard playground, Hyalite Canyon, the nonprofit Friends of Hyalite makes a great fold-out recreation map in two versions: winter and summer. Pick one up around town for $5, or view it digitally at hyalite.org/recreation-maps.

Beartooth Publishing is our go-to for detailed topographic maps of southwest Montana, complete with roads, trails, and usage restrictions; order print copies from beartoothpublishing.com or find them in local stores. Our favorite all-around option is Bozeman Area Outdoor Recreation Map, which sells for $14.

For general trip planning throughout the state, pick up a copy of the DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer (DeLorme, $25). For more detail, order zoomed-in, area-specific, waterproof maps from MyTopo (mytopo.com), a custom-mapping outfit in Billings. A large-format wall map of southwest Montana from Basin and Range Mapping (basinandrangemap.com) will help you see the big picture and make planning that much easier.

Apps
For hunters and anglers, there are only three apps you need on your smartphone or GPS: Montana Fishing Access, Montana Hunting Access, and OnX Hunt. The first two are activity-specific and produced right here in Bozeman by Mountainworks Software (emountainworks.com); the latter is the leading map for property-ownership boundaries and is based in Missoula (onxmaps.com).

Websites
You’ll find plenty of information online to learn about local outdoor opportunities. For a collection of general resources, head to outsidebozeman.com and poke around—all day, if you’re not careful. Looking for specific trail descriptions? Check out outsidebozeman.com/trails, hike.wildmontana.org, gvlt.org/trails/featured-trails, or trailforks.com. For updates and news in the world of mountain biking, including suggested rides, take a look at southwestmontanamba.org. Climbers, head to swmontanaclimbers.org for access information and stewardship projects. If you’re heading for the rivers, check out waterdata.usgs.gov for water levels, bigskyfishing.com for angling info, and fwp.mt.gov for fishing regulations. In the winter, if you plan on heading into the backcountry, stay updated with avalanche forecasts from mtavalanche.com. For general tips & tricks regarding outdoor safety and skills, check out outsidebozeman.com/skills.

Stores
Nothing beats a well-stocked retailer for hands-on gear comparisons, along with free advice from local professionals. Southwest Montana teems with outdoor shops; stop in and hit ‘em up for tips and guidance. Just be sure to buy something while you’re there; Montanans are a friendly, helpful lot, but nobody likes a freeloader.

Skinny Skis

by Jenny White

Bozeman’s Nordic opportunities.

No one cares if you call it cross-country or Nordic skiing, but in these parts, once the snow flies, skinny skis become as commonplace as running shoes. Bozeman’s Nordic scene has a national reputation, and while you’ll likely see both former and aspiring Olympians and Paralympians on the trails, our tracks are filled with people of all ages and abilities. The motto here is to “keep the people skiing.”

In-town trails make it easy to sneak a ski into a busy day, even in the dark, and a short drive will bring you to dozens of mountainous experiences.

For newbies: rejoice that cross-country skiing has a relatively low cost to entry, made even better by free access on many of the local trails and the nonprofit status held by all of Bozeman’s ski organizations. Plus, it is a relatively easy learning curve, even if you’ve never been on skis. The best part: you can shuffle down the trail at an easy walking pace or you can speed it up for a full-body cardio workout.

Where to Go

The Bridger Ski Foundation (BSF) grooms more than 70 km of community Nordic trails in and around Bozeman that are free and open to the public (but the Bozeman way is to buy a voluntary trail pass from BSF in order to keep their donor-funded groomers running).

In town, BSF has a new snowmaking system on nearly 5 km at Sunset Hills, next to the hospital. Cross the road for nearly 10 km of rolling terrain at Highland Glen.

Beginners often seek out the flatter trails of the Bridger Creek Golf Course, Gallatin Regional Park, or a 1 km loop on the MSU campus.

Just outside of town, Sourdough Canyon is a mecca for skiers, dog walkers, and runners. While the lower miles are often a circus requiring excellent patience, those with endurance can find solitude and miles of groomed trail going all the way to Mystic Lake (20 miles round-trip) and the Moser pass. Hyalite boasts a massive network of both groomed and ungroomed trails, with the loops at the Blackmore trailhead being a favorite place to begin.

Up Bridger Canyon, a day (or season) pass grants you access to Crosscut Mountain Sports Center’s stunning 50 km of cross-country trails, including wide groomers and narrow-gauge trails. You can also explore dozens of ungroomed trails and Forest Service roads around Bozeman.

For those willing to drive longer, the options unfold. Go west on I-90 for trails at Homestake Lodge where you can find more than 35 groomed trails offering majestic views of the Tobacco Roots. Or, head south toward Big Sky for a day at Lone Mountain Ranch’s extensive network. Keep going to West Yellowstone to experience the Rendezvous Ski Trails, which attract skiers from across the country starting in November for early-season skiing. If you’re in the area, make sure to stop in at FreeHeel and Wheel, a top-notch ski shop that can service all of your Nordic needs and more.

If you’ve made it that far, we should mention that the Nordic skiing in Yellowstone National Park is spectacular. You can also enter the Park from the north via Gardiner and ski a groomed loop around the Mammoth Hot Springs terraces for some otherworldly scenery. Also in the area is the esteemed B Bar Ranch. Here, discover an intimate adventure—ski for the day and bed down for the night.

