14-20 points: Congratulations, you’re a Bozemanite! Now, the bad news: you’ll never be able to leave this awesome place, and for the rest of your life, envious house guests will take over your living room every summer and winter.
14-20 points: Congratulations, you’re a Bozemanite! Now, the bad news: you’ll never be able to leave this awesome place, and for the rest of your life, envious house guests will take over your living room every summer and winter.
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; a committing excursion deep in the backcountry or a casual float after work; in Bozeman, there are paddling opportunities galore.
Come summertime, nothing beats shedding the shirt and floating down a river, relaxed as can be. Maybe you want to cast a fly or lure, or maybe you just want to sit back, have a few laughs, and enjoy a cold one or three. Regardless, the carefree floater enjoys plenty of options.
The Madison is most notably known for its trout fishing or rowdy whitewater in Bear Trap Canyon, but further downstream the river mellows into a meandering channel before meeting up with the Gallatin and Jefferson to form the Missouri. If you’re looking for calm water on the Madison, check out the stretch between I-90 and the Headwaters. Mind you, most of the surrounding land is private, so stay within the high-water mark.
Another peaceful waterway is the Jefferson—you won’t find anything but flat water. There are a number of stretches popular with paddleboards, inner tubes, and rafts. Our favorite is Sappington Bridge to Williams Bridge.
At the top of the list is one of Bozeman’s most famous chill floats: the renowned Bikini Hatch on the Madison. This lies between Warm Springs and Black’s Ford, near the town of Norris. Over July and August, thousands of folks tie together inflatables and caravan to the takeout. Enjoy the water and company, but find yourself a designated driver ahead of time, as with the rest of these floats.
Whitewater comes at many levels and consistencies, and if you’re learning a new craft, or don’t want to soil your wetsuit, it’s nice to have some boogie water to play in. Lucky for you, there’s no shortage ‘round here. Check out these spots when you’re feeling a little spicy, but want to keep it within reason.
Over in Paradise Valley, the Yellowstone is a lively river with sections ranging from Class I-IV, depending on levels. The Gardiner Town Stretch between downtown and Corwin Springs is an excellent intermediate run. While nothing too serious, the waves are consistent and playful. Further downstream, east of Livingston, you’ll find more of the same, albeit bigger water and less regular. Between Springdale and Greycliff, there are a number of places to put in and take out, and each comes with its own set of intermittent rapids. For surfers and advanced kayakers, the Springdale wave offers supreme surfing at higher flows.
For some smaller water, but just as bumpy of a ride, the Gallatin between Deer Creek and the Lava Lake trailhead is a zone to relish. In this 10-mile section, there are over six Class II/III wave trains. This is a popular stretch among rafters, advanced canoeists, and intermediate kayakers.
If you boat long enough and enjoy provoking your adrenal gland every now and again, big whitewater is sure to scratch your itch. Around Bozeman, there are three fabled runs that are proper Class IV during high water. While each is different in its own way, enter any one of them underprepared and you will come out humbled—or not at all.
The first is Yankee Jim Canyon on the Yellowstone. This four-mile section contains three burly rapids that have flipped rafts, swallowed kayaks, and sent many folks on long, cold swims. At flows over 15,000 cfs, expect big laterals, haystack waves, and swirly eddy lines.
The second is close to home and Bozeman’s most popular after-work run: the Mad Mile. While most folks will link this up with a longer section of river up or downstream, the actual mile starts at the 35mph bridge (Lava Lake trailhead) and ends at the Upper Storm Castle turnout. Smaller and more technical than Yankee Jim, the Mad Mile will have kayakers bracing, rafters high-siding, and the unfit swimming.
Last but not least is perhaps Bozeman’s most treasured. Bear Trap Canyon below Ennis Dam on the Madison offers boaters a one-day Wilderness experience with excellent fishing and some stout whitewater to boot—none of which is more famous than the legendary Kitchen Sink. Put in just below the dam for Double Drop, the other Class IV, and take out at Warm Springs on Hwy. 84. While not the most direct shuttle, the remoteness of the river and quality of the paddling is well worth the longer drive.
