Jan 19, 2021 at 9:36 pm #3694630
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I’m considering relocating to Montana. I know there is some spectacular stuff in the western part of the state, but how about eastern Montana (east of Bozeman)? Any towns worth checking out (i.e. places with easy access to outdoor rec, history, and culture)? Good spots for short to medium distance backpacking trips? In short, are there places in that region where I could live surrounded by nice scenery and have easy access to backpacking on my days off? Thanks for any insight!Jan 20, 2021 at 6:04 pm #3694774Evan MBPL Member
What exactly do you mean by “east of Bozeman?” There are plenty of opportunities east of Bozeman. Anything in or near the Absarokas would be east of Bozeman but I would still consider, say, Red Lodge as being in western Montana. If you’re referring to the western Dakotas (true east Montana) then I don’t have much advice for you as I’m not too familiar with that part of the state. But even central Montana (Billings, Great Falls) will have ample outdoor opportunities.Jan 20, 2021 at 7:06 pm #3694800
Good question. So for some further context, I’m considering joining the Catholic Diocese of Great Falls-Billings, which encompasses the eastern 2/3 of the state. On a map, you could draw a line from Livingston up through Great Falls, and that would basically be the western boundary, so potentially I could be assigned anywhere from there to North Dakota. I took a quick trip through Billings and Miles City last weekend, and found the geography pretty intriguing, but am wondering what sort of overnight backcountry camping there might be. From Billings, it seems that the Absarokas would be easily accessible, and Glacier would be reachable from Great Falls, but how about in the other directions? Is there worthwhile stuff in the Custer National Forest and Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument and elsewhere? I’d be open to exploring stuff off trail too if there aren’t many “backpacking” trails in the area.Jan 21, 2021 at 9:52 am #3694890Mark WetheringtonBPL Member
@markwethLocale: Western Montana
I live in western Montana and haven’t spent any real time in the eastern part of the state, largely because the “best” backpacking is generally west of Billings. By “best” I mean the quintessential mountain scenery of the Northern Rockies with alpine lakes, tumbling streams, craggy peaks, montane forest, etc.
There is plenty of public land in the eastern part of the state, some of it rather interesting like the breaklands and the rock formations of Makoshika State Park, but most of it is rolling terrain that is a bit more austere and harsher climate-wise than the western part of the state. If you don’t limit yourself to trails (which it sounds like you wouldn’t) you could likely enjoy finding out-of-the-way spots to spend time outdoors, but you’d almost certainly be having to put in more effort in almost every regard (research, making sure you don’t trespass on private property, driving rough roads to “trailheads” that are impassable when wet, putting up with cold and windy and hot conditions, etc.) for a return that most might subjectively rank as less desirable than the scenery further west. Very few hikers and backpackers who live in the western part of the state travel to the eastern part for outdoor recreation, and there is a reason for that. Similar to how almost no backpackers/hikers from the East Coast are flying into Fargo, ND for their big summer trip . . . but the people that live in North Dakota can make the best of it when wanting to get out on weekend trips within a few hours drive.
Given that it sounds like you can’t guarantee you’ll be in the western part of the eastern half of the state, I think you’d be taking a bit of a gamble and might end up somewhere that is basically “West Dakota”. Nothing wrong with that, and you could still find things to do, but not ideal from a backpacker’s standpoint. If you could limit yourself to positions in Billings or Great