Bozeman is a charming little college town nestled at the foot of the Rocky Mountains in southwest Montana. With a population of just under 50,000 people, the town has a fun and lively character but doesn’t feel as crowded as some of the bigger cities in the US. It’s a lovely destination for outdoorsy types as well as city dwellers who enjoy good food and drink.
When our truck broke down and derailed our plans for a northwestern US road trip, my partner and I ended up staying in Bozeman for close to a month waiting for the truck to be repaired, and over the weeks that we’ve been here, it’s become one of my favorite cities in the US. Seriously — if I wasn’t such a wimp about cold winters, I’d live here in a heartbeat.
If you’re planning a trip to Bozeman, here are some of my personal recommendations for where to go, what to see, and how to get the most out of your time here.
How to Get to Bozeman
There are several different ways you can get to Bozeman. Driving here may be your best bet, especially if you are leery of flying during the pandemic — we certainly are. The heart of town is located just off of I-90, about 200 miles west of Billings. We drove here from Denver with our truck camper and found it easy to find and access by road (it took us about 10 hours in total).
If driving isn’t practical or you’d rather fly, Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN) is conveniently located just 15 minutes northwest of the town center. It’s a fairly small airport, though, and only a handful of cities offer direct flights to and from BZN. Kayak and Skyscanner are my go-to services for finding inexpensive flights.
Whichever way you decide to go, travel insurance might give you extra peace of mind when planning. These policies can reimburse you for many non-refundable travel expenses if you should need to change or cancel your trip plans.
Where to Stay
Bozeman has a handful of hotels right in the heart of town. If you like hostels, Treasure State Hostel is rated well and located right along Main Street. There are also plenty of options to choose from on Airbnb and Vrbo.
If you are coming to Bozeman during the summer months to camp (whether by tent or RV), I would highly recommend the Bear Canyon Campground. It’s only three miles southeast of downtown and easy to access via I-90. Bear Canyon was clean, safe, and reasonably priced. Plus, they have Wi-Fi, a swimming pool, and friendly staff who went above and beyond to help us when we needed to extend our stay for much longer than originally planned.
When to Visit
In Montana, you’ll probably get the best weather in the summer. We stayed here for the whole month of September, and although we had a couple of cold snaps, the weather was mostly pleasant with temperatures in the 70s and 80s and lots of clear, sunny days. The early fall here brings vibrant, colorful foliage that is a beauty to behold. During the wintertime, you can expect lots of snow and temperatures averaging in the low teens.
If you’re a skier or snowboarder, though, it could be worth braving the winter cold for a trip to Bridger Bowl Ski Area or Big Sky Resort. Both are less than an hour from downtown Bozeman, and each one has thousands of acres of alpine terrain to play on.
Getting Around Town
It’s easy to get around downtown Bozeman by walking; most of the restaurants and main attractions in town are either on Main Street or within a few blocks of it. The town is also very bicycle-friendly, so if you’d rather travel on two wheels, you should have an easy time getting around. The Streamline bus system offers in-town public transportation, as well, and local rideshare company Blink Rides provides electric scooters for the area.
If you are planning on getting up into the mountains or just want a little more freedom to go where you please, you may want to rent a car. This site lists a few different car rental options in Bozeman. In general, you should be able to get by pretty easily without a car, but it’s good to know that you have options.
What to Do
Bozeman is a vibrant town with plenty to do and see. There’s no shortage of excellent places to eat — foodies will enjoy the fun and eclectic restaurant scene. For hikers and mountain bikers, there are a handful of easily-accessible trails in the area. If you’re looking for fun and unique activities to do in and around town, here are some of my favorites.
Walk along Main Street in downtown Bozeman.
Every Bozeman travel guide probably mentions Main Street — and for good reason. The busiest, most bustling street in town is lined with cafes, cocktail bars, and boutiques. Victorian brick architecture dominates the landscape, giving the area an elegant, old-school vibe that juxtaposes nicely with the town’s hip, modern eateries and social hotspots.
It’s fun to just stroll along Main Street and see what you find, ducking into stores and stopping for a drink when the mood strikes. If nothing else, it’s a great spot for people watching.
