October temperatures during the day are now comfortably hovering somewhere in the mid-50's and nights are crisp and cool. Everyone can feel winter fast approaching and is busy getting ready for it. Cutting and stacking wood, drying herbs and canning fruits and veggies grown in backyard gardens, people are buttoning up their houses for the winter, and putting the lawnmower in the snowblower spot in the shed. Any day now, it could snow hard. This is the best time of year in my opinion. The last few days of a short high plains autumn, offer visitors and locals alike to soak up the last golden rays of an Indian summer, and to enjoy the peaceful quiet of the mountains, without the crowds of tourists before the snow flies.
One of the most exciting annual festivals in our community is the Bridger Raptor Festival. Golden eagles, and other raptors, make their way down the great spine of the Northern Rockies, from Alaska down to Mexico and beyond. The Bridger flyway, a component of the regional Rocky Mountain Flyway, is the largest known concentration of migratory golden eagles in the U.S with a long-term
average annual count of more than 1,500 birds. On the way there, they concentrate into an aerial bottleneck over the Bridger Range just north of town. Taking advantage of strong updrafts caused by the warming valley floor, and cruise above the Bridgers, without even flapping their wings, rising high up into the sky. The raptors take advantage of these winds, and soar like tiny little specks of dust in the sky, when in fact they grow as large as 6 feet from wingtip to wingtip.
A serious birder cannot miss this event. With a pair of binoculars, and a short but challenging hike to the top of Bridger Ridge, a birder can spot many different raptors. While golden eagles are present year round in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem, the high time for migratory eagles is between September-early November. The hike itself is roughly 2 miles, with a start at Deer Creek Chalet, and switchbacks up the ski resort underneath the chairlift, passing through the bowl of Bridger Bowl, right before it makes its final ascent to the ridge. The trail here, at its steepest, is only moderate terrain. At the top, there is a concrete pad, where birders can sit and watch as long as they please. It's important to bring a blanket, since you will be at around 8,700 feet up on a ridgeline in October in Montana. Caution must be exercised to ensure that the proper gear is taken along, such as an outer parka shell which is windproof and waterproof, hats and gloves, insulated clothing, a blanket, folding chair, and maybe a warm drink.
The festival is held in the main lodge at Bridger Bowl down below at the mountain's base. The Bridger Raptor Festival is a three day event between October 7th - 9th. It's a fun-filled community event, in which many different organizations get together to celebrate this unique natural wonder. The Forest Service has interesting displays on habitats and birds, many non-profit organizations from around town such as the Montana Wilderness Association and Greater Yellowstone Coalition, always make an appearance and lead hikes up the mountain.
The organization central to this event, the Raptor Center (which is located just north of town), brings along any of the resident raptors they may be helping out at the moment. If you are into birding, you may have heard of this organization, as they help injured raptors, and rehabilitate them to be released back into the wild. In the past, we have met Gerald, the tiny little burrowing owl, and a wild unnamed rough hawk who was hit by a vehicle and was about to be released. I met a wild turkey vulture once, who eyed me with caution as I focused in on him to snap my shot. The Raptor Center is a great local non-profit, with a unique purpose, and offering tours of the center, where you can meet the rotating population of injured birds. Highly recommended for a visit if you're in town.
While you are recovering from your hike up and down the Bridger Ridge, you can also head out to the local hot springs. The three premiere local springs are Chico Hot Springs, Bozeman Hot Springs, and Norris Hot Springs, each with its own flavor to suit a variety of styles and personalities. Chico Hot Springs, founded in the early 1900's, is a famous Old Western hot spring, where the walls are lined with pictures of movie stars and past dignitaries that visited over the years. Down the dirt road out back, you can head into a bonafide ghost town called White City, although it is still occupied by a few locals and a goat. The pool itself is a great size, and there is a large warm pool, and a smaller hotter pool. The facility boasts a restaurant, and bar as well, while the backdrop of Chico Peak make for a dramatic soak when a blizzard or some cool and wet weather rolls in. Soaking during a winter storm is pretty magical, as fat flakes hit your face, and instantly melt. These springs are south of Livingston, MT in Paradise Valley, on the eastern side of the valley. Head south on 191 out of Livingston, and make a left at the Emigrant gas station, where there is a blinking red light. Follow the signs from there.
