Cue John Mellencamp’s “Small Town” and ease into a mountain adventure full of Lodgepole pine and Rocky Mountain juniper-studded trails, Western-style boutique shops flanking a quintessential Main Street, and a national park with large herds of bison and moose, packs of wolves, and both grizzly and black bears—all living within an active volcanic environment with hydrothermal geysers, hot springs, travertine terraces, fumaroles and mud pots.
Bozeman, Montana is the kind of town where craft brewing thrives, where you’ll see cowboys, college students, farmers, hippies, and hunters all bellying up to the same bar. Keep reading to learn about why this town is so indelible, and why you should visit when you feel safe to do so.
Yellowstone is a Dangerous Place
Inside of the current Yellowstone National Park newspaper visitor guide is a bright yellow insert that says, “Think Safety, Act Safely. Yellowstone is a Dangerous Place”. There’s a drawing of a bison goring and flipping a stick figure into the air to illustrate the caution. It’s true: visitors to the park have died or have been seriously injured by bison, as well as grizzly bears (although bears are rarer). Burns, falls, and drownings have also been the fate for many sightseers. Heed the warnings—be bear aware, give bison a wide berth, and stay on designated trails and boardwalks—and visit this multi-hued playground out west.
Good to Know: Hot springs, of various depths, colors, and viscosities, are the most prevalent hydrothermal features in the park. Mudpots, acidic and gurgling, are a crowd favorite. The highest temperature ratings are awarded to fumaroles, which can be seen undoubtedly in the cooler months. The Old Faithful geyser, also called “Eternity’s Time Piece”, is one of 500 geysers in the park, erupting about every 98 minutes.
Pro Tip: The best time to experience the grand landscapes, wildlife, and history in America’s first national park is in the shoulder and off seasons, outside of July and August.
The Best Hikes Close to Downtown Bozeman
Wide open spaces and fresh air draw many visitors to Bozeman and there’s no better way to experience big sky country than to go for a hike—no matter the season. You’ll see plenty of adorable dogs running ahead of their owners, tongues flopping out of the sides of their mouths. Over 80 miles of trails are a part of the trail system Main Street to the Mountains.
Drinking Horse Mountain Trail: This hike is right across from the popular “M” trail, making it a great insider-y option, located just under five miles from downtown. This 2.2 mile loop trail is perfect for a short trail run or for getting out with littles in tow.
“M” Trail: For picture-perfect Gallatin Valley views, choose the “M” trail, a short 1.7 mile loop with a moderate trail that zig zags up the side of the mountain as well as a more direct one that climbs 850 feet more expressly.
Baldy Peak Summit: Go further from the “M” trail and hike to the Baldy Peak Summit, in the Bridger mountain range, which is 10.9 out-and-back miles and will likely take you most of the day.
Gallagator Trail: This is an easy 2.2 mile out-and-back urban trail that connects the Museum of the Rockies (a must-visit paleontology museum) to downtown, ending at Lindley Park, where another trail will take you to the top of Peet’s Hill (a great spot to watch the sunset or go sledding in the winter).
Good to Know: Other great trails, inside and just outside of Bozeman, include: Hyalite Creek Trail, Sourdough Trail, Sypes Canyon Trail, Middle Cottonwood Creek, Palisade Falls, Grotto Falls, Emerald Lake, Bozeman Creek Trail, Lava Lake Trail, and Painted Hills Trail.
Pro Tip: Make sure you bring plenty of water with you as well as sun protection, layers if necessary, and healthy snacks. The elevation of Bozeman sits between 4,600 and 5,000 feet elevation, depending on where you’re at in the valley, and the surrounding six mountain ranges have numerous peaks over 9,000 feet. Plan accordingly.
A great way to start your trip research is by reading the local magazines and papers, fueled with some local coffee—Treeline Coffee Roasters’ “Outdoors (Wo)man” is a solid pick, to get an insight into how locals live and play in Bozeman. Edible Bozeman highlights the stories of local chefs, farmers, food writers and business proprietors. Big Sky Journal, a culture and lifestyle publication, has a cornucopia of beautiful photographs and eye-catching covers. Outside Bozeman is essential for planning outdoor adventures—from what gear to buy to maps to what the local ski, trail, and hunting conditions are.
Good to Know: Other key magazines include Montana Quarterly, Distinctly Montana, and Mountain Outlaw.
Rest Your Head
Bozeman is one of the fastest growing towns out west and the street with the most action, it would appear, is Mendenhall Street where brand-new hotels are being built close to downtown.
In 1941, the Armory, which housed the 163rd Infantry Regiment of the Montana National Guard during WWII, was built at two-stories tall. Now, in the same location, with the Armory façade, sits the tallest building downtown: the Kimpton Armory Hotel, Bozeman’s first and only four-star hotel.
From the olive window dressings throughout the hotel to the existing Armory building’s concrete walls outside of the conference rooms to little plastic green army men toys in each room, nods to a bygone era exist.
Fielding’s, the chic restaurant that serves American regional cuisine, was named after Fred Fielding Willson—the architect of the original Armory building, as well as dozens of other buildings in Bozeman that are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places (Bozeman Sheet Metal Works, Coca-Cola Bottling Plant, Bozeman YMCA, Emerson School, Gallatin County Court House, Hotel Baxter, and more).
Visit the basement bar, Tune Up, and gawk at art that decorates the original band room of the Armory. Acquired in acquisitions, a horizontal red, white, gold, and navy metal sign, which reads “163 Armored Calvary Regiment. Motto: Men, do your duty. Montana Army National Guard”, adorns the wall. These are the things you want to see when an upscale new hotel is built in a mountain town out west.
And, posh it is. The Kimpton Armory Hotel has a gorgeous rooftop Sky Shed, which offers views of Bozeman’s mountain ranges and downtown, sheltered in glass to buffer you from the elements. From a comfy seat at the fire pit, you can see the Art Deco Hotel Baxter, which was built in 1929. The 32-foot red electric sign on top of the building is as iconic to Bozeman as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris or the Burj Khalifa is to Dubai or the Colosseum is to Rome.
Good to Know: The creative works throughout the hotel are a highlight of the experience. See a black and white image of the Ladies Imperial Band in the Tune Up bar, one-of-a-kind multi-hued chandeliers in the Armory Music Hall, local cowboy art in the conference rooms, a Yellowstone National Park landscape and shelves lined with hard-covered books in the lobby, and Bozeman-centric paintings in Fielding’s.
Pro Tip: The best part of Kimpton is the consistency across the brand. Even though you’ll experience something unique to the destination—design touches, nods to history and place—you can expect certain standards like complimentary tea and coffee in the lobby, nightly hosted wine and/or beer hour, the availability of work out equipment and yoga mats, and the welcoming atmosphere for pets.
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