Sip beers, take hikes and encounter T. rexes: the best things to do in Bozeman

Sip beers, take hikes and encounter T. rexes: the best things to do in Bozeman

In and around Bozeman, outdoor activities abound – like excursions to nearby Mystic Lake © Cavan Images / Getty Images

Bozeman hits a travel sweet spot.

This Montana town is big enough to warrant some top-rate cultural attractions, small enough to retain a tight-knit community feel and close enough to the mountains that you can hike, bike and even ski inside the city limits.

While most come to Bozeman to pursue outdoor activities, there are plenty of things to see and do in this switched-on and increasingly cosmopolitan place. Before packing the cooler and heading off into the hills, be sure to consider our picks for the best things to do in Bozeman.

Montana's big sky will take your breath away

Stare down a T. rex at the Museum of the Rockies

Bozeman’s world-class Museum of the Rockies is easily Montana’s top cultural institution. The astonishing range of dinosaurs on display here represents the lifetime work of retired curator Jack Horner, widely believed to have been the model for Sam Neill’s character in Jurassic Park.

Be prepared for incredible drama in these displays of 50 million-year-old fossils. From the group of teenaged sauropods who suffocated when their legs became stuck in river mud to the dinosaur skeleton surrounded by the teeth of the predators who devoured it, these are rocks that tell vivid stories indeed.

Oh, and there are unhatched dinosaur eggs, and 9ft(3m)-tall apatosaurus rib bones, the world’s largest T. rex skull…the place is simply awesome. Throw in the Living History homestead, a planetarium and a hands-on exhibit specifically designed for children headed to Yellowstone National Park, and you’ll see why you’ll want to take full advantage of your ticket, which is good for two days.

Sip beers, take hikes and encounter T. rexes: the best things to do in Bozeman

Meeting the locals at the Museum of the Rockies © Hugh K Telleria / Shutterstock

Hike to the College M

There are lots of great hikes in Bozeman, and this is probably the post accessible. Look north from Bozeman towards the foothills of the Bridger Range and you’ll see a distinctive white letter M decorating the hillside. This 250ft(76m)-tall college insignia was assembled by Montana State University (MSU) students in 1915; today, it acts as a symbol of the town, and provides the endpoint for one of its most popular hikes. The views from up here are superb.

Hiking up to “the M” is a daily ritual for many Bozemanites and a rite of passage for visitors, though you can also hike the quieter, 2.5(4km)-mile Drinking Horse Mountain trail. Both are part of the town’s “Main Street to the Mountains” trail system, which offers runners, cyclists and hikers dozens of miles of scenic trails all within the city limits.

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Drink your fill of Montana craft beer

Montanans love their craft breweries – so much that the state has the third-highest number of breweries per capita in the nation. Within the city limits of Bozeman, you can find eight, all great places to tap into the community spirit here (and maybe pick up tips for a secret hiking route or two).

Brewpubs run the gamut from simple, cozy taprooms with a single popcorn machine (such as Bozeman Brewing and Bunkhouse Brewer) to sleek, stylish industrial halls serving up top-notch food (Bridger Brewery and Nordic Brew Works). All are unfussy, down-to-earth and dog-friendly.

Most offer a sampler of four tasters, so you can quickly find your own favorite hoppy IPA, fruity sour or chocolatey porter. It’s worth a trip to Nordic Brew Works just to watch a heavily bearded, plaid-shirt-wearing Montanan order a pint of Princess Unicorn IPA.

One thing to know: thanks to state laws, craft breweries can only serve three pints to each customer and have to stop serving at 8pm – so come early or bring a growler (portable beer bottle) for takeaways. Non-brewery taprooms such as Bozeman Taproom can pour until 1am.

Grab a show at the Ellen Theater

The Ellen is a cultural mainstay of Bozeman. The Italianate-style facade and beautiful gilded interior date from 1919, when the house was a vaudeville favorite and regularly hosted musicals (one of which famously featured a live elephant).

Today, it’s the place to catch anything from a music concert to stand-up comedy, alongside a fine choice of independent movies curated by the Bozeman Film Society. You can even sign up for adults’ and children’s acting classes here.

Sip beers, take hikes and encounter T. rexes: the best things to do in Bozeman

Looking down on the streets of downtown Bozeman © DianeBentleyRaymond / Getty Images

Stroll Bozeman’s historic downtown

The compact heart of Bozeman rewards anyone who loves to stroll. As well as being a wonderful free way to spend your time, downtown is known for its historic red-brick buildings, chic bars, restaurants, Western-wear boutiques and outdoor gear shops. Pick up a walking tour leaflet and you’ll be able to spot century-old theaters, storefronts and saloons, many designed by Fred Willson, Bozeman’s premier architect.

