A wild place to get an education--in more ways than one
Getting out of Bozeman is half the reason to come to it. The home of Montana State University is ultimately defined by its surroundings: an artful jumble of peaks, rivers, and thick forest.
Bike trails begin in town and continue into the evergreen-clad mountains. Most car racks sport snowboards or kayaks, depending on the season, and most of the 12,000 students play outdoors year-round.
True to Montana's reputation, the prime diversion is fishing: MSU even offers fly-fishing as an elective. The Gallatin River doesn't quite run through it--it's just west of town, and thick with rainbows.
The Bozeman Angler, a cluttered shop with everything from guides to fishy home decor, might just be the center of the fly-fishing world.
Students flock to Yellowstone National Park, 90 miles south, and to Bridger Bowl, a nonprofit ski area 16 miles north with steep slopes and nonexistent lift lines. Few out-of-towners ski Bridger, but locals swear by the powder, so dry and wispy it's called "cold smoke." The MSU campus itself hosts the Museum of the Rockies, with the largest collection of dinosaur fossils in the U.S.; Professor Jack Horner, the dinosaur consultant on the Jurassic Park movies, is its paleontology curator.
Modern Bozeman is booming, riding a tech-fed 30 percent population growth in the 1990s. It now has the most dynamic downtown in the state: bistros and boutiques occupy the nostalgic Main Street redbricks that once housed hardware stores and five-and-dimes. By night, students and grizzled hippies favor a gritty trio of dives near Eighth Avenue and Main Street nicknamed the Barmuda Triangle.
The Bozeman Backpackers Hostel is a funky Victorian building where Montana native Gary Cooper rented a room before splitting for Hollywood. But most visitors opt for the motels downtown with rooms starting at $40--the Royal 7 Motel and the Western Heritage Inn are reliable. Cheaper yet, and embedded in the wilderness people come for, are rustic log cabins in the Gallatin National Forest.
Tycoon Ted Turner owns a massive bison ranch nearby; he's won praise for preserving open space. You might find Ted himself at Sir Scott's Oasis Steakhouse, 20 miles west of Bozeman, waving a sheaf of bills to ensure his swift seating. But don't let a high roller's presence fool you: This thoroughly cowboy joint, standing room only on weekends, was the inspiration for Garth Brooks's hit "Friends in Low Places."