With every activity comes a spread of accessories, some of them necessary, some of them not. Before even asking yourself which type of craft you’ll be using, acquire a life jacket. Even if you don’t plan on using one, Montana law mandates that you have one in possession. A PFD should be number-one on your checklist.
Then figure out how much time you’ll be spending on the water and in what form. If the answer is on a raft, infrequently, you might not need a lot. But if you’re looking to paddle whitewater multiple months of the year, your gear list is going to grow. Along with paddles or oars, helmets and throw bags should be next on the list. For smaller crafts such as kayaks and packrafts, consider getting a drysuit or dry top. It won’t feel good to spend the money, but staying warm in frigid waters is a beautiful thing. If you decide you’re really into it, look into getting some river booties for your feet and pogies (paddle gloves) for your hands.
As with all outdoor activities, there’s an etiquette to river life. One of the biggest things to remain conscious of is clogging up the boat ramp. On popular stretches, we can have dozens of boaters looking to put in at the same place on any given Saturday. If you have a larger craft (raft or driftboat), be efficient with your time on the ramp. Unload your vessel and get out of the way. Putting on sunscreen can wait.
On the water, be mindful of everyone else you may encounter. If you see someone wade-fishing downstream, do your best to stay out of his way. Unless there’s something to be avoided, like a strainer or a big hole, paddle or row to the other side of the river when you pass. As well, be cognizant of other watercraft not in your party, especially in or above rapids. If your group is traveling faster than another group downstream and passing them seems natural, that’s fine. But give a judicious berth or at least communicate, and definitely don’t surprise them in the middle of a rapid.
If something happens between you and another group that rubs you the wrong way, let it be known, but don’t get worked up about it. At the end of the day, we all share at least a little common ground—we all want to be on the water and we’re lucky enough to enjoy that water in Montana. With basic respect and communication, we can all get along just fine.
One of the best ways to get immersed in the world of paddling is to surround yourself with people who know best. Check out some or all of these events to meet, greet, and get out on the water with like-minded folk.
Gallatin Whitewater Festival – Bozeman. Head down Hwy. 191 for some of springtime’s finest action. Suit up and race for time over waves and through holes down the renowned Mad Mile. facebook.com.
Community Paddling Day – Bozeman. Meet like-minded folks of similar skillsets and paddle a section of choice down the Gallatin. wavetrainkayakteam.com.
Mondays & Wednesdays
Intermediate Classes – Bozeman. Join Wave Train Kayak to work on your bracing, edging, and dialing in your roll before amping it up on the big stuff. wavetrainkayakteam.com.
Tuesdays & Thursdays
Advanced Classes – Bozeman. Test your pucker factor with Wave Train Kayak through some of Bozeman’s testiest water. wavetrainkayakteam.com.
Editor’s note: Dates are subject to change based on weather and other factors. For the most updated information, visit outsidebozeman.com/events.
Bozeman is bustling with outdoor-goers, so it’s no surprise that the town teems with outdoor events. From festive races and athletic exhibitions to laid-back celebrations of the seasons, these gatherings truly bind our community together. Here are ten that you shouldn’t miss.
King & Queen of the Ridge – February
A classic mid-winter celebration of skiing: see how many times you can hike up the Ridge at Bridger Bowl. Whether you make two laps or 20, you’ll be part of the scene and raising money for our local avalanche center. bridgerbowl.com.
Run to the Pub – March
Whether you’re Irish or not, get in the St. Patty’s Day spirit with a green-themed 10k or half-marathon, starting and ending at Pub 317 on Main Street. Yes, of course there’ll be beer at the finish line—you don’t have to ask. runtothepub.com.
Gallatin Whitewater Festival – June
Head up the Gally to spectate—or participate in—several exciting paddling competitions for river people of all ages and experience levels, including slalom, downriver racing, and BoaterX. gallatinwhitewaterfestival.com.
Ennis Fourth of July Parade and Rodeo – July
Many a western town have festive celebrations for the Fourth of July, but Ennis tops the charts around here with its signature parade and rodeo. There’s a fireworks sale at Madison Foods as well, but don’t even think about it if fire restrictions are in place. ennischamber.com.