Notable Willson buildings include the art deco Baxter Hotel (now Ted Turner’s Ted’s Montana Grill), the county courthouse, the Ellen Theater and the Bozeman Armory, converted in 2021 into the town’s first luxury hotel.

Read more: Tips for visiting Bozeman on a budget
 
Finish up your tour at the former Northern Pacific Railroad freight building, now the ever-popular Montana Ale Works, or continue the nostalgic vibe by dropping into the Western Cafe for a slice of pie and old-time Montana decor.

Tuck into sustainable Montana cuisine

Visit Bozeman in summer and you’ll quickly notice Montana’s obsession with huckleberries: restaurants offer everything from huckleberry ice cream and huckleberry pie to huckleberry martinis. The best berries only grow in the wild and locals are prepared to arm wrestle grizzlies for them during the August and September harvest season.

Bozeman’s two weekly farmers markets are the place to find fresh huckleberries and other local produce, including Montana’s fabulous Flathead cherries, and organic goat cheese from the award-winning, local Amaltheia Dairy.

When it comes to dinner, Montana is still very much meat-and-potatoes country, but you can add a Bozeman twist with a grass-fed bison steak or burger or a plate of bison potstickers (Asian-style dumplings), all made from meat raised sustainably on regional ranches. As well as being tasty, bison meat is leaner and higher in protein than beef. Finish things off with a scoop of Montana-made Sweet Peaks Ice Cream; it will probably be hard to resist a scoop of the Griz Tracks flavor.

Sip beers, take hikes and encounter T. rexes: the best things to do in Bozeman

Peaceful fly-fishing in fall is the Montana dream © Patrick Orton / Getty Images

Learn to fly-fish

The blue-ribbon rivers around Bozeman have been etched into American lore as the premier spot for fly-fishing in the country. Norman Maclean’s novella A River Runs Through It may have been set in the Blackfoot Valley, but Robert Redford shot the fishing scenes for the movie version on the Gallatin River, southwest of Bozeman. Needless to say, this is holy ground for fly-fishers.

Several outfitters in town operate guided trips and sell or rent equipment (the Simms line of gear is made here in Bozeman). Most also offer beginners’ classes, from two-hour intros ($25) to multi-day courses that take you out onto crystalline waterways. 

Montana Whitewater offers families a “cast and raft” option, combining fly-fishing tuition with a rafting trip on the Gallatin River. Serious casters can learn to tie a wooly bugger or an elk hair caddis on a private lesson in the mystical art of fly tying.

And if fishing isn’t your thing, Bozeman is home to all sorts of other great outdoor activities.

Go directly to jail at the Gallatin History Museum

The Gallatin History Museum is the perfect place to come on a rainy day to get an insight into Bozeman’s rootin’-tootin’ past. The reconstructed pioneer log cabins and forts, exhibitions on vigilantes and hangings, and depiction of life on the hardscrabble frontier are well worth an hour of your time.

The crenellated, medieval-style building, formerly the county jail (1911), is an attraction in itself, with exhibits displayed in former jail cells. Did you know that actor Gary Cooper went to high school in Bozeman? No? Then you need to visit this museum.

Embrace your inner nerd at the American Computer & Robotics Museum

Tech lovers won’t want to miss this endearingly low-tech homage to the cutting edge. Things start early with a millennia-old cuneiform tablet from Sumer in Iraq and progress through a Nazi-era Enigma code machine to the evolution of the first Macintosh personal computers.

The museum also displays the last surviving mainframe computer used by the Apollo 11 Moon mission, a monster machine the size of a large wardrobe. Amazingly, all the exhibits consist of original vintage equipment. You will come out marveling at the pace of technological change over the last 50 years.

Read more: The best time to plan a trip to Bozeman

Sip beers, take hikes and encounter T. rexes: the best things to do in Bozeman

Refreshing Palisade Falls provides a way to cool off during sizzling summer days in Bozeman © LI Cook / Shutterstock

Hike to refreshing Palisade Falls

On a sizzling Bozeman summer day, there’s nothing better than heading into the pine-scented mountains and cooling off with the fine spray of a waterfall on your face. The 80ft (24m) Palisade Falls cascades down basalt cliffs and is easily accessible on a paved trail that is perfect for kids.

Only 20 miles (32km) from downtown, the fresh mountain air and views of the sparkling Hyalite reservoir along the route provide a fine taste of the wilds. The trail is just over 1 mile (1.6km) out and back, though it can be snowed in as late as May. If you want to make a night of it, there are loads of great camping spots near Bozeman.

