Since I live in the frozen tundra of Minnesota, I usually prefer to spend my winter vacation in a warm destination, but last winter, I decided to try something new and plan a cold-weather vacation. Bozeman is a hidden gem that is the perfect starting point for all your Montana winter adventures. You can drive to the city or fly into the small but efficient Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN) that offers many nonstop flights from cities around the U.S. And when was the last time you were in an airport that feels like a lodge and has real fireplaces in their public seating areas?
If you stay near Main Street in downtown Bozeman, you can walk to the nearby shops, restaurants, and drinking establishments. Our hotel, the Element Bozeman, was convenient, reasonably priced, and a great place to stay to enjoy Bozeman, but there are also plenty of other types of lodging to choose from. Plan to rent a car (even if you’re staying downtown) to drive to the ski resorts, hot springs, and eating establishments that are off the beaten path.
Skiing and snowboarding are obvious activity ideas when you think of visiting Montana in the winter, but with 15 ski resorts throughout the state, you have many options. The Bozeman area’s two closest resorts are Bridger Bowl Ski Area (the local choice) and Big Sky Resort, one of the most famous ski resorts in Montana.
After spending one day at each resort, we found that the Bridger Bowl experience was our favorite because it was less expensive, a shorter drive had better snow, and provided a more local experience. If you want to stay closer to Big Sky Resort rather than in Bozeman, you should check out the Mountain Village, including lodging, shops, and restaurants. If you’re new to skiing or snowboarding or need a refresher, take advantage of the private or group lessons at either of these resorts.
Pro-tip: Reserve the lessons in advance if you can.
The hot springs in Montana were one of the best parts of our trip! We were able to take a dip in the Norris Hot Springs and soak in the 12 pools at Bozeman Hot Springs; each had a very different atmosphere and provided a unique experience. If soaking in 38,000 gallons of fresh hot mineral water appeals to you, then Norris Hot Springs is the place to go. It is open to the public only on the weekends, is located away from town, and has a social atmosphere with a rustic changing area and portable toilets, but the food and drink options were plentiful. One of the best parts is the staff who bring the food and drinks to you while you’re in the pool! Another hot spring experience, Bozeman Hot Springs, is only eight miles west of the city, located in a community-center type building (with a small snack bar, fitness center, and locker rooms) that feels more like a public swimming pool. It has 12 different pools ranging in temperatures from 59 to 106 degrees. We didn’t make it to Chico Hot Springs Resort & Day Spa, which is also close to Bozeman, but we will add it to our list next time.
Pro-tip: Plan your hot springs visits after a long day of skiing to get the full impact of the hot water. It is the perfect activity after spending a day on the slopes.
We were lucky enough to see some bighorn sheep on our way to Big Sky Resort, so keep an eye out on the road as you travel throughout Big Sky Country. If you have time, plan a day trip or spend a few nights visiting Yellowstone National Park because there are plenty of things to do in winter or near Yellowstone that is well worth the trip. Plan carefully if you’re a first-time visitor because some parts of the park are closed during winter, but you will have a whole different perspective than visiting during the summer.
Although not the largest city in Montana, Bozeman’s strong local food scene was rated the best food city in Montana by Thrillist last year. We ate a few meals outside of town during our ski days and enjoyed our complimentary breakfast at the hotel, but our recommendations for Bozeman meals include:
A very walkable street (dress warmly if you’ll be outside for a while) full of historic buildings, interesting shops, and various places to eat and drink. You can find almost anything, as the stores range from antique stores to shoes, jewelry, outdoor gear, apparel, gifts, and even art galleries.
Our top picks were these local spots to check out:
The Montana Scene – Get your Montana souvenirs (but not the cheesy ones) here.
Country Bookshelf – Browse or buy at the largest independent bookstore in Montana.
Cactus Records – When was the last time you were in a record store? This is a fun one as it includes gifts and is well worth a stop inside.
REVOLVR Menswear – An awesome men’s clothing, footwear, and accessories store for you or the special guy in your life.
Stop inside the Baxter Hotel, a local historic landmark, for a bite of chocolate at La Chatelaine Chocolate Company (Note: they have a second, larger location on Main Street).
Since it is winter and during a pandemic, it’s good to look for indoor activities where you can also social distance. The Bozeman Breakout Escape Room is a fun choice for such an activity, and you can book as a private group so the entire escape room will be for you and your travel companions. They are open every day of the week, and they have three different breakout rooms to choose from. Advanced reservations are required.
Pro tip: If you’ve never done an escape room before (or if you’ve never won), read these tips before you go.