Bozeman Hot Springs has more of a local flavor. This newly upgraded hot spring has also been around for quite awhile, but you would not know that if you looked around and saw what it has to offer. You can work out in the gym, go in the sauna, enjoy a live show and drinks around the pools while bands play on a stage inches from the hot water... The inside pool is also very nice with a range of water temperatures to satisfy anyone's needs to be scalded. The inside pool is where everyone used to hang out, but now that the outside pools are finished, everyone flocks to them to explore the nooks and crannies built into the hot springs. The owner did a great job! We watched and waited with anticipation as he moved giant boulders around the property, and yard after yard of concrete was pumped into the pools. The lighting creates a great laid back ambiance as well. These pools are highly recommended, especially if you have been there in the past, and haven't seen the updated pools. You may not recognize the place! To get to the hot springs, head west on Main St. Out of town, until the road turns into Huffine Lane, around Gallatin Valley Mall. Follow this road to Four Corners (it is obvious) where you will make a left at this major intersection. Go down for a mile and on your right hand side, you will see Bozeman Hot Springs.
And then there's Norris Hot Springs. This is many of the local's favorite hot springs. It is much smaller and less developed, and offers a soak in a wood lined pool. There is a little poolside geodesic dome which local bands like to play out of on a weekend night, and there is a small restaurant serving not only local food, but food grown in their gardens. This place also has a great setting, on the cusp of highlands between the Madison and Gallatin Valleys, it is very quiet, especially at night. Norris is a great place for younger people to gather and catch a show while catching up with each other. The crowd here is more laid back and younger, and come just as much to hang out as they want to see some live music. To get to Norris Hot Springs, drive west on 191 like mentioned above to Bozeman Hot Springs. But instead of making a left at Four Corners, go straight onto Norris Road for about 20 miles. You will cross the Madison River, and then the road will get a little windy so drive safe. You will see it on your left as you approach Norris Junction.
A great family fun event which goes on during October, and one which we never miss, is the Bozeman Haybale Maze, which is located near the North 7th interchange on the north side of town. From North 7th, make a left (if your car is pointed north) onto Mandeville Lane (just past the McDonald's) and you will see it at the end of the road. This is a huge maze, with color finding goal for the kids, as they navigate their way, err get lost, in the hay bale maze. Our kids love it! Take your time, and head out on a warm sunny October weekend afternoon, and you will have a blast. They have some food, and tractor rides, and a small carnival train for kids to ride on. Each year, the theme changes, and so does the maze. Some years are harder than others, but every year is fun!
Another "don't miss" October event is picking pumpkins at Rocky Creek Farms, off of Frontage Road, way out on the east side of town. Just follow Main St. until it turns into Frontage Road. Follow this road for a few miles and you will see a sign for Rocky Creek Farms, pointing to the left. Make a left and go over the railroad tracks, and you will be there. They offer tractor rides, petting zoo, pumpkin picking, cider making, swings for the kids, and more. In the summers families can go here and pick strawberries and raspberries by the pound, which we also do.
The Bozeman Symphony is featuring Sinfonia Concertante with Jolyon Pegis and Maria Schleuning, on October 29th and 30th. This performance will highlight music from Hollywood's golden era. Tickets can be found here. Intermountain Opera Company features The Daughter of the Regiment, by Gaetano Donizetti, on October 14th and 16th. Tickets are sold here.
The Museum of the Rockies always has something going on, and October features two fun events for families. The Museum of the Rockies, home to famed (and now sadly retired) paleontologist Jack Horner, may be the best spot to celebrate National Fossil Day, on October 12th between 4-6 PM. The event is geared around children ages 5-12, and they can complete tasks to earn a Junior Paleontologist Badge. Jack seems to always make his way to these fun events, so make sure to pick up one of his books in the shop downstairs beforehand so you can grab his signature!
The Museum is not only home to one of the most extensive collection of fossils in the world, but is home to many rare fossils such as the baby dinosaur eggs in a nest, which was found in Montana, and then there's Big Mike, the largest T-rex, who waits out front and greets visitors to the Museum of the Rockies with razor sharp claws and gaping mouth filled with steak knife sized teeth. Make sure to get a picture of him by the front entrance, and use a terrified small child by one of his feet for size reference. Other things to do at the Museum include a planetarium which has daily shows, rotating exhibits, a Montana Pioneer museum with an old Pioneer homestead, and other historical replicas like Lewis and Clark's famous boat. The biggest draw will be the fossils in the month of October!
For some Family fun Halloween themed activities, the Museum of the Rockies is hosting a family Grossology Halloween event on October 29th. Our guest house is about a 10 minute walk from the Museum, and is a great afternoon or rainy day activity for the family at any time of the year. The Anderson School, just south of town on Cottonwood Road, is putting up their annual Haunted House.
Montana State University in Bozeman continues to be a regional leader in higher education, focusing on Engineering, Science, and Business. Their slogan is "Mountains and Minds", and the gorgeous campus in the Gallatin Valley is surrounded by 3 mountain ranges, with unlimited recreational activities. Students, during their free time, can enjoy activities such as hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, skiing and snowboarding, fly fishing, hunting, ice climbing, mountaineering, and camping.
