My last travel blog sparked interest in exploring Montana a bit more and sharing some of the secret gems. Living in a place for a while can definitely begin to dull out and become a day to day routine. When I first came to Montana on a spontaneous road trip I was absolutely in awe. The mountains, the wildlife, rivers, lakes, aura and people where a breath of fresh air! Not to mention the speed limits allow you to get places, fast. People in Montana are incredibly helpful and kind. If you stop on the side of the road with your flashers to take a picture, chances are someone will pull off and make sure you are alright. If you pass someone on a side road they will always wave at you, if there is an animal crossing the road ahead- the oncoming driver will flash their lights to warn you. Montana is a beautiful place with wide open skies and a paradise to get out into nature and discover what life is all about. Today, I would like to start out with my town; Bozeman.
Bozeman- Gallatin Valley
This sought after city is one of many in this bowl of beautiful mountain ranges. Many desire to visit, live or have a destination wedding here. Montana natives (Montanans) are still here and quite aggravated about how much the once small town has grown. Montana State University (MSU) has added about 16,700 students living in town.
There are many trails in the valley and many places to go off-roading, hunting, fishing and camping. You could say that Montana is the sportsman’s heaven.
In the winter, getting out is much harder unless you enjoy snow shoeing, skiing, snowboarding, sledding, cross country skiing, ice fishing or snow-mobiling. It takes a true Montanan to withstand the -20°F and 3 feet or more of snow. Many people will buy summer homes, which takes up land and is quite annoying to Montanans willing to live here year round.
Bozeman is a fast growing, highly desired place to start a life. In 2017, Bozeman was voted one of the best cities to live in the United States as well the fastest growing city. However, there is much people do not see until they are living here. Minimum wage is $8.50 and it is nearly impossible to find living accommodations under $1,250 a month without getting a roommate or qualifying for low income housing (which is usually full). Jobs are very difficult to find and obtain, the only relief is that there is no sales tax. If you are only looking to visit, all of these points are less pertinent. However, if you are looking to rent an Airbnb or hotel, rates are much higher than other cities in Montana due to it’s popularity. There is a true frustration for the residents here, even nurses working at the only hospital in town have to hold down two jobs in order to make ends meet.
My favorite portion is the food! Montana is well known for cattle and bison ranching and local farms contract with many local restaurants. These delicious relationships allow for restaurants to serve up some seriously quality and mouth-watering steaks and burgers.
This hidden gem is nothing you would look twice at if driving past. However, in June of 2018, Guy Fieri featured this café on his show, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dines on the Food Network. They are a truly quality place with great ingredients and delightful house-made hot sauces and canned treats.
After the show, the waitress did say that the little café got incredibly busy. On a Saturday morning at 11AM, we only had a wait of 15 minutes where they offer coffee while you wait. This place is a very beautiful Montana-themed cafe with a warm country vibe. All the servers were friendly, attentive and real.
I ordered the Monte Cristo (featured on Triple D) which was a “savory French toast stuffed with shaved [local] Hilltop 7 Farm ham & swiss cheese; pancake battered & fried. Served with seasonal, homemade syrup, two eggs & hash browns” for $14.00. It seems quite odd at first and my first question to the waitress is if it was a savory or sweet dish. She couldn’t quite answer and I completely understand why. Beneath the crunchy exterior of the batter is a beautiful soft French bread and melty cheese and salty ham. It has the most beautiful combination of salt and sweetness, crunch and gentleness. Truly a genius dish and highly recommended. I have tried places in the past in which Guy has let me down, but this dish definitely held up to expectations.
My husband on the other hand was much more daring. He ordered a massive burger with “Two 8oz patties, bacon, cheese and 2 fried eggs” for $19.00. It also came with lettuce, homemade pickles and pickled onion and tomato. The beef is from the local Hilltop 7 Farm in Bozeman and you can taste the difference. The meat is fresh and pure. There is no need for BBQ sauce, ketchup or any other masking seasonings- this is the mark of true fresh and quality ingredients. He also ordered a side of onion rings which were also absolutely decadent. Hands-down one of the most delicious burgers, even with it’s massiveness. We had a blast here- not to mention hilarious. If only I could have gotten photos of the faces of the people staring at him attempting to eat this monstrosity!
Seafood in a valley no where near saltwater? Think that is sketchy? Wrong!
Coming from Seattle, home of the seafood and good sushi, I honestly am in love with this place. It is a fun little place with outdoor seating and friendly service. If you are willing to deal with higher prices, this place will not let you down.
My husband got the special and it ended up being some of the best sushi he had ever had. I got the John Wayne- one of my favorites besides the Philly Roll!
The line you will face to get into this breakfast joint is well worth it and deserved. We arrived at 7AM, when they open, and there were people walking in right when the doors opened.
