Mad Pow Disease

by Corey Hockett

It’s no secret—at least not anymore—that Bozeman is a fine place to ski. Very fine in fact—two resorts are within an hour’s drive, and four more sit within striking distance for a day trip. Numerous mountain ranges surround the Gallatin Valley, each one holding excellent terrain for all levels of snow-slayer. So whether you’re grabbing laps at Bridger before work or bagging big lines in the Beartooths on a multi-day expedition, winter in Bozeman means skiing and snowboarding. Grab your sticks. You’ve come to the right place.

Gear
As with most outdoor activities, skiing demands a load of gear—some of which isn’t all that necessary. But other items are downright essential. So let’s start from scratch. What does it take to ski or board? First, you need the planks themselves, bindings to slap on top of them, and a pair of boots to connect you to the apparatus.

When it comes to skis and boards, the variety can be overwhelming. My advice for those starting out is to not take it too seriously. Get a size that fits you. If you’re unsure of what that means, consult your friends or the ski shop.

Boots are a bit more intricate, and a piece of gear not worth skimping on. Weight, stiffness, breathability, and comfort are all things you’re going to want to consider, and they will all differ based on your ability and the type of terrain you’re skiing.

Bindings are the same way; though if this is your first pair, don’t spend your next month’s rent on something you “hope will work out.” Play the field first. Rent from the ski hill, try your buddy’s setup, buy a cheap pair at the second-hand store. Learn how different bindings react to your movements, then loosen the purse strings.

If your heart lies in backcountry exploration, of which options are many, you’re going to need to add quite a few items to that gear list, the first of which is an avalanche course (see p. 28). Sign up and take it seriously. It may cost a couple hundred bucks, but the lessons are worth your life.

Other items necessary for backcountry travel are a shovel, beacon, and probe. Assuming you won’t be snowshoeing, you’ll need some skins as well. And if you’re serious about this, your choice of boots and bindings will reflect that. Lightweight boots with a walk mode are worth their weight in gold, and AT bindings will allow you to transition between uphill and downhill travel. Knuckle-draggers should check out Spark R&D splitboard bindings; the company is based right here in Bozeman.

As far as cold-weather clothing goes, layers are your friend. Have a couple layers, a puffy, extra gloves, and a shell. Carry a neck gaiter and goggles for the way down, and as Mama told you, “Don’t forget your helmet!”

Where to Go
Need we even mention this category? I mean, you’re here, aren’t you? You must know about the iconic Bridger Ridge and the tram at Big Sky. Within 60 minutes of town lies the best in-bound terrain Montana has to offer. Go there, friend, and if you’re yearning for more beta, know that you’ll have to find it for yourself.

Outside of Bozeman’s immediate area are plenty of mom-and-pop hills to put on the list. Discovery, outside of Butte, is a perfect weekend trip with terrain for all levels. Other mentionable ski areas are Maverick near Dillon and Red Lodge Ski Hill west of, yes, Red Lodge. Grand Targhee is also three hours away for those looking for more of a road trip.

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.

Winter Watch-Outs

by Jack Taylor

Winter in Montana is magical. Our landscape takes on a beautiful frozen stillness that beckons us to venture out among frosty firs, blanketed meadows, and frozen waterfalls. Even as temperatures plunge below zero, we catch glimpses of wildlife adapted to survive in the snowglobe. But as humans, we’re not so adept at enduring the cold. We depend on warm clothing, heating, and shelter to make it through. The margin for error in the outdoors is thinner during winter, and a mishap can 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. If you must go without, 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. If you have a front- or four-wheel drive car, put them on the front tires; if rear-wheel, put them on the back. 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 jackets (or even a sleeping bag) in case you get stuck for a long time.

Extra warm layers are also essential when venturing away from your vehicle. A good rule of thumb is to bring one layer more than you think you’ll need—better safe than sorry. When planning your layering scheme, start with a moisture-wicking baselayer made of synthetic fibers or wool. Never wear cotton for warmth in winter; if it gets wet, it won’t dry out until you’re back in a warm environment. Fleece makes a great midlayer for top and bottom, and the same rule applies for materials. A waterproof shell usually isn’t necessary given the dryness of our winters, but a windbreaker 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.

Summer Scaries

by Corey Hockett

In Montana, summer is about as splendid as it gets—hot enough to make jumping into the river feel refreshing, and cool enough to fall asleep at night. The mountains and water call us to the backcountry, and it’s a wonderful time to answer. But heading out half-cocked isn’t a good idea. Weather can turn quickly here, 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.

Bozeman isn’t the hottest place on the planet, but the past few summers have been scorchers. Dehydration and heat stroke should be considered on most outings. If you’re going out for more than half a day, have a plan for water, both for drinking and cooling down. There are many creeks from which to fill your bottle (purification recommended) and dunk your head, but if you run out on a sun-baked ridge, don’t count on finding any until you hit the valley floor. I keep a full jug in the truck at all times.