Come spring, there’s a little-known phenomenon called “crust cruising,” in which skate skiers set off across the cold-hardened, sun-crusted snowscape and cruise without a trail, often into remote areas. (The trick, of course, is to go early, so as not to get caught four miles from your car when the snow gets soft and you start to sink in.) Fawn Pass is a popular crust-cruising destination.

You’ll find many types of ski trails around here—some for skiers only, some that allow dogs, and some that allow multiple kinds of trail users. In Yellowstone Park, that may mean you’ll share the trail with a few post-holing bison. Know what kind of trail you’re on and the rules (and safety measures) for that location.

Learning

Good technique makes Nordic skiing infinitely easier and a whole lot more fun. You can find instruction (from a few hours to winter-long sessions) with several local groups: MSU Outdoor Recreation, Bridger Ski Foundation (BSF), Crosscut Mountain Sports Center, Montana Endurance Academy, Big Sky Ski Education Foundation, and Lone Mountain Ranch. If you want to combine shooting guns and skiing (a.k.a., biathlon), check out Crosscut’s biathlon programs.

Essential Gear

The most complicated thing about Nordic skiing is the equipment lingo. Sure, you only need boots, poles, and skis, but there are binding-compatibility issues, different ski types, and some confusing terms along the way. Lean on our local ski-shop staff to help you.

There are two types of Nordic skiing techniques; each involves a slightly different boot and ski. Most beginners start with classic skiing, which is a walking or running motion. Your skis either have scales or a grippy wax on the bottom giving you the ability to “kick” yourself forward. (This is your best option if you want to keep it mellow or explore ungroomed trails.) Some classic skis are designed mainly for groomed trails while other classic skis are wider, sometimes with metal edges, and best for ungroomed trails. Then there’s skate skiing, which uses the same motion as hockey skating. It’s faster, a bit addicting once you learn, and a great way to discover your max heart rate. You need groomed trails (or crust) to skate.

MSU Outdoor Recreation lends and rents skis to students. Arcs Ski and Bike is a great place to stop in town for gear and tunes. They specialize in high-end, race-ready equipment but can provide something for everyone looking to get out on the trail. The general public can rent or buy at Bangtail Ski & Bike, Chalet Sports, and Roundhouse Sports. Both Crosscut and Lone Mountain Ranch offer rentals at their ski centers. Used gear is also a great option. Shop the BSF Ski Swap on the first weekend of November for thousands of items, as well as Play It Again Sports and Second Wind.

For clothing, dress in layers. While the clothing you might wear on a winter run is mostly appropriate, temps drop quickly and windproof layers are your savior (especially on the downhills). If you’re headed out for a longer or more remote route, add proper safety equipment: food, water, warmer layers, a navigation device, and other backcountry essentials.

Etiquette
When using groomed trails, treat those corduroy surfaces as sacred snow that needs to be preserved: Keep footprints out of the trail (unless the trail allows foot traffic) and don’t track in mud. Around here, we use the Ski Kind principles (detailed below). It doesn’t matter who is speeding along, shuffling, or just learning to stay upright, sharing the trail is key.

Ski No Trace

Leave only tracks. Don’t leave poop (yours or your pup’s) or trash near the trail.

Ski Gracious
Share the trail with all speeds and abilities. Yield, slow down, and give a friendly hello to make everyone feel welcome.

Ski Aware
Know what type of trail you’re skiing and the rules for that location. Be aware of terrain, grooming equipment, and other trail users.

Ski Kind
Bring your best self to the trail and spread the joy of skiing. Share your knowledge and help others.

Ski Supportive
Give back to the trails you ski. Volunteer. Donate to local trail organizations, clubs, and groomers. The trails don’t groom themselves, someone has to do the work to make sure the roads are plowed and things are ready for the season. If you’re looking to give back, Friends of Hyalite is a great place to start.

Ski Safe
Technically, downhill skiers have the right of way, but they still need to think of other trail users as yield signs and slow down. Before you pass others, slow down and announce yourself. Give space. Use extra caution on blind corners and downhills.

Literature
The Last Best Ski MT offers a beautifully illustrated and informative look into the nearby skiing options. The book is only half the fun as videos and interviews can be found at the many QR codes throughout the book.

Events
You needn’t be an advanced skier or a speed demon to jump into the local scene around here. Here are a few of our favorite events.

Ongoing
Biathlon Races – Crosscut. Our backyard Nordic center hosts a series of fun community biathlon races throughout the winter. crosscutmt.org.

FUNSKI Community Series – Various locations. BSF hosts one race per month during the winter, usually on weeknights. Themes range from a Santa chase to a lively two-person relay. Costumes encouraged. bridgerskifoundation.org.

Clinics – Bozeman. BSF offers Nordic ski clinics throughout the winter, providing an easy way to drop in and learn a few ski tips. bridgerskifoundation.org.

January
Hyalite Tour – Hyalite. This isn’t a race, just a great day to go ski the trails in Hyalite with friends and finish with free food & hot cocoa. Pick your distance and trail. hyalite.org.

Snoflinga – Butte. This festive three-day event hosts free skiing and and snowshoe lessons along with a plethora of other activities. Sign up here.

Women’s Skate Clinic – Homestake Lodge. Incredible coaches and a fun atmosphere. Need we say more? homestakelodge.com/events.

February
Montana Cup Race, Homestake Hustle – Homestake Lodge. homestakelodge.com/events.

March
Yellowstone Rendezvous – West Yellowstone. A good portion of Bozeman heads to West Yellowstone each March for the final races of the season with a 2k, 5k, 10k, 25k, and 50k. skirunbikemt.com.

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.