Music on Main – July-August
Everyone and their moms will be there—head downtown on Thursday evenings in the heat of summer for live music by local performers, food and attractions from local businesses, and—the best part of all—open-container waivers for local bars. downtownbozeman.com.
Sweet Pea Festival – August
Over 40 years running, Sweet Pea is an outdoor summer art festival dedicated to all forms of expression. You’re sure to find something that piques your interest—be it musical, theatrical, culinary, or even athletic. sweetpeafestival.org.
Bridger Raptor Festival – October
Every year, thousands of birds of prey migrate along the spine of the Bridger Range. After an opening ceremony and film in town, head to Bridger Bowl to learn all about this epic journey and see it in action. bridgerraptorfest.com.
Huffing for Stuffing – November
This is the largest race in Bozeman, attracting thousands of participants every year on Thanksgiving Day. Put on your best turkey costume and run off all those extra calories you’ll be gulping down later. All proceeds go to the Gallatin Valley Food Bank to help support those in need. huffingforstuffing.com.
Christmas Stroll – December
Folks come out of the woodwork for this annual event, held downtown on the first weekend in December. Mingle, sprinkle good cheer, and make sure to get some hot cocoa or soup—the stroll is notoriously frigid. downtownbozeman.org.
Bozeman Ice Festival – December
To kick off the tool-swinging season, climbers flock to Bozeman from all across the country to enjoy Hyalite’s spectacular icicles. Climbing clinics, multimedia presentations, gear demos, and a banquet dinner are all on the agenda. bozemanicefest.com.
by Jenny White
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 more 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 has 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 speed it up for a full-body cardio workout.
Where to Go
The Bridger Ski Foundation (BSF) grooms more than 40 miles 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).
Beginners often seek out the flatter trails of the Bridger Creek Golf Course, Gallatin Regional Park, or 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 or Moser Divide (each about 20 miles round-trip). 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 farther, more options unfold. Go west on I-90 for trails at Homestake Lodge, 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. And 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.
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 and Beehive Basin are popular crust-cruising destinations.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
Share the trail with all speeds and abilities. Yield, slow down, and give a friendly hello to make everyone feel welcome.
Know what type of trail you’re skiing and the rules for that location. Be aware of terrain, grooming equipment, and other trail users.
Bring your best self to the trail and spread the joy of skiing. Share your knowledge and help others.
Give back to the trails you ski. Volunteer. Donate to local trail organizations, clubs, and groomers.
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.
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.
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
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
Biathlon Races – Crosscut. Our backyard Nordic center hosts a series of fun community biathlon races throughout the winter. crosscutmt.org
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
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
Editor’s note: dates are subject to change. For the most updated information, visit outsidebozeman.com/events.
by the editors
Hope for the best, prepare for the worst—this saying applies whenever you’re getting out into the remote parts of southwest Montana, no matter what time of year. Even within a short distance of town, you can find yourself with no cell service and infrequent traffic. It could take a long time or a lot of effort to get help, so you’d best be prepared to help yourself out of a sticky situation.
During summer, the weather can turn quickly, and not every critter you run into is friendly (e.g., griz and mama moose). Just because the sun’s shining doesn’t mean you needn’t take precautions. Dehydration should be considered on most outings. If you’re going out for more than half a day, have a plan for drinking water and cooling down. Most major drainages have creeks where you can fill your bottle (purification recommended) and dunk your head, but lots of them dry up in the summertime. If you run out on a sun-baked ridge, don’t count on finding any moisture until you hit the valley floor. It’s a good idea to keep a full jug in your car.
If you do any fishing or wandering around river bottoms, keep an eye out for poison ivy. Learn how to identify the plant and areas where it’s likely to grow. In general, you can’t go wrong with the old adage: leaves of three, let it be.
Up in the high country, your main watch-out is electricity. Thunder and lightning storms are common. They usually arrive in the afternoon, but look for signs early, like shifting winds and the build-up of cumulus clouds. If you do get caught in a storm, move to lower ground, take off all metal objects (watches, belts, keys), and assume lightning position (squat with hands behind head) until it passes.
Forest fires are also an issue in the summer. Getting caught in one is not a primary concern, but starting one will lead to fines and potential jail time—plus public shaming. There are often campfire mandates during the hotter months, but if you have one when permitted, make sure you keep it contained with a rock ring, monitor it constantly, and extinguish it completely. Many a smoldering cooking fire has led to a wildfire, with devastating consequences.
