Roam Guide / Bozeman, Montana
Kelly Moorman is the Content Manager for XY Planning Network (XYPN), which recently established its headquarters in Bozeman, MT. Though not a Montana native, she has proudly called the area home for nearly a decade. Having grown up in what she describes as a “storybook village” in upstate New York, she feels right at home in Bozeman, which is about as charming as cities come.
When it comes to best places to live, Bozeman consistently tops the charts. From endless outdoor recreation, to a bustling downtown, to a popular state university - there’s nothing this city lacks. It’s not surprising that year after year, people move here in droves. Yet despite its rapid growth (what was once a “town” is now technically a “city”), Bozeman manages to retain that charming, small town feel.
When to go?
Every season has its own highlights. Winter in Bozeman is a truly magical time of year that could convince even a snowbird to call off their annual migration to Florida. The "you have to ski it to believe it" powder conditions at Bridger are so famous the resort has earned its own catchphrase: “Ski the Coldsmoke.”
If you’re an avid hiker and are hoping to bag some peaks on your visit, late summer is your best bet as you’re less likely to run into snow in the mountains. Montana summers are short, but magical with warm yet comfortable temperatures and long hours of daylight that make it the perfect season for outdoor adventure.
You could visit Bozeman any time of the year and make a fantastic trip of it, but my favorite season is fall. And that’s coming from someone who grew up with the breathtaking autumns of upstate New York. While most people think of spring as a time of renewal, Bozeman comes alive in a new way in the fall as college students return for the start of school, infusing the city with a different energy and a lot of new faces. There’s a crispness in the air that bids adieu to the dry heat of the summer and hints at the much colder temperatures to come.
“Fall is arguably the shortest season in Bozeman, in a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ kind of way, which makes me appreciate it all the more."
How to get there?
The Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN) is located in the neighboring town of Belgrade, which is about 20 minutes from downtown Bozeman. There are over 15 direct flights, including Minneapolis, Chicago and now Detroit. From there, you’ll travel by horse. I’m kidding of course. Uber finally made its way to Bozeman in 2016 and is a solid option. There are also taxis and hotel shuttles. The ride from the airport to downtown Bozeman is short and scenic, offering lovely views of the surrounding mountain ranges (there are many), especially the Bridgers.
Where should we stay?
I recommend staying right in the heart of Bozeman: downtown. Downtown parking can be a bit of a nightmare, but luckily, most everything is within walking distance. As far as lodging, there are plenty of hotel options in the downtown area, but people—my long-distance coworkers especially—consistently rave about the Element. It’s a modern, centrally located hotel that is a unique juxtaposition of contemporary and rustic. The upper floors offer fantastic views of the Bridger Mountains, and you can’t beat the location, or the fantastic complimentary breakfast. There’s even an airport shuttle to boot. If you would prefer the comforts of home, there are plenty of vrbo properties to rent in and around the city and ski resorts.
Rtip: A unique addition to Bozeman, the RSVP Motel, has been meticulously resurrected into a gorgeous boutique property with a pool and on-site cafe.
In the Winter, Lone Mountain Ranch is in a league all its own. In fact, it has even been designated one of the “Unique Lodges of the World” by National Geographic. Here, you can ski over 80 miles of world-class Nordic trails. Step off the trails and straight into a fairytale with Lone Mountain Ranch’s “Sleigh and Stay,” which is a must if you’ve ever dreamed of a horse-drawn sleigh ride through a winter wonderland.
Enjoy an “Is this real life?” moment as your sleigh meanders through the woods to a cozy, lantern-lit wood cabin where you’ll delight in a drool-worthy meal accompanied by live acoustic folk music.
What should we do?
Roam - Spend a day exploring the historic downtown. While it may not be “big” by city standards, there are a ton of things to do and see. Downtown Bozeman boasts an impressive number of boutiques and unique retail shops, coffee shops and teahouses, restaurants, art galleries, breweries, and even a cider house, two wine bars, and a distillery, all within a stone’s throw. If you’re lucky, there might even be a show playing at the newly restored Rialto or at The Ellen Theatre.
