6 Ways to Enjoy Our Open Lands and Trails This Winter
I don’t need to tell you that you live in a beautiful place. All you need to do is drive to the grocery store and you’ll see the breathtaking backdrop of our lives here in Bozeman, MT. Our summers are pure bliss. There never seems to be enough time to do it all, hike it all, fish it all, float it all, climb it all. It seems that when winter rolls around, we’re all ready to sit by the fire and hunker down from a busy on-the-go season of outdoor activities.
But wait, don’t settle into hibernation completely. There’s plenty to do around here once the snow flies. And no, you don’t need to invest in expensive ski gear and lift tickets to take advantage of all that this winter wonderland has to offer.
As a staff member at the Gallatin Valley Land Trust (GVLT), I get the inside scoop on all the trails and open space in the area. Since 1990 GVLT has been working hard to make sure that we protect all the things that make this place so special. We’ve partnered with the City of Bozeman and other organizations to build the 80+ mile Main Street to the Mountains trail system. And we’ve worked closely with landowners to conserve over 43,000 acres of agricultural land, wildlife habitat, scenic vistas, and rivers and streams. Many of GVLT’s projects provide great winter activities for you and your family. All of them are right out your back door. Here are some of my absolute favorite wintertime activities:
Go sledding on Peets Hill
Peets Hill/ Burke Park was GVLT’s first park project and has become one of the most iconic places in Bozeman. There’s a nice warming hut at the base of the sledding hill for heating up cold, little toes. Bring some hot cocoa and enjoy the sunset from the top of the hill at the end of a fun-filled day. And don’t forget to check out the newest bridge in town at the entrance to the park off of Church St.
Try cross-country skiing at Highland Glen Nature Preserve
Cross country gear is much cheaper than downhill and you can rent skis at a number of retail locations around town. Trust me, anybody can learn to cross-country ski. You might feel a little awkward at first but you’ll get the hang of it. GVLT and Bozeman Health partnered to build the Highland Glen trails back in 2013. The 5+ miles of trail are just east of the hospital and provide amazing views and quiet solitude. Our friends at the Bridger Ski Foundation groom the trails so you’ll have nice smooth tracks to follow. Check out their website, www.bridgerskifoundation.org, for a full map of groomed trails including Lindley Center, Highland Glen Nature Preserve, Hyalite, and Bridger Creek Golf Course. GVLT will be hosting a family-friendly cross country ski celebration called Twilight Tracks for Trails on February 28th. Join us!
Snowshoe on the Chestnut Mountain Trail
I think this trail is one of our best kept secrets. It shouldn’t be. This trail was created in 2010 after 10 years of collaboration with some great partners. The trail crosses land that has been conserved with GVLT and connects users to public land. The trail is accessed from the Trail Creek Exit off of I-90. Because it is off the beaten path, it is usually pretty quiet and snow isn’t always heavily packed from the traffic. The trail is quite wide and not terribly steep so it is great for a group snowshoe outing.
Cut a Christmas In The Gallatin National Forest
There’s a real satisfaction that comes from spending the time to find the exact right tree, cutting it down, and dragging it to the car. If you’re my dad, you’ll spend the next two days drilling holes in the trunk and inserting branches in all the sparse spots. However you do it, try doing it yourself. Permits for cutting your own tree in the Gallatin National Forest cost $5, each with a limit of three permits per family. Permits are available at Fish Wildlife and Parks offices and well as the following local businesses:
- Owenhouse Ace Hardware at the downtown bicycle shop and West Main Street locations
- Murdoch’s Ranch and Home Supply and Wholesale Sports in Bozeman
- Lee and Dad’s IGA and True Value in Belgrade
- Conoco in Big Sky
- Corner Conoco in West Yellowstone
Build snowmen and make snow angels
Our trail system features some really special landmarks, many of which were projects spearheaded by GVLT. Try and find them all and leave your mark with a snowman or snow angel. Some of my favorite trail landmarks to find are: the red chairlift chair near the Lindley Center, Drinking Horse Mountain Bridge, Gallatin Art Crossing Sculpture Park near the Bozeman Public Library, Gallatin Regional Park bridges, climbing boulder at Bozeman Pond, the stump face on the Gallagator Trail, and Riley’s bridge on the Sourdough Trail.
Bring the dogs out
Snowfill Recreation Area is a 37-acre off-leash dog park just north of town. This place is a true dog paradise. Winter is my favorite time of year to visit Snowfill because my pooch absolutely loves frolicking in the powder. I get to look at the snowy peaks of the Bridgers while my dog exhausts herself. Snowfill hosts some of the best views in town. GVLT just added ¾ of a mile of new trail so there’s a great figure-8 loop to try. We also added a vault toilet and expanded parking so you can stay for longer!
If you want to navigate the trails better, grab a trail map at retailers around town. We just updated the map so it includes all the new trails in the Main Street to the Mountains trail system. For a list of trail map retailers, visit www.gvlt.org.
There you have it. Whether you’re new to town or simply just looking for reasons to get outside, Bozeman offers great wintertime activities. You don’t have to be an extreme outdoorsman to enjoy the little things our community trail system has to offer. Happy trails to you this winter. I hope to see you outside!