Bozeman, Montana’s stunning Rocky Mountain-backed vistas have always been a tourist attraction; now, a burgeoning hospitality and food & drink scene beckons as we return to post-pandemic travel.
As pandemic-related restrictions ease up just in time for summer, long-favored domestic destinations like Charleston, SC and Hawaii are expected to top many American travelers’ vacation wishlists. Those interested in more undiscovered locales should look to Bozeman, Montana.
This laidback sibling of Vail or Park City on the foothills of the Rocky Mountains has recently experienced an uptick in interest. Known as a gateway to both Yellowstone and Big Sky, Bozeman has always been a solid draw for outdoors enthusiasts, who fly into and out of the local airport and use the town as a short pitstop before setting out for or returning from wilder pastures.
But if the skyrocketing real estate market and growing hospitality landscape are anything to go by, Bozeman is raring to become more than just a pitstop. And in May, Southwest began flying between Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport and Denver and Las Vegas. Getting to this picturesque former cow town of 50,000 people has never been easier, whether it’s for a short detour from the mountains or for a dedicated visit to discover why Bozeman has become the unsuspecting darling of post-pandemic travel.
Where To Stay
Kimpton Armory Hotel Bozeman shook up the local hotel scene when it transformed the 1940s National Guard Armory into a modern 122-room crash pad last year. Located in the heart of downtown, within walking distance of Main Street’s shops, galleries, and restaurants, the Kimpton Armory’s upscale, design-forward hotel experience is unique in a town that’s only recently been making waves among a larger demographic of travelers. Its aesthetics reinforce the landmark building’s Art Deco footprint with chevron-stripe patterns and gilded furnishings. But the visual vibe here combines contemporary minimalism with masculine, mountain-chic texture like lots of brown leather, smooth wood in a variety of natural hues, and western-inspired textiles. Large windows, just about everywhere you go, frame the views of the Rockies perfectly. But if it’s dreamy vistas you’re after, head up to the outdoor rooftop pool; you won’t find a better perch from which to stare at the mountains.
Eye-catching custom-made features (from large-scale in-room murals by local artists to sliding doors fashioned from colorful reclaimed wood) have made The Lark a beloved 67-room lodging choice for years. And amenities like the charming outdoor fireplace as well as complimentary guest access to nearby gyms and fitness studios only add to the stay-like-a-local feeling you get here.
Eat & Drink
Start the day with a turmeric latte or delicious iced beverage at Treeline Coffee, a local roaster sourcing beans from the world’s best coffee-producing nations like Peru, Burundi, and Brazil. Oenophiles should hit up Blackbird not just for its impressive inventory of vino (there’s pet-nat and skin contact for those who are into that sort of thing) but also for the approachable yet considered food menu, which is global with a decidedly Italian lean, with dishes like fennel-and-peppercorn pork salami, roasted sweet potato spiced with Calabrian chili, and ravioli tossed with fava beans and pine nuts. The most difficult dining reservation in Bozeman right now, however, is Sky Shed, the rooftop bar at the Kimpton Armory. The masses come for the see-and-be-seen atmosphere as well as the stunning mountain views, but they stay for the sharp cocktails and Asian-flavored shared plates. Think: soy-glazed Korean meatballs, wings spiked with miso, and fries served with okonomi dipping sauce.
For more adult beverages, there are countless breweries in Bozeman. Mountains Walking offers the best combination of food, drink, and atmosphere. There’s a massive full-wall window that brightens up the wood-y interiors, but take a seat on the communal table, and pair tater-tot nachos and pizza from the wood-fire oven with chocolate-y sour ales and dry Japanese rice lagers. For after-after-after-hours hob-nobbing, try to get into Kitty Warren Social Club, a reservation-only subterranean speakeasy with potent Tiki-tinged libations.
What To Do
Bozeman is very close to two of Yellowstone’s five entrances and it’s only about an hour away from Big Sky, but before you set out, there’s plenty to keep you occupied in and around town. A mile north of Main Street lies one of Bozeman’s most cherished music venues, Live from the Divide, which frequently hosts regional and national musicians for intimate, 50-seat concerts. The century-old, brick-and-wood building provides great acoustics for acts like bluegrass performers G Phat (coming in July) and Americana singer-songwriter Courtney Marie Andrews, who takes the stage in September. Museum lovers should visit Museum of the Rockies, which houses a massive collection of dinosaur fossils, all of which were discovered in Montana. In addition, there’s currently an exhibit (running until September) on Vikings, which features everything from boat burial artefacts to warrior helmets and swords.
Stroll through Main Street and its arteries for some retail therapy. Some of the more unique addresses to add to your Google Map include Head West for a pair of cowboy boots, Inner Alchemy where clay artist Lauren C. Woods creates and sells her ceramics, and Montana Honey Bee Company, which stocks everything from raw honey and honey infusions to honey-based body products.
You didn’t come to Montana to not partake of the great outdoors. Not far from downtown Bozeman, you can hike Kirk Hill. It’s a more rigorous trek, but from the summit, the views of the valley are well worth the effort. If you’ve ever wanted to live the fly-fishing fantasy from A River Runs Through It (which was mostly filmed in Bozeman!), get yourself a guide from Montana Angling Company and head to the Gallatin and Madison rivers to try your luck at this patience-defying sport. Then, finally, treat your weary bones to a little relaxation, at Bozeman Hot Springs. Like many businesses in town, this soaking site has been around for about 100 years. There are 12 pools in total (the hottest is set at 106 degrees) plus wet and dry saunas for the ultimate post-nature reverie.