Go to the farmer’s market in Lindley Park.
If you visit Bozeman during the summertime, make sure to check out the farmer’s market on Tuesday evenings in beautiful Lindley Park. Local farmers, artisans, and eating establishments set up shop beneath a canopy of pine trees that will make you feel like you’re somewhere deep in the woods. Take your time enjoying the scenery as you meander around between the various tents and food carts.
Visit the Montana Grizzly Encounter.
If you love bears but aren’t so keen on seeing them in the wild, you’ll want to visit the Montana Grizzly Encounter, located about 10 miles east of Bozeman. It’s a small sanctuary that cares for rescued grizzly bears, providing them shelter and habitat while educating the public about these incredible creatures. For an $8 per-person admission fee, visitors can view the bears from a safe distance away while the animals are out and about.
Pick apples and berries at Rocky Creek Farm.
Spend an afternoon picking fresh fruit at Rocky Creek Farm. There’s a small shop in the barnhouse that sells seasonal produce as well as orchards and growing areas where you can pick your own fruit. We spent an afternoon picking apples and we got quite the harvest. This is a great activity for families, friends, or anyone who’s feeling a bit nostalgic for a simpler time.
Take a scenic drive through Hyalite Canyon.
Hyalite Canyon, located just southwest of Bozeman in Gallatin National Forest, was easily one of the most beautiful places we visited. Drive along the winding mountain road, you’ll be surrounded by dense evergreen forest and pristine wilderness. If you’re visiting during September or October, you can catch a glimpse of spectacular fall colors as the leaves start to change.
After heading south on this road for about 30 minutes, you’ll reach the beautiful Hyalite Reservoir. Close by there is a short hiking trail leading to a dramatic waterfall — more details on the Palisade Falls Trail can be found below.
Go on a hike.
Bozeman is surrounded by mountains and foothills in all directions — with the Bridger Mountain Range to the north, the Spanish Peaks to the south, and Yellowstone National Park less than an hour’s drive from the city center. Although there is a network of walking and cycling trails in town, hiking trails are easy to find and access for those who love to get out into nature.
Whether you’re looking for an easier hike or something more challenging, there are options for hikers of all levels, and many of the trails are dog-friendly. Bears do live in the area, so you may want to bring a can of bear spray with you. Here are a few of the best hiking spots we found in and around Bozeman.
Bear Canyon Trail
Bear Canyon Trail is an easy-to-moderate hike just southeast of town. You can do the trail as an out-and-back, turning around after 5 miles at the Bear Lakes Trail junction, or you can hike all the way to Bear Lakes for an 18-mile round trip with a total elevation gain of 1,400 feet.
We only hiked a total of about 3.5 miles, but the trail was beautiful, well-shaded, and not overly crowded. The sound of water rushing by in the nearby creek was lovely to listen to, as well. Just make sure to bring bug repellent!
Mount Ellis Trail
If you’re up for more of a challenge, try the 10.1-mile Mount Ellis Trail. With a total elevation gain of over 3,100 feet, this one is a true mountain climb and is rated as a difficult hike. If you want to make it shorter, you can just do the lower section of the trail, which is 6 miles long and goes up 2,400 feet in elevation.
We found parts of the lower trail to be a little strenuous, but still doable. We hiked part of the way up the lower trail and then turned around. The good news is that even if you don’t get all the way to the top of the lower peak, if you go on a clear day you’ll still get some amazing views of the Gallatin Valley below.
Palisade Falls Trail
The Palisade Falls Trail, located near Hyalite Reservoir about 30 minutes south of Bozeman, is a 1.1-mile paved path leading to a dramatic waterfall tumbling down a towering rock cliff. It’s got a little bit of an incline but should be accessible for hikers of all levels. This easy, quick trail is perfect if you want a short hike with stunning scenery, and the drive through Hyalite Canyon to get there is gorgeous as well.
Where to Eat
Bozeman is chock-full of excellent restaurants — from breweries to new American bistros, from sushi to Thai food, you’ll find a huge array of options to choose from here. We ate out a lot and it was hard to narrow down my list to just a few favorites, but in the interest of keeping this guide fairly short, I’ll just tell you about a small handful of places that really knocked our socks off. All of the restaurants I’ll mention have outdoor patios so you can stay safe and socially-distanced while eating.
