Things to do near Bozeman/Big Sky, Montana (summer)
Lush green mountains with snow capped peaks leading down to fast running rivers and emerald colored valleys with long grasses flowing in the wind. Montana! So much beauty in one place filling up all the senses! Wildlife is abound – deer, peacocks, sheep, and even bears (more about that later). The rolling hillsides and babbling brooks are also scattered throughout this very alive landscape.
Everything around this area of Montana seemed to be very well maintained from the state roads to the interstates (surprisingly as their winters are rough) as well as the towns in between. I usually enjoy the backroads; however, even the highways had stunning views. I found the roadways to be mostly flat throughout most of the areas that I traveled.
Accommodations near Bozeman
Although it is probably easier to find a place to stay in downtown Bozeman, I highly recommend staying at a VRBO outside of town to get more of a feel for the Montana lifestyle. I stayed with an extraordinarily amazing couple who maintain their own road, build their own barns, fell their own trees, make and cook their own food, and many etceteras. They have a yurt on their property to stay in during your visit.
Downtown Bozeman and Downtown Livingston
Downtown Bozeman is much larger than I expected it to be with upscale shops, restaurants, pubs and art galleries all within walking distance. I loved the Western Cafe for breakfast – it was a traditional old school diner with mouth watering breakfasts saloon style. MacKenzie River Pizza Company had delicious pizzas and lots of options (including gluten free crust).
Downtown Livingston is a small town with eclectic, locally owned shops and funky restaurants. I loved Pinky’s for breakfast (quick service, good food and friendly staff) and Neptune’s for dinner with a funky vibe, rooftop bar and large, spacious restaurant. The menu is diverse with sushi and American options. Locals recommended Faye’s Cafe for breakfast (limited hours and closed on Friday) and Murray Hotel Bar.
Hiking near Bozeman
So many options for hiking — long, short, easy, difficult. Remember that you are at a bit of an altitude (5,000-7,200 feet high) so you may be breathing a bit heavier at times. If you’d like to go the non-planning (of the hike) route then take a spectacular scenic drive between Bozeman and Big Sky on US191 through the Gallatin National Forest and there are many signs for hiking right off of that road. Just stop, get out and hike from that trailhead. Note that once you enter the National Forest there is no cell phone service.
Hyaline Creek Trail – I chose this trail as it was moderately challenging with a good distance and pretty waterfalls. However, not sure I really recommend it. The signage at the trailhead is confusing. Turns out you should go toward Grotto Falls if you’d like to see waterfalls and not follow the creek trail sign from the trailhead. Going the other way (creek trail sign) we only saw one very small waterfall (albeit, pretty) and at 3.1 miles into the trail (by the reservoir) we startled a very large mother bear and her cub. Fortunately, she did not come after my son and I, but it was a terrifying experience. I learned that if you hike in Montana that you should carry bear spray (you have to purchase it locally – it can’t fly on a plane) and put a bear bell on your backpack as not to startle the bear. Also, you should make yourself look large while talking, facing the bear, and backing away to make the bear realize that you’re human and not threatening. We did none of those things. You are NOT supposed to turn and run, but let me tell you something, when every cell in your body tells you to run, you run. (Maybe role play it before you go out there – idk – just a weird thought.)
Ousel Falls Park Trail – We actually chose this trail as we had to “face our fears” after encountering the mother bear and cub on the Hyaline Creek Trail the day before. Although, this waterfall was just beautiful and the trees were giant and abundant, this trail was very popular with people. And the trail was gravel but practically paved. So, I would recommend it only if you have just a short time and would like to see a pretty waterfall and then go to the next activity which, for us, was whitewater rafting. This trail is less than 30 minutes from Montana Whitewater Rafting.
Lava Lake Trail – this trail was highly recommended by locals. Moderate 6-mile hike.
Whitewater Rafting near Bozeman
Montana Whitewater is closer to Big Sky than to Bozeman; however, if you’re coming from Bozeman the ride is so beautiful that it is well worth the trip. There were 3 rafting options to choose from at the time of our trip – more challenging, less challenging and least challenging. Note that water levels change often so the rafting levels do too. If you’d like to whitewater raft at a place that is all about safety then Montana Whitewater Rafting is the place for you – they provide the helmets, life vest, jacket, full wetsuit and booties. Also, they have many other adventures to add to your experience like zip lining, fly fishing, horseback riding, kayaking, etc.
Tubing near Bozeman
Madison River Tubing – I did not tube as I chose to whitewater raft instead. However, this tubing place came recommended by locals, so I thought I’d throw it in if tubing is more your speed.
Hot Springs near Bozeman
After a long day of hiking, the Bozeman area has 2 hot springs to enjoy to ease your sore muscles. Note that the hot springs are captured in more of a swimming pool (with both spring water and added water) to make it more comfortable to soak in. (I think I was expecting a Romanesque bathhouse which it was not.) We went to the hot springs in Chico. The springs were a soothing 99-100+ degrees. There is also the Bozeman Hot Springs.