If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, take a “hike” (more like a steep walk) to “Peets Hill,” as it’s known to locals, the 45-acre park that overlooks the city. I especially recommend trying to catch the sunset atop the hill. It truly is remarkable.
Hike -If you have access to a vehicle, the 30-minute drive to Hyalite Reservoir is well worth it. This is a beloved recreation spot for locals and visitors alike, with stunning views and plenty of trails, a couple of which lead to waterfalls. Palisade Falls is a real treat and very doable even for the most inexperienced hikers. You can even cool off from your hike with a dip in the reservoir. And a post about Bozeman wouldn't be complete without mentioning the "M" trail. One glance at the Bridger Mountains and you'll see what I'm talking about. The landmark “M”, which is a literal M made out of white painted rocks, was created by Montana State University students in 1915. There are two ways to get to the top of the trail: a path that's short, steep, and straight up, or one with a few more switchbacks to lessen the intensity.
Alpine Ski - Bozeman is well-known among outdoor enthusiasts as a winter playground of epic proportions. For starters, there are two world-class ski resorts—Bridger Bowl Ski Area and Big Sky Resort, both within an hour’s drive of the city. Bridger Bowl is considered the local’s ski hill, with technical terrain that can keep even the most advanced skiers entertained. If you’re chasing an adrenaline rush, grab an avalanche beacon and head to Slushman's, where you can often snag fresh tracks even on a busy day. Are you more of a green circle, blue square type skier? Bridger Bowl has plenty of those—and plenty of powder—to go around, its even been called “the lightest powder on Earth.” And then there’s Big Sky Resort, whose name is appropriate not only because of its location in Big Sky, Montana but also because of its size. Big Sky is, well, BIG. The resort features more than 5,800 acres of terrain and an impressive 4,350-foot vertical drop.
If you have a thing for adventure—and heights—hop on the Lone Peak Tram and head to Lone Mountain’s towering 11,166-foot summit. Just remember, what goes up must come down…
Cross Country Ski - If you’re looking to lay off the adrenaline, you can take a more mellow approach and go for a leisurely snowshoe or cross-country ski. Sourdough Canyon is an area favorite, offering nearly 10 miles of gentle incline that make for fantastically fun cross-country skiing. If you’re in the mood to be surrounded by spectacular beauty, Hyalite offers a mix of both beginner and intermediate trails in a postcard-worthy setting. An interconnected trail system encircles the 206-acre Reservoir, which freezes over in the winter and is often checkered with anglers hoping to catch that night's dinner. Check out Bohart Ranch Cross Country Ski Center near Bridger Bowl Ski Resort. The 19-mile, impeccably groomed trail system of Bohart Ranch covers both private and forest service land and can entertain you for hours.
Ice Skate - Do you prefer skates to skis? You’re in luck. Three outdoor rinks (Bogert Park, Beall Park, and Southside Park) seem to magically appear around town near Christmas almost as if by Santa himself. It’s just like skating in Central Park, but with skyscraping mountains instead of skyscraping buildings.
Where should we eat?
There are so many fantastic dining options in downtown Bozeman. So many, in fact, that I asked my coworkers for their input because I was having such a hard time choosing. As far as breakfast spots go, The Nova Café is phenomenal. This locally owned spot supports local artists, farmers, and producers, and has “the best breakfast in town,” which is served all day. They also offer a variety of healthy and allergy-friendly options. If you’re in search of a lunch spot, Jam! is a delightful option. This contemporary diner offers creative takes on breakfast and lunch classics. If sandwiches are your thing, give Knife Sandwiches a try. This is a new spot that has already racked up plenty of 5-star reviews with its “damn fine sandwiches.”
As for dinner, it depends on what you’re hungry for. When it comes to pizza, Blackbird gets it right. If you’re in the mood for a burger (it is Montana, after all), you can’t go wrong with the Bozeman Taproom or the much-loved Montana Ale Works. Feeling like fresh fish? Head to Dave’s Sushi. Yes, I realize I’m talking about sushi in Montana of all places. But seriously, it’s SO good. Bozeman also has a new Omakase sushi spot called The Sashimi Bar that people are losing their minds over. The chefs run the show, and they certainly know what they’re doing.