For lunch, dinner, or weekend brunch, Revelry does not disappoint. The eclectic new American fare includes sandwiches, burgers, steaks, fish and salads with some gluten and dairy-free options.
For a simple appetizer, try the marinated olives and bread — the herbed citrus marinade is unique and delightful. If you’re in the mood for pasta, their homemade cheese tortellini is an indulgence not to be missed. And for brunch, the loaded potatoes are seriously awesome — your taste buds will rejoice at the melding of creamy, cheesy and spicy flavors.
Revelry also has a great selection of wines, beers, and ciders, and their outdoor patio has both covered and uncovered sections. We ate there three times in four weeks and we’d absolutely go back for more!
Fresco Cafe is a charming, upscale Italian eatery. Their patio and courtyard area out front is full of trees and borders a creek, which made for a lovely ambiance. And the food and wine were top-notch. They offer a selection of pasta, meat and seafood plates (and gluten-free pasta is available for most dishes) plus suggested wines to pair with each. I enjoyed my pasta carbonara, but my partner loved his creamy penne with salmon — it’s one of their signature dishes.
We finished the meal with a scoop of the honey gelato. It had such a light and airy texture that I felt like I was eating a cloud. The honey flavor was strong, but not overpowering. Our meal was a bit pricey, but totally worth it for the all-around excellent experience we had.
With their new American brunch, lunch and dinner options, Urban Kitchen became one of our other go-to restaurants in Bozeman. Their patio area is behind the restaurant and away from the street, so it’s a little quieter than some of the other patios in town. I tried the brunch hash, the eggs benedict and the gnocchi (on separate visits, of course!) and all were excellent.
If you’re into fun and unique cocktails, make sure to try the cotton candy martini. The presentation is half the fun: your server brings out a silver shaker in one hand, and in the other, a chilled martini glass filled with a towering pouf of pink cotton candy. After a quick shake, they’ll pour the drink mix on top of the cotton candy, and you get to watch as the candy melts right into your glass. The result is delicious and not as crazy-sweet as you’d expect it to be.
Little Star Diner
Although the word “diner” is in their name, Little Star Diner is no greasy-spoon establishment; it’s an organic, farm-to-table restaurant that’s open for brunch and dinner. We only tried brunch at Little Star, but my partner was thoroughly impressed with the griddled maple corn muffin — I only got to sneak a couple of bites before it was all gone. It had a flavor and texture like soft, fresh pancakes and maple syrup, and was served up with fresh Montana peaches. Delightful.
I went with the cheddar scrambled eggs — and they did an excellent job of transforming a simple dish into something memorable and delicious. Bacon fat and sheep cheese added complex, savory notes to the eggs, and the greens on the side were a zesty blend of fresh spinach, basil and Italian parsley.
Aside from that, we enjoyed sitting on their rooftop patio and admiring their planter boxes full of fresh herbs for cooking. And our server gave some of the friendliest, most attentive service we had during our time in Bozeman.
Nordic Brew Works
If you’re into craft brews and cocktails but also want to enjoy fabulous food, Nordic Brew Works has got you covered. Neither of us are beer people, but we loved the Rosebay and Hot Norlander cocktails. Also, we tried the dirty potatoes after reading raving Yelp reviews about them, and I can tell you: they are not exaggerating. The unusual combo of curry-spiced potatoes with beets and creamy aioli sauce is outstanding.
For dinner, we both had pizzas, which were tasty as well. Nordic offers a gluten-free crust, which I tried on my Pigs of Parma pizza — a pie with prosciutto, arugula, blue cheese and fig jam — and I was very satisfied. The crust had a nice, soft texture and wasn’t too thin or crumbly.
Although we hadn’t originally planned on spending so much time here, Bozeman has been a delight. I’ve loved our time here, and although it’s a bit far away for a weekend trip from Denver, I have a feeling we’ll be back.
How about you? Have you spent time in Bozeman? Where are some of your favorite places to go in town? Feel free to share in the comments below.