If you do any fishing or wandering around river bottoms, keep an eye out for poison ivy. We have it here, and if you expose your skin to it, it will suck. 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, and no, I’m not talking about that radio tower marring the view. Thunder and lightning storms are common. They usually arrive in the afternoon, but look for signs early, like shifting winds and cumulus cloud build-up. If you happen to 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 your head) until it passes.

If one of those bolts connects with dry fuel, say a dead tree, it oftentimes ignites. You’ve probably heard the news—come summertime, we get forest fires. Getting caught in one while you’re out and about is not a primary concern. Start one, however, and consider yourself pilloried, plus fines and potential jail time. 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.

 

Between the Leaves

by Jack Taylor

When I first landed in Bozeman, I had boundless ambition to get out and explore, but no idea where to go. The immense volume of trails, hills, and mountains had my head spinning—how could I choose from so many options? To get a better lay of the land, I took up a job with Bozeman Parks & Recreation as a camp counselor, and learned an invaluable lesson: one doesn’t even need to leave Bozeman’s city limits to have an awesome adventure.

Bozeman’s Parks & Recreation department manages 77 parks and 67 miles of trails spanning 900 acres within city limits. You could spend years exploring these spaces and still make new discoveries every day, from the vibrant flowers of Langhor Gardens to the riffled streams of Story Mill Park and the beautiful winding trails linking it all together. With a dozen amped-up, curious kids in tow, I set off on a new journey every day. It wasn’t about logging miles or bagging peaks; it was about how much we could discover just by looking around. We built stick forts in the woods of Glen Lake Park, caught bluegill from the shores of Bozeman Pond, told ghost stories in the rain at Lindley Pavilion, and scaled climbing boulders all across town. I still go back to these places and let my imagination wander—it’s a way to relax, reflect, and draw inspiration, even if I just have an hour or less to get outside on a busy day.

In addition to self-led discovery of Bozeman’s outdoor spaces, Parks & Rec offers year-round activity programs for adults and kids alike. You can learn to swing dance or jam with musicians at Story Mansion, join organized leagues for badminton and pickleball, learn new skills like archery and ice skating, and even take free avalanche-awareness classes. Many Parks & Rec facilities are rentable and make great locations for birthday parties, family functions, cult meetings—whatever you’re into. As a bonus, the rental fees are reduced for Bozeman residents.

You can learn more about what Bozeman’s parks have to offer at bozeman.net/parks. Here, you’ll find a detailed, interactive map of all the city parks and trails maintained by the Gallatin Valley Land Trust. But take my word for it: the real joy comes in exploring these spaces with little direction or agenda. Ditch your phone and leave the fancy gear at home. Ride your bike or take a stroll and you’re bound to stumble on a park or trail before too long, and here, your Bozeman adventure begins.

Deal Me In

by the editors

The true dirtbag ski/trout bums of Old Bozeman may be gone, but the spirit of spending every last dime on gear remains. Sure, some things are worth full price; but for others, it pays to shop smart. Here’s how to maximize enjoyment while minimizing cash outlay.

Coupons
First thing, start with this guide. Part of its purpose is to make life easier for newcomers to Bozeman’s outdoor scene, and one way we do that is by dedicating a large section to cash-saving coupons. Flip to the back, clip the coupons, save money—it’s that simple.

Sales
For straight-up retail shopping, hunt around for the big sales. Downtown Bozeman hosts summer and winter Crazy Days, a long weekend each season dedicated to inventory-liquidating sales along Main Street, including outdoor stores. Big holiday sales occur throughout the year, as well. To really save cash, buy gear post-season—for example, snagging new skis in the spring, when stores are trying to scuttle leftover winter gear, can mean up to 50% off.

Swaps
Another option is gear swaps. There’s a ski swap in November hosted by the Bridger Ski Foundation, a bike swap in spring put on by the Gallatin Valley Bicycle Club, and a boat swap in May at the Barn. All three swaps have huge inventories at massive discounts, and you can sell your used gear, too. Just make sure to show up early, ‘cause the best stuff goes fast.

Second-Hand
As one might expect, Bozeman’s pawn shops teem with used gear and apparel. There are even a few second-hand stores devoted entirely to outdoor equipment. Area thrift stores are loaded with hidden treasures, too. Spend some time perusing the inventory, and make it a habit to stop by different stores every so often—new goods arrive daily, and the best deals are all about timing.

Rentals
Sometimes gear is cost-prohibitive regardless of the price. Or maybe you’re not sure you’re going to like a new sport, in which case it pays to try before you buy. If you’re an MSU student or alumnus, hit the Outdoor Rec Center for the best prices. Otherwise, check out any of the half-dozen rental outfits around town, for everything from mountain bikes to whitewater rafts.

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.