I have only been here for breakfast, but it truly is some of the best in town. If you have a sweet tooth, the cinnamon roll pancake was seriously AMAZING! They always have specials going on and you can get good espresso instead of the normal breakfast drip coffee. But the reason for it’s name is the JAM. Jam makes their own preserves and they are phenomenal. Two that I remember is apple cinnamon and strawberry balsamic. They are a must try if you are coming here.
Paradise for the wine and beer enthusiast; directly imported wine from Italy and France, and the prices show it. One glass of wine ranges from $10-$15 for a few selections and the rest are by bottle only ranging from $40-$130. I paired a “cheap” glass of red wine with their cheese board starter and it was divine. The cheese board consists of buttery toasted sourdough bread, a selection of cow, goat and sheep cheese and honeycomb.
Joseph ordered a spicy pork and beef pasta, which was quite tasty. The pasta was thick and the spice was beautifully balanced. I went ahead with their famous pizza which consisted of tomato, mascarpone and arugula.
As I do really enjoy this place and it was delicious, I would consider it a check on my list and I probably wouldn’t go again. Our total including s decent tip was $76.00, which was a bit more that I had hoped to pay for pizza and a small bowl of pasta.
Another place visited by the famous Guy Fieri, from Diners, Drive Ins and Dines. Seriously held up to the given reputation. The Roost is an incredible little unique place where their focus is southern fried chicken. From the time that I was in Tennessee, the sweet tea is definitely as close as you can get.
They are frying up super tender, juicy chicken with a beautiful spiced battered outside. Prices are decent for how delicious it is. You can choose your sides and some dishes come with pickled okra!
The Roost definitely worked its way quickly to one of my favorite places.
This little place is as close as you can get to a real European Deli with cheese, meats, gelato, coffee, tea, wine, imported chocolate, olive oil and vinegar. I totally fell in love with this place the first time I went and I am still just in love with it. It’s an awesome place to grab a morning coffee, evening desert, a lunch sandwich or come stock up on delicious meat and cheese!
My absolute favorite was the Alp Cheese, coated in dried edible flowers. It paired marvelously with speck and French bread, even a drizzle of lemon olive oil.
Things to Do
Whenever someone is traveling into town, they always want to know where the best places to go and must-sees. Well, let me tell you what I have found:
Bozeman is mostly made up of hunters and fishermen. I have come to love fishing here- especially in the Gallatin River and the Madison River. In the snowing months, ice fishing becomes quite popular when the ice is safe. Whether you love ice fishing, fly fishing, bait fishing or fishing with lures, Montana is a dreamland. You can get an out of state fishing license at Sportsman’s Warehouse, Bob Wards and the Fish, Wildlife and Parks office.
Hyalite is a beautiful lake to fish and there is lots of luck near the dam. There is also creeks and rivers running from the lake which allows for a relaxed day of non-competitive fishing and drinking and bonfires in the evening to enjoy your catch.
There are plenty of guides and expeditions you can pay for, but if you are experienced or bringing your boat, Canyon Ferry Lake in Helena, MT is the biggest lake around Bozeman and has great fishing. In this lake there is the potential to catch Walleye and Perch, which is the best for eating- but difficult to catch. Otherwise, you will mainly be fishing for Trout (Rainbow or Brown) in Bozeman and most release the Brown as they are not as good for eating as the Rainbow trout.
Damsel Fly Fishing
Fly fishing is quite tricky when you first start, but extremely effective and fun once you get it down. Make sure you have some waders; the farther you can get into the river, the easier casting is. There are many guides that can teach you or take you on fishing expeditions in town. But if you are looking for lessons, I suggest Damsel Fly Fishing. I absolutely love this company as they work to inspire and encourage women and allow them to pursue passions that may not be “conventional for a woman” (at least outside of Montana anyway). Kara teaches co-ed beginner classes so that you can be self-sufficient on the water. Co-Owner, Lynae, was in Seattle for a trip when she stopped by the coffee shop I was working at and told me all about Montana and how she thought I would fit perfectly. Little did I know that 7 years later, I would be here in the same town as her!
Ladies, it’s every fisherman’s dream that his partner share in his passions. Lets be honest, when it comes to fishing and hunting, guys get all the good quality gear. It’s quite tricky to find women’s gear that is quality and looks good. Damsel Fly has finally done it! If you need gear when coming out, I would definitely suggest looking into some of their accessories- amazing quality and stylish (Guys, this is a great way to bait her in)! I am all for women empowerment and these sisters are an amazing time! You can learn more about them, products, classes and even international excursions on Kara and Lynae’s website; www.damselflyfishing.com.
Hiking is incredibly popular here for a reason- Bozeman is gorgeous! I feel that it is most important to first express the importance of bear spray or a gun for safety. The people in Bozeman are incredibly kind and helpful, however the bears… not so much.