In the winter, the margin for error in the outdoors is even thinner, and a mishap could quickly turn dangerous if you’re not prepared. Before you take on the snowy roads, make sure your vehicle is capable. Snow tires are highly recommended and will make your life easier—and safer—all winter long. Yes, it’s a big investment, but with two sets of tires for summer and winter, each will last twice as long. Regardless of tire type, a set of chains in your car will get you out of a pickle. Make sure they fit your tires, and practice installing them so that you can do it quickly when the time comes. A few more items to keep in your car include a shovel for digging yourself out, jumper cables in case your battery dies, and gloves plus warm clothing (or even a sleeping bag) in case you get stuck for a long time.
Extra layers are also essential when venturing away from your vehicle. A good rule of thumb is to bring one garment more than you think you’ll need—better safe than sorry. When planning your layering scheme, start with a moisture-wicking baselayer made of polyester or wool. Avoid cotton for warmth in winter; if it gets wet, it won’t dry until you’re back in a warm environment. Fleece and wool make great midlayers for top and bottom. A windbreaker or hardshell jacket will add protection without taking up much space in your pack. On top of that, an insulated jacket with synthetic or down fill gives you lots of warmth with little extra weight to carry. Down has a better warmth-to-weight ratio, but like cotton, it will not dry in the cold, so synthetic is always a safer bet.
Lastly, always keep a first-aid kit and firestarter handy, in both car and backpack. If you get lost or hurt, treating wounds and staying warm are your most immediate and important concerns. A simple emergency kit—and a cool head—will prevent more calamities than any other precaution.
by David Tucker
Picture this: you and a couple of friends have been touring all morning, leisurely approaching your objective as the sun swings around the southern sky. You checked the report and conditions are moderately dangerous, but the terrain you’ve selected is relatively low-angle, so you and your partners decide the coast is clear, full steam ahead.
Once your team is above the bowl you plan to ski, and ready to drop in, everyone double-checks gear and confirms one final time that the slope is good to go. The gentleman you are, you let a friend drop in first.
And then the slope slides.
Your team is experienced and prepared, so everyone switches quickly into rescue mode. Once you pick up a signal from your buried partner, you hone in on her location. But you got a new beacon for Christmas and haven’t taken the time to learn its ins and outs. You’re now useless. I’ll dig, you think, but your shovel is old and the handle sticks, meaning it’s half as long as it should be and inefficient. As a last resort, you reach into your pack for your probe. But you’re carrying more gear than usual and with gloves on, have trouble removing your probe from your overstuffed pack.
Luckily, the rest of your team was on point. Your partner’s only partially buried, so she’s dug out and safe in a few short minutes—time to debrief. Even though you had all the gear, your lack of pre-trip preparation rendered it useless when the shit hit the fan. Here’s what you should have done.
Practice with New Gear
Or old gear, for that matter. If you upgrade your safety tools, make sure you know how to use them. There are great new options on the market today, but they only work as well as their rescuer. The more you know about your equipment, the better. The Gallatin national Forest Avalanche Center (GNFAC) buries beacons at Beall Park in Bozeman, and Bridger Bowl ski patrol does the same below the South Bowl. These are great resources to take advantage of. The next time you’re up at the hill, take an hour to practice using your equipment in zero-consequence terrain.
This goes for your shovel and probe as well. Even small changes in materials and design can confuse a new user, costing a buried victim precious seconds. New gear might have features your old stuff didn’t, and if you’re unfamiliar with them, you might be exposing partners to unnecessary risk. Practice, practice, practice.
Dial in Your Kit
This is important and usually overlooked. Even if you are familiar and well-versed in your gear, the way it is arranged in your pack might have consequences. For instance, I recently started taking more pictures in the backcountry, meaning I carry a camera and case now. This takes up a lot of space and impedes my ability to efficiently remove items from my pack. I was recently practicing with some new gear and removing my shovel and probe turned into a total junk-show. I got frustrated and lost focus. When you’re packing gear, make sure the rescue tools slide out easily and are at hand, not buried deep. Most packs have tool-specific pockets now, but even so, a tightly packed bag can make retrieval difficult. Run at-home tests before venturing into the backcountry.