There is just so much to do, and students routinely cite the outdoor possibilities surrounding Bozeman as the main reason for their choice in attending the University. Montana State University is one of the largest employers and economic drivers in the Gallatin Valley, and provides a fresh supply of young, well-trained, Montana-winter hardened, graduates and postgraduates, specializing in technical fields from Biochemistry and Microbiology to Engineering and Business. There is an active lecture series, which visitors are free to attend. The Microbiology and Immunology department conducts cutting edge research and their schedule can be found here.
MSU Fridays is also a big event, held four times a year, which is more of a tour around the campus, led by students. Montana State University is hosting their annual Parent/Family weekend on October 21st – October 22nd. Finding a place to stay during this time will be a challenge, so don't forget to check our calendar to see if we have any availability. This is a fun-filled weekend with time to reconnect with your student and meet his or her friends, instructors, roommates, MSU staff members, and other parents, and to enjoy the MSU Campus. The Bobcats have a full schedule for October as well, and our vacation home is a very short walk to the stadium. Sometimes you can hear the game from the living room on a crisp fall day. They will be squaring off against Sacramento State on 10/1, Northern Arizona on 10/8, Weber State on 10/15, and Eastern Washington on 10/22. The detailed schedule can be found here, and tickets can be found here. Family/Parent weekend also falls on the game against Eastern Washington, so it is bound to be a fun filled and exciting weekend in town!
October, the month of Oktoberfest in Bavaria, is similarly celebrated in Bozeman with heavy consumption of local microbrews. OK, Bozemanites celebrate all year long in this fashion, as there are numerous breweries and distilleries located all over town, with more and more popping up all the time. Sign up for Gear Belly's beer bike tour. Or if having someone drive you from microbrewery to microbrewery is more of your style, book a tour with Tour de Foam. Whether you book a tour for the microbrew knowledge, or just to enjoy delicious beer, these guys are experts in the local drinking scene. Some local brewpubs which we have visited and enjoyed are Bridger Brewing, right next to the campus of Montana State University, 406Brewing on the north side of town in the Cannery Building, Bozeman Brewing on the northeast side of downtown, MAP Brewing on the north side of town close to the popular M Trail, and to enjoy some hard cider year round, check out Lockhorn's Cider House, right in downtown Bozeman.
Finally, there is always things to do in the great outdoors around Bozeman. Fall hiking is great, as the aspens and cottonwoods change to a vibrant yellow before dropping their leaves. Many hikes have less people, and are very accessible as long as one takes precautions in the higher elevations. Weather changes quickly in the mountains, so always tell someone where you are going and come prepared for winter weather. For example, the hike up to Bridger Ridge to view raptors at the Raptor Festival will undoubtedly encounter snow along the ridge. Every year we have attended this event we have climbed through snow, even though it may have been packed down enough to allow for wearing hiking boots.
This is still a time to carry bear spray with you, as some bears are still poking and rooting around the mountains, as well as in town. Older bears may have a harder time going into hibernation. There are just too many hikes to list, so I will mention some hikes close to Bozeman which I think highlight the fall in Montana in different ways.
The hike which we suggest not to miss, even if you're in town for one day, is Palisade Falls trail in Hyalite Canyon. This hike is a very short hike on a paved surface, making it wheelchair accessible. The falls are spectacular, as they tumble down a wall of basalt columns, and the picnic area around the trailhead is mystical, with large old growth spruce and fir trees, and the North Fork of Hyalite Creek tumbling down the drainage. Hyalite Canyon is also the start of numerous fantastic hiking into the Hyalite Peaks of the Gallatin Range. The aspen along Palisade Falls Trail, with the waterfall as a backdrop always remind us that winter is near, and as we cherish the last rays of a warm sun, before our life flips a 180 and we don our winter gear and taking just a little more time to get ready for each adventure. This is a great trail! Do not miss it!
Next up on fall hiking trails we love, is Beartrap Canyon to the west of town. This trail is great all year. Except for maybe spring when it is filled with poison ivy. In the fall, there are many deciduous trees and shrubs which turn yellow and orange, and the rugged canyon walls, topped with the evergreens which carpet the foothills of the Spanish Peaks in the Madison Range, make a dramatic setting for some crisp fall hiking. There are many large birds of prey and elk which frequent the upper rim of the canyon. It is a short walk into the Lee Metcalf Wilderness, and the trail is literally next to the Madison River, where fly fishing is prime. Take this trail as far as you like, and as you venture deeper through the canyon, the walls narrow, and resemble a bear trap from a prominent rock outcropping you can access. It is beautiful, and a picnic at this obvious spot, about 3 miles south of the trailhead is a fantastic way to spend an afternoon with your family (as long as they are not small children who may venture near the edge). Find directions to this trail here. Whitewater rafting is also a common activity on this stretch of the Madison River.
