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Bozeman Travel Guide

Downtown Bozeman, Montana
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While Bozeman itself is a nice town, the main draw of Bozeman, judging by the hordes of new people now calling this area home, is the towns location. Bozeman has several things going for it that have been drawing people in for years. First, for winter sports, Bozeman is about a 45-minute drive away from three very fine ski areas – Bridger Bowl, the rather expensive Big Sky Ski Resort and Moonlight Basin Resort. While Bridger Bowl still has a local flavor to it and is used primarily by locals, Big Sky Resort is, in many ways, the “Vail” of Montana – complete with vastly overpriced housing, unending condos (many of which are rather ugly, I think) and huge trophy homes. Still, the ski area does have fine skiing – if you can swallow the $75+ lift ticket price.

Second, Bozeman has been attracting individuals who like to fish. The Gallatin River runs just about 15 miles away from downtown, while the Yellowstone River lies thirty miles to the east. The Madison River is also within easy driving distance.

Third, Bozeman is surrounded by mountains. All around Bozeman are towering mountains – complete with huge tracts of public lands. These public lands provide abundant hiking, mountain biking and backpacking opportunities.

Finally, all these mountains make Bozeman a very scenic place. The towering snow capped mountains just outside of town probably do more to draw new residents to Bozeman than anything else.

Perhaps somewhat oddly, while Bozeman receives significant tourism traffic, Bozeman itself does not remind me of a tourist trap – and is certainly nothing like what is found about 80 miles south down in West Yellowstone. While there are some touristy stores in Bozeman, and traffic can be intense during the height of the summer, most stores in Bozeman are more “functional” than “touristy” in nature. I suspect Bozeman can get away with this because the University provides an unending stream of young Montanans,  most of whom end up using these stores during the normal course of the year.

Bozeman, as it lays right off Interstate 90, receives many people passing through. Combined with its tourist trade, the town, of course, has an ample supply of hotels and such to cater to traveling motorists. However, be warned that due to college events these hotels can fill up during the oddest times of the year. If you plan to stay in Bozeman overnight, it never hurts to have a reservation; otherwise, you put yourself at the mercy of any college events that may arise.

Mountains Outside of Bozeman, Montana
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Prices in Bozeman are a mixed bag. While food and related items aren’t really more expensive than is found elsewhere in Montana, other things, like housing, can be quite expensive. Moreover, Bozeman suffers from a double whammy in the housing market. Not only are many new people looking to buy or rent places in and around Bozeman (most of whom are from out of state and have large pools of money available), the crush of college students further drive up housing prices and keep prices on the high side. While home prices in Bozeman are not as expensive as in Big Sky, prices are hardly affordable by Montana standards, either.

The job market in Bozeman, however, continues to be one of the stronger ones in Montana. Traditionally, Bozeman has always had a solid job market. But, just like other Montana towns that receive much of their visitation from tourism, the bulk of the jobs in and around Bozeman tend to be service level oriented jobs that aren’t exactly great paying. However, unlike other typical tourist towns, Bozeman does have some well paying jobs in town – they are somewhat scarce, but they are there. Several smaller technology firms are located there, as are many government and state agencies. Montana State University also provides good employment for many people in Bozeman.

Overall, I have mixed feelings on Bozeman – which is why this Bozeman travel guide section is so short. In some ways, I love Bozeman. The location of the town is almost ideal. Anyone who enjoys skiing, fishing or other outdoor activities cannot but help to like Bozeman’s location. The great scenery just outside of town doesn’t hurt any, either.

The downtown area of Bozeman is also very nice by any standard, and having MSU located in town gives Bozeman a certain vitality that other Montana towns, with the exception of Missoula, seem to lack. Finally, Bozeman has a wealth of shopping opportunities, excellent and numerous restaurants plus four good movie theatres. The climate in Bozeman is also generally nice by Montana standards - with lots of sun year round and nearly perfect summer weather.

Yet, the massive and uncontrolled suburban sprawl (an ugly word, but unfortunately rather fitting) makes Bozeman feel more like a suburb of a major city than a town, at least to me. The open space that makes the Bozeman area so beautiful is beginning to fill in and, if plans on the drawing board come to fruition, in a few decades there may not even be much of that left.

Moreover, Bozeman, like other Montana towns that are prime places for out-state home buyers, is an expensive place to live - at least for housing. This is due to both having MSU located in town as well as having a flood of out-state money flowing into the local real estate market. This, most likely, explains the rather prolific numbers of trailer parks that are tucked away in odd parts of the Gallatin Valley - many people who work in Bozeman can't afford to live there.

In short, Bozeman is a very nice town. For anyone coming from a big city (to live or play), Bozeman probably looks like paradise in many ways. But, if you’re looking for a sleepy little town that is affordable to live in and is likely to remain that way in the years ahead, then be prepared to look elsewhere, as Bozeman may not be the place for you.

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