Popular spots include Sourdough Canyon, which leads 15 miles to Mystic Lake. At the top, there is a cabin that you can reserve with the Forest Service online. A very tiring but beautiful hike. In the winter this trail is used for cross country skiers, so hikers beware, especially with dogs. Even during the summer you want to be alert as bikers go whizzing down quickly.
Another intense, but highly rewarding trail is “The M”. This hike is located on the side of the Bridger Mountains that lay next to Bozeman and are one of the biggest reasons Bozeman is so beautiful. At the top of this trail is a large white “M” for Montana and when standing there, creates a gorgeous photogenic view of the valley and of Bozeman. Timing this hike during sunset is a photographer’s ecstasy. There are two trail options, a harder incline trail at 1 miles total or an easier side trail with a total of 3.8 miles. Do be aware that this is a popular trail and is usually pretty busy.
Up in Hyalite Canyon, there are multiple hikes, one being Palisade Falls. This is a quick walk, less of a hike, with only 1.1 miles. At the end of this trail is beautiful rockery and you are found at the bottom and an extremely tall and narrow waterfall. This hike is versatile for all levels of hikers and a great photography stop. During the winter when the falls are frozen, you see gorgeous formations and a different side of the fall’s beauty.
One of my absolute favorites is a bit of a drive through the Bridger Canyon, but along the way you see phenomenal sights, wildlife and a true sense of Montana’s backcountry. This hike is called Fairy Lake. There is camping available along the winding road to it. I have heard there are big fish in this lake but they are near impossible to catch. It is a quick walk down to the lake, but once there, a beautiful electric blue natural lake sits at the heels of a beautiful orange and red mountain. This lake is surrounded by trees and you can walk around the whole lake; it’s not too large. Around this lake is where I have been able to capture some seriously amazing pictures of the local deer and have even had our campsite visited by some large creature extremely interested in the remains of Luna’s dog food.
One of the best ways to get out into nature and see Montana at it’s best.
“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit.”
I would highly suggest Hyalite for camping since there is so much to do up there and it isn’t a lifetime away from civilization. There are plenty of campsites, none with any hookups. I guess you may call it “Roughing it” but I just call it camping. The campsites range from the first large lot along a river, however, there are even more throughout the side roads and along the lake at the top, as well as just day use areas. I would recommend taking a vehicle made for heavy duty roads if you are thinking about taking the side roads. The main strip is well paved and has minimal bumps, but the side roads are another animal all in themselves- yet very worth it.
If you are looking for a more luxurious approach to camping, or “glamping” then this place is the best around. There is laundry facilities, WIFI, full hookups, dumping stations, TV and all just 2 miles from the Main strip in Bozeman (Main Street). I have heard they are well priced and a cute lot with trees and firepits. In a very convenient spot for exploring, yet, not so much for the surrounding view. I guess you can’t have best of both worlds.
This seems like an obvious one, but a huge perk for most folk is that Montana does not have sales tax! Whether you are looking to take advantage of tax-free prices or if you are looking for souvenirs, I have some suggestions.
Gallatin Valley Mall
This is an extremely small mall with some familiar names like JC Penny, Joann Fabrics, Barnes and Noble, etc. However, if you are looking for souvenirs, one of the best stores to go for are found in this mall. The Montana Gift Corral is a perfect place to get Montana made trinkets and local goods. Of course, there is always huckleberry flavored snacks as well.
This popular road consists of about 6 blocks and is super fun to walk up and down each side. There are tons of little shops , cafes and coffee shops lining Main Street, a lot of which use local ingredients and products. Whether you are looking for clothes, jewelry, food, coffee, Montana goods… this place is a gold mine and a good time.
Tschache Lane and 19th Avenue Shopping Center
Soon you will notice that a lot of Montana names are difficult to pronounce. “Tschache” is pronounced as “shocky” (Just in case you need to ask for directions and don’t want to be laughed at). This is a great place to stock up on outdoor equipment. If you need fishing, camping or hiking gear, the local Sportsman’s Warehouse and REI will be a great place to start. There are also restaurants, coffee and my favorite, World Market is this shopping center.
Yellowstone National Park
Now, this may be cheating since it is not actually Bozeman, but it is only a 1 hour and 20 minute drive away. One of the biggest landmarks in Montana… I would be remiss if I did not mention it.
Yellowstone is an amazing trip and you will need many hours to do this. I would suggest getting there as early as possible to ensure you have enough daylight to see the beauty.
The geysers are truly awe-inspiring, the smell, however, is not. Definitely take the time to see Old Faithful as well. Near the exit of the park, you will usually see a herd of elk lazing about; probably the closest you will get to them unless you are hunting.
Of course there is also bison (not buffalo) roaming about and if you are really lucky you can see the local wolf pack.
Bozeman is a beautiful place to vacation and get in touch with nature. Whether you are driving or flying into Bozeman International Airport, the views are stunning. I hope that this has helped in planning your trip and you have an amazing time in big sky country! Feel free to comment or message any questions and I would be happy to try and help.