Learn about bears at Montana Grizzly Encounter

Montana Grizzly Encounter is an animal refuge center that provides a home for bears unable to return to the wild, while educating the public about coexisting safely with bears. The center was started by Casey Anderson, star of National Geographic’s Expedition Wild show, who adopted baby bear Brutus when he was the size of a squirrel and lived and filmed with him for 17 years – time enough for Brutus to reach over 7ft (2.1m) in height.

The center offers a rare chance to observe and learn about grizzlies without the need for caged or barred enclosures. Be aware that only one bear is allowed out at a time.

Soak up the scenery at Bozeman Hot Springs

After a long day of hiking, skiing or biking, there's nothing quite like soaking your sore muscles in the dozen hot pools of this venerable hot springs resort, about 8 miles (13km) west of Bozeman. Folks have been soaking in the natural hot springs here since the late 1800s.

Today’s resort is no rustic affair: there are indoor and outdoor pools, a fitness center, a sauna and live music twice a week. Bring a towel and your own food, sit back and let your worries float away with the steam.

Uncover Bozeman’s past on a historic walking tour

To get under the surface of this frontier town, book a walking tour with the Extreme History Project, a nonprofit organization whose aim is to bring Bozeman’s gritty past back to life. Summertime tours focus on historic Main Street and the Sunset Hills Cemetery, telling the stories of the early town’s founding families.

Other tours delve into the more salacious aspects of Bozeman life, including the early red light district. The entertaining storytellers will make sure you stay informed and perhaps mildly scandalized as you walk in the footsteps of Montana’s earlier citizens. As the organization’s slogan says: “History isn’t pretty.”

Shop for outdoor gear

Outdoorsy Bozeman has some great gear shops, allowing you to pick up anything you might need for a camping or skiing trip. Recreational Equipment, Inc. is an obvious first choice to buy gear, and also offers rentals plus bike and ski repairs.

You can rent all sorts of outdoorsy gear in town, from stand-up paddleboards to snowshoes; you’ll get the best gear and advice at a specialist store. Paddlers should glide to Northern Lights, while mountain bikers should pedal to Owenhouse Cycling. Bob Wards is a local Montana chain that has been selling gear since 1917 (so everyone should know their stuff by now).

Bozeman is also a good place to dig around for deals on used gear. Play It Again Sports and Second Wind Sports are good places to start. If you are in town for the first weekend in November, get equipped for winter at the two-day Bridger Ski Foundation ski swap, where you can both buy and sell used gear.

Sip beers, take hikes and encounter T. rexes: the best things to do in Bozeman

Hikes short and long start on the edge of Bozeman © Jordan Siemens / Getty Images

Go llama trekking

Llamas are not the first animal that comes to mind when you picture a Montana ranch, yet this endearing South American camelid is an increasingly popular livestock animal, both for its fine wool and as a low-impact trekking partner. At Montana Llama Guides, you can visit the impossibly cuddly youngsters up close and help feed them. You can even buy yourself an alpaca at the affiliated Alpacas of Montana store – though they also sell alpaca-wool socks if that seems like too much of a commitment.

For the full llama-trekking experience, you can’t beat a multi-day ramble in Yellowstone National Park, with pack llamas carrying all your food and gear. Alternatively, sign up for an easy 4-mile (6.4km) half-day hike, accompanied by a llama from the farm. It’s not cheap – but it’s a one-of-a-kind experience that the kids will love.

Lose yourself in the Barmuda Triangle

If you’re on the hunt for life after dark, the most raucous option in town is the duo (formerly trio) of college bars known affectionately as the Barmuda Triangle. The Haufbrau is the dive-iest of Bozeman’s dive bars and has been the place for nightly live music, sticky floors and cheap beer since the 1960s. A short stumble next door is the slightly classier Molly Brown, good for pool, trivia nights and poker machines.

The Scoop bar across the road sadly closed in 2021, so to complete the triangle you’ll have to head further afield to somewhere like downtown’s Rocking R Bar, which spills out onto Main St on late summer evenings.

Explore Bozeman’s art scene at the Emerson

The Emerson Center for the Arts & Culture is the hub of Bozeman’s progressive art community. There’s always something going on here, with exhibitions in three spaces, a half-dozen private galleries, boutiques and studios, plus a range of art classes, summer kids camps, yoga and more. It’s a great place to meet local artists. The onsite Emerson theater offers a varied program of independent movies, documentaries and plays.

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