And I have to give a nod to the growing ethnic food scene in Bozeman. From the classic Korean fare of Whistle Pig to the award-winning Indian food of Saffron Table, Bozeman has plenty of options for those with a more adventurous palate.
Where should we drink?
Bozeman has an almost comical number of breweries and coffee shops, and more keep cropping up! Wild Joe’s is hands-down my favorite spot to enjoy a cup of joe. It’s super cozy and inviting. There’s a reason why this place is packed more often than not.
I think the trip to Montana is worth it just for a green tea latte at "Bozeman’s Best Coffee House" and no I didn’t stuff the ballot box.
If you want to enjoy a nice glass of wine or a specialty cocktail, head over to Plonk. The Cucumber Cilantro Gimlet is a must-try. If you’re a hard cider enthusiast, the Lockhorn Cidery is also worth a visit. This small, family-owned cidery specializes in “bone dry” ciders that are perfect for those who crave a dry, crisp cider free of added sweetness.
Looking for a place to grab a beer? Well, Bozeman’s certainly the place for that. I’ve honestly lost count of how many breweries we have. Bozeman Brewing, Bridger Brewing, 406 Brewing, MAP Brewing, Outlaw Brewing… and the list keeps going. Bozemanites love their craft beers, and Bozeman certainly has no shortage of them.
Rtip: If you plan a visit to Bridger Brewing make a stop at the Storm Castle Café for an incredible, savory base 7-2pm.
What is the one can't miss item on your itinerary?
Spend as much time as you can breathing in the fresh mountain air, soaking up the sunshine, and taking in the exquisite, 360-degree mountain views. Bozeman is one of those places that’s stunning from every angle.
'‘Don’t forget to slow down, look up, and enjoy the magnificence of Big Sky Country.”
Tell us something we don't know?
While this isn’t surprising to those who live here, Bozeman is currently the fastest-growing city of its size in the nation. We’re getting big, fast. Between 2000 and 2016, the city added 17,000 new residents, or roughly 1,100 new residents every year. That’s an annual growth rate of 3%, which is roughly six times the nation’s average!
What should we shop for, or bring back with us?
Anything huckleberry flavored. Huckleberry taffy, huckleberry jam, huckleberry licorice…you get the idea. The Montana huckleberry is similar to a blueberry, though any hardcore huckleberry picker (and trust me, there are many) would scoff at the comparison. Also do yourself a favor and stock up on awarding-winning Béquet gourmet caramels. These artisan confections are made right in Bozeman and are sold at pretty much every grocery store around town. Choose from any one of 13 varieties, or better yet, try them all!
What should we take on the trip?
A pair of good walking shoes, hiking boots, and casual wear. Bozeman is a jeans-and-t-shirt kind of place. You’ll see your fair share of cowboy boots, Chacos, and Patagonia jackets around town. The weather varies a lot and changes quickly, especially between day and night in the warmer months of spring, summer, and fall, so I highly recommend packing layers. You’ll definitely want a jacket in any season of the year for those cold, Montana nights. If you’re traveling in the winter, get ready to bundle up. Pack your full winter wardrobe—an insulated jacket, warm boots, a hat, and scarf and a pair of gloves. Lastly, pack sunscreen! I’m a huge advocate for SPF, especially in a place as sunny as Bozeman. I can’t say enough good things about Supergoop’s “Unseen” facial sunscreen, which lives up to its claims of being “totally invisible, weightless, and scentless.” It’s a winner for sure.
Rtip: consider an excellent little video camera for extreme skiing adventures. This one from RYLO has a spherical lens that allows athletes to capture 360-degree video with incredible image stabilization.
Click here to see everywhere Kelly suggests to put in your Bozeman itinerary.
Tell us your Montana favorites in the comments below.