Take a Course
Even if you have already. Do yourself a favor and take refreshers every winter. Even if you just stop by a free hour-long presentation, you’ll get new information and learn about current conditions. Protocols change, technology develops, and trends shift—stay up to date. GNFAC runs seminars all over town, and MSU hosts multi-day intro and advanced level courses for cheap. If you’re ready to take the next step, local guides like Montana Alpine Adventures and Beartooth Powder Guides have courses all winter long.
It’s never too early—nor late—to refresh skills, procedures, and education. We’ll be skiing well into May (hopefully), so you have more than enough time to get the experience you need to stay safe.
by Drew Pogge
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.
By Phil Knight
It’s finally summer in the Bozone—the perfect time to save up some cash, take a break from schoolwork, and most importantly, enjoy the outdoors and beautiful weather. Where to go when adventure is calling? If time is tight, stay close without compromising fun and adventure. Just 20 minutes from downtown Bozeman lies one of the world’s greatest multisport mountain playgrounds: Hyalite. In this wild canyon and the surrounding peaks, you can pretty much do it all.
This has long been the go-to place for locals seeking their mountain fix. But Hyalite has matured from a place to shoot old televisions, cut firewood, and get your truck stuck to a sophisticated adventure Mecca. Motorized recreation has been scaled back in favor of human-powered pursuits and wildlife conservation. The road up to Hyalite is paved, clean and right next to a stream great for fishing, making the way up to Hyalite an easy drive.
Hyalite’s trail system is legendary and offers anything from an easy stroll to weeklong expeditions through the heart of a 500,000-acre roadless area. Throw in heaps of spectacular waterfalls, like Grotto, Palisade, and Horsetail, and it’s hard to find more classic hikes. Epic mountain biking also awaits, with favorite rides including History Rock trail into South Cottonwood Canyon, the East Fork trail to Emerald Lake, and the easier West Shore Trail along Hyalite Reservoir.
Brim-full early in the summer, the reservoir is a paradise for boaters seeking still water. Stand-up paddleboarders look like lost surfers, families putt along in overloaded outboards bristling with fishing poles and dogs, and couples enjoying evening picnics paddle by canoe or kayak. Hardy scuba divers train in the chilly depths of the snowmelt-fed water and boaters jump ship to take a cool swim—just watch the sunken stumps. There’s great fishing year-round, and in winter, ice fishers set up shop on the frozen tabletop. More remote lakes beckon from the backcountry, offering awesome lakeside camping and fishing.
You want wildlife, Hyalite’s got it—even wolves and grizzly bears are making a comeback here in the north end of the Gallatin Range. Mountain goats and bighorn sheep skitter across ridge tops, golden eagles ride the thermals, moose lurk in the deep woods, and coyotes cruise for stray poodles.
Though Hyalite is close enough to Bozeman for great day tripping, you can also pitch your tent or park your camper at Langhor, Hood Creek, or Chisholm campgrounds. Or, if you prefer a fully equipped cabin, reserve the Window Rocks or Maxey cabins—both accessible by car.
Hyalite By the Numbers
9 forest service trailheads
500,000 roadless acres
2 vehicle accessible rental cabins
2 day-use areas, including a pavilion with fireplace and wood-fired grills
2 wheelchair-accessible trails (grotto falls and palisade falls)
1 trout-filled reservoir
1 trout-filled alpine lakes
2 trout-filled creeks
5 daily trout limit
40,000 monthly visitors during the summer
by the editors
A climbing adventure guide for the rookies and the vets.
Living in Bozeman, you’ve probably noticed that the Rocky Mountains are aptly named. Limestone, sandstone, granite, gneiss—we’ve got rocks galore, and that means tons of climbing opportunities await. Getting vertical is in our DNA here, so whether you’re new to the sport, or a veteran looking to tick off the classics, read on for a primer on where to go, what to bring, and how to learn to climb safer and harder.
