Tag Archives: safety

Reading List

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 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:

  • The Last Best Trails: Montana (SINTR, $30)
  • 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)
  • Stalk: Hunting 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 free digital version, go to gvlt.org/trails/trail-maps.) 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 any 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 stories. Our favorite all-around option is Bozeman Area Outdoor Recreation Map, which sells for $16. For general trip-planning throughout the state, pick up a copy of the DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer. For more detail, order zoomed-in, area -specific, waterproof maps from MyTopo, a custom-mapping outfit in Billings. A large-format wall map of southwest Montana from Basin and Range Mapping will help you see the big picture and make planning that much easier.

For hunter and anglers, there are three go-to apps you’ll want on your smartphone or GPS: Montana Fishing Access, Montana Hunting Access, and onWater. The first two are activity-specific and produced right here in Bozeman by Mountainworks Software; the latter is a leading map for fishing access, flows, and reports all in one place.

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, 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.

Nothing beats a well-stocked retailer for hands-on gear comparison, along with free advice from local professionals. Southwest Montana teams 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.

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.

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

Mule deer raise their heads from grazing.

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

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 bald eagle sitting atop its perch.

A common sight along Montana’s rivers.

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.

A fox looks back after trodding through the snow.

A red fox sizing up the risk.

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.

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 mountain lion.

Up close and personal with a cougar.