Beyond Bozeman: Day-Tripping Your Way Through Southwest Montana
Saying that Bozeman, Montana, is a popular tourist destination is a massive understatement. From fall 2018 to fall 2019, the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport welcomed over 1.5 million visitors. That’s more than 31 times the population of Bozeman and about 1.5 times more than the entire state of Montana.
It’s understandable why people flock to Bozeman. The southwest Montana city boasts spectacular natural scenery and an unbeatable proximity to Yellowstone National Park, it has a vibrant downtown that somehow feels both old-school and ultra modern, and it’s the home of Montana State University. Bozeman also serves as a perfect jumping-off point for a seemingly endless list of outdoor activities. Looking to hike, fish, camp, hunt, cross-country ski, ice climb, or kayak? That’s just scratching the surface, but you’ll find it in Bozeman.
For all the city has to offer, it’s important to keep in mind that Bozeman is just one small area in a large state. A very, very large state. If you venture just beyond Bozeman’s city limits to other communities in southwest Montana, you’ll experience so much more of the Treasure State.
Livingston is situated on the Yellowstone River 30 minutes east of Bozeman. The small town oozes authentic Old West charm, which is likely why several movies have been filmed here. 1992’s A River Runs Through It is among the best-known.
The Yellowstone River is, of course, a major attraction in Livingston – and for good reason. It’s an officially-designated Blue Ribbon fishery, which only exist in seven states. After you’ve fished, kayaked, or lazily floated the river, check out the historic Livingston Depot or walk the path at Sacajawea Park, where Lewis & Clark began their exploration of the Yellowstone River valley and southwest Montana.
Finish your day of exploring by hopping around the countless neon-lit saloons that dot downtown Livingston. Most have live music nightly, so bring your best dancing boots. They’re all worth a stop, but the century-plus-old Murray Bar is not to be missed.
Big Sky is best known as a ski town, the eponymous ski resort billing itself as “the biggest skiing in America.” Indeed, Big Sky Resort has over 5,850 skiable acres and 4,350 feet of vertical drop. Even outside of skiing season, Big Sky is well worth a visit. For starters, the southwest Montana town is just 40 minutes from Big Sky and it’s breathtakingly beautiful. Montana certainly earned its nickname “Big Sky Country” here, where the horizon truly seems bigger.
Depending on the season, hike, bike, or ski the miles and miles of nearby trails or take the short and sweet hike to Ousel Falls, which is accessible year-round. Go boutique shopping in Big Sky Town Center, go horseback riding, and fish or float the mighty Gallatin River, another Blue Ribbon trout waterway. Locally-owned Beehive Basin Brewery will keep you hydrated, and River House BBQ is an absolute must for dinner.
In many ways, Ennis embodies every southwest Montana stereotype you’ve ever heard – in a good way. It’s in the stunning Madison River Valley, surrounded by no fewer than three spectacular mountain ranges: the Tobacco Root Mountains and the Madison and Gravelly Ranges. The trout fishing in the Madison is world-class and the cowboy culture is authentic, thanks to deep-rooted ties to ranching.
Ennis is just an hour north of West Yellowstone, but it feels as if you’re on another planet. The views are larger than life, there is no shortage of recreational opportunities, the locals are genuinely polite, and the food and brews are locally sourced. Be sure to pick up a uniquely southwest Montana work of art at one of the many galleries, play a round of golf at Madison Meadows (perhaps the country’s most scenic golf course), and stop into Willie’s Distillery for a bottle of legendary made-on-site Montana moonshine.
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