Montana has been on my radar for a long time. I’ve dreamt of fly fishing in Montana, exploring Yellowstone National Park, and hiking in Glacier National Park. Thankfully, I have Melynda Harrison of TravelingMel and Yellowstone Trips sharing her favoring Montana day trips from Bozeman, bumping this destination closer to the top of my bucket list. If you haven’t been to Montana, you’re in for a treat, because Melynda’s post is going to have you booking tickets in no time.
Best Day Trips from Bozeman, Montana
Bozeman, Montana used to known as a cow town with an Ag college. These days, it’s a city, by Montana standards, and home to Montana State University. There are plenty of things to do in Bozeman year round. In the summer, residents and visitors take advantage of the numerous trails that start in town and wind into the Bridger, Gallatin, and Bangtail Mountain Ranges. The Yellowstone, Gallatin, and Madison Rivers are filled with anglers, kayakers, rafters, and stand up paddle boarders. Winter brings skiers swooshing down the slopes and the local ski hill, Bridger Bowl, or the world renowned Big Sky Resort. Cross-country ski trails, both groomed and wild, crisscross the snowy landscape.
There’s more to Bozeman than recreation, of course. The town has more breweries and coffee shops than its population of 45,000 plus people can conceivably support. The Museum of the Rockies is famous for its dinosaur fossils and paleontologist Jack Horner—famous for discovering the Maiasaura and his work on Jurassic Park.
Bozeman has so much to offer including its location. Within a few hours of this southwestern Montana town, there is so much to do.
The world’s first national park is just down the road from Bozeman. In fact, two of the entrances to Yellowstone are within an hour and half from the Bozeman. For the perfect Yellowstone itinerary, I recommend entering through the North Entrance in Gardiner on a day trip from Bozeman. (You can also access the park through the West Entrance in West Yellowstone.)
Once inside the park, stop at the Boiling River for a soak. There are two front country locations in Yellowstone where you can get into the hot water, and the Boiling River is the best one. The Firehole River is also nice, but more warmish than warm or hot. Get there early to avoid the crowds.
Next, drive up the hill to Mammoth Hot Springs Village. Tour the visitor center, walk around Officer’s Row where Army officers lived when they managed the area before it became a park in 1872, and gawk at the Mammoth Terraces – a huge travertine mound of hot springs.
If you still have time, take a walk along the 5-mile Beaver Pond Loop Trail. It’s a fairly easy walk and amazingly uncrowded, even in summer. Stop by the Mammoth Grill for ice cream or burgers before heading back to Bozeman.
Visiting Missouri Headwaters and Lewis and Clark Caverns State Parks
While, Montana National Parks might be the major tourist draw – Glacier National Park in the north and Yellowstone in the south – we can be proud of our State Park system, too. Missouri Headwaters and Lewis and Clark State Parks are both set in beautiful natural settings with an interesting history.
Missouri Headwaters State Park is where the Gallatin, Madison, and Jefferson Rivers come together to form the Missouri River. When the Lewis and Clark Expedition arrived here in 1905, they had to decide which one would lead them to the mountains and eventually the Pacific Ocean. In addition to Lewis and Clark history, there is interpretive information about Native Americans that used this space. It’s a great park for a day trip, short hikes, and fishing, or spend the night in the campground and take advantage of the evening ranger programs.
Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park has nothing to do with Lewis and Clark (except they camped nearby), but it is a great place to explore both above and below ground. Montana’s first state park is a showstopper and it’s worth a visit if you like exploring caves. Stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and cave bacon decorate this large limestone cave. A two-hour guided tour takes visitors through two miles of walkable cave trail. For more of a challenge, those 12 and older can strap on a helmet and headlamp, get off the trail, and crawl through the cave on a Wild Cave Tour.
Montana’s State Capital isn’t huge compared to other state capitals – there are just over a million people in the whole state—but there is a lot to see and do in Helena. The Great Northern Town Center features a carousel of native Montana animals, a hands-on children’s museum, and a Lewis and Clark walk that takes you along on their expedition.
In the pedestrian-only Last Chance Gulch, you can get locally made ice cream and beer, visit shops with Montana made products, and peruse the art at the Holter Museum. Visit the State Capital building to gawk at the paintings in the rotunda and take a self-guided tour.
Helena, like most of Montana, has a lot of outdoor activities to offer. In summer, hike and bike in the local hills and mountains. Winter brings cross-country skiing, ice skating, and snowmobiling. When you are done with all that, take a dip in Broadwater Hot Springs.
Visiting Montana’s Hot Springs
One of the highlights of a visit to Montana is a dip in a hot spring. There are several that make a nice day trip from Bozeman, especially when combined with a hike or ski. Bozeman Hot Springs is just 15 minutes away and has several indoor and outdoor pools, as well as a gym and spa. At Norris Hot Springs you can soak outside, eat local food, and listen to a band from the pool. Five minutes from the North Entrance of Yellowstone is the Boiling River (see the Yellowstone section above). In fact, there are a handful of hot springs within an hour of Bozeman and at least as many more within a two hour drive.
*All photos credited to Melynda Harrison.