Check out Spire Climbing Center to pick up essential gear locally. A 60-meter rope is sufficient for most Bozeman-area climbs, though longer routes are going up in places like Wolverine Bowl, where a 70-meter rope may become handier. And dust off those tricams—they can be super helpful for protecting pocketed limestone routes, of which there are many.
If you’re just getting started, take a lesson or attend a clinic at Spire—the good folks there will help you select the appropriate shoes, harness, and belay device to get you climbing quickly and safely. Do NOT buy used climbing gear at pawn shops or on Craigslist—it’s beyond sketchy, as you never know what it’s been through. You can also check out the Outdoor Rec Center on campus for gear.
Right off Hwy. 191 near the 35mph bridge, Gallatin Canyon has dozens of routes and bouldering problems, great history, beautiful scenery, and easy access. The canyon is largely traditional climbing, but there is a smattering of bolted climbs as well. Many of the older routes are appropriately sandbagged, so climb with gusto. Skyline Arete (5.6, six pitches) is a classic crowd-pleaser, and shouldn’t be missed. Step up to the ultra-classic, perfect parallel cracks of Sparerib (5.8, two pitches), Diesel Driver (5.9) or virtually anything on Gallatin Tower (5.8-5.13 options).
Bozeman’s pet crag, Practice Rock, delivers a convenient pump after class or before work. Head up S. 19th, turn on Hyalite Canyon Rd. and continue for 3.1 miles. Park in the pullout on the right, and slog up the talus. Forgot your trad rack? Most of the routes can be top-roped by hiking around to the right; just use caution when doing so. Hundreds, maybe thousands of climbers have experienced their first climb or trad lead on routes like Strawberry Crack (5.7), Jerry’s Route (5.8+), and Rosebush Crack (5.9). Make sure to check out the splitter gear line of Theoretically (5.10c)—it’s a must-send.
If clipping bolts is your jam, head to Bozeman Pass. Limestone routes from 5.6-5.13 are clustered among fins and faces, with relatively quick and easy access off I-90 at Trail Creek Rd. You may also want to check out Bozeman’s coolest—both scenery-wise, and temperature-wise—sport-climbing crag at Wolverine Bowl, in the Bridgers. It’s a longer drive and about an hour-long hike to the base of the climbs, but the steep limestone has some of the best friction around, and route development has been progressing nicely here (though mostly at harder grades). Check out The Beat Connection (5.10b) and Hate Street Dialogue (5.11b) for sure.
Want to meet some new partners? Get together and spray with like-minded rock nerds? Drink beer and climb rocks? So do we. There are several events each year in southwest Montana that bring the climbing community together. Here are the highlights.
Tour de Hyalite – Hyalite Canyon. In September, competitors run 14 miles up to Hyalite Peak and back, then climb the five hardest routes they can at Practice Rock to reduce their time—the harder the routes, the faster your time! Details here.
September [Exact Dates TBD]
Butte Bouldering Bash – Butte. If cruxing out is more your style, check out the annual Butte Bouldering Bash in October. There’s a competition, raffle, food, and a LOT of awesome granite boulders. Check it out on Facebook here.
Full Gravity Day – Bozeman. Before getting lost in a sea of finals, solve some boulder problems at Spire. This is the largest bouldering event in the Northern Rockies, so even if you aren’t competing, it’s worth checking out for the scene. Take a look at last year’s finals here.
Bozeman Ice Festival – Bozeman. Trade chalk for ice axes, and shoes for crampons, at the 22nd annual Bozeman Ice Fest. Expect on-ice clinics in Hyalite, gear demos from industry leaders, an adventure film festival, and much more. Details here.
April [Exact Date TBD]
Spring Fling – Finally, kick off the spring climbing season at Spire, with their Spring Fling rope competition. There are adult and youth classes, and spandex is encouraged—it’s that kind of event. Details will be posted here when the date is announced. Meanwhile, get psyched watching 2017′s competition.
For an up-to-date list of events around town check out Outside Bozeman’s event calendar.
Looking to pick up a print copy of the Blue Light Guide? Here’s where you can find us:
Admissions/New Student Services
Office of Student Success
North and South Hedges
Outdoor Recreation Center
The Renee Library
The Outdoor Rec Center
Off Campus/Around Bozeman
Spire Climbing Center
International Coffee Traders
Town & Country