The Hogback is a trail just south of Livingston, MT, which is just over Bozeman Pass. It is close to Bozeman, and offers a different perspective of the changing seasons, and its setting is in Paradise Valley. You immediately start ascending this ridge, to a hogback type ridge, with undulating ridges along its length. The hike to the top of one of the high point is short and sweet, and would be considered moderate. You can continue along this ridge for around 5 miles, but it is only around 1.5 miles to a view of Paradise Valley that will knock your socks off. The Absaroka Range lies directly in your face to the east, with the high mountains already covered in snow. You can see the Crazy Mountain Range, which tops out at over 11,000 feet, and rises 6,500 feet from the valley floor, to the northeast. The changing of the seasons becomes evident from this vatnage point, with a golden valley bottom below, a green evergreen layer carpeting the mountains and foothills, and the alpine environs stark white. If you're lucky, you can sit on this ridge with relative safety while a storm rolls in, and catch the clouds enveloping the mountains. This hike has a lot of bang for your buck, in terms of the distance to hike to a great view. You can find out more here (
Finally, a little closer to home, Middle Cottonwood is our last suggestion for a great fall hike. The western and southwestern exposure to the afternoon sun that this trail has, make it an excellent trail to highlight the changing colors of the cottonwood, aspen, and birch which grow along the drainage. Hike to a trail intersection about 3 miles in, for a great picnic spot, and great views of the Bridgers, and the valley. There is a local moose in the canyon, so be careful in the willows.
No post about things to do in Montana during October would be complete without mentioning Yellowstone National Park. This may be the most exciting time to visit the Nation's first park. Two things that Yellowstone is known for is wildlife and geothermal features. While geothermal activity is millenia-round, the wildlife are still very active at this time of year. The elk are in their rut, and a short drive from Bozeman, down through Gallatin Canyon will bring you the northwestern corner of Yellowstone National Park, where the entrance fee is $0. The second trail head on your left will be called Dailey Creek, and winds its way up 4 miles to Dailey Pass on the northern border of Yellowstone and Gallatin National Forest. Listen for bugling at this time of year, and try to spot some rutting elk. The crack of skulls can be heard from the breccia cliffs which make up the extreme northwest corner of the park, from the head butting of bighorn sheep, and around dusk and dawn, you may hear the howling of the resident wolf pack. This is a wild area, so bring some bear spray with you, and definitely break out the zoom lense and tripod, as well as maybe an extra blanket for the long waits.
Some not to miss geothermal features are found in Mammoth Hot Springs, and Old Faithful. The last day of any operations at Old Faithful before the road closes is October 16th, so come check it out before then! There are numerous hikes in the area, and swimming in the hot portion of the Madison River at Ojo Caliente, which can be enjoyed. The Firehole River is closed for the season, and would be generally too cold for this time of year. Mammoth Hot Springs, on the other hand, is open year round, and features the Boiling River, which is a great soak at any time of the year. To find the spot, when you are headed into Mammoth Hot Springs, from Gardiner, MT, you will see a sign which markes the 45th parallel and another which notes the border of Montana and Wyoming. The swimming area trail, which is only a few hundred feet, starts from a parking area near those signs, which will probably be filled with cars. Bring a towel. Also make sure to check out the Upper Terrace Loop, which highlights many of the location exotic looking geothermal features.
If you visit the park before October 23rd (make sure to check this link for more information as conditions change quickly in Yellowstone), you can still drive and get gas at Canyon Village. Bring your own food. Around Canyon Village you can do some quick and amazing hikes to see the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, Artist's Point, Seven Mile Hole, and other hikes. The most exciting hike, is actually a short walk along the road which threads its way to the top of Mt. Washburn, and the fire lookout. From this point, which may have snow and ice at this time of year as it is 2 miles above sea level, you can see the vast Yellowstone Plateau and the active caldera basin. It is an amazing view for such a short and easy hike. This hike is found on the road south of Tower and North of Canyon location, on a spur road which is signed.
Tower location also showcases Tower Falls trail, which is very short and sweet, and leads up to some spectacular falls. At this time of year they may or may not be icy, depending on the year, but this is a trail you shouldn't miss, as it only takes a few minutes to hike to the falls. There is some downhill and uphill climbing.
Lamar Valley never seems to disappoint when it comes to wildlife viewing, but you need to make sure to be there very early in the morning to have the best chance of success at taking the money shot of wolf. These carnivores are found hunting along the edge of the forest, across the valley from the the road you will be travelling on, between Soda Butte and the Yellowstone Institute.
As you can see, there is no shortage of things to do while in town. It wouldn't be possible to name each outdoor pursuit, but you can just assume that outdoor recreation here is world class, year round. Come visit and stay with us, and let us know if you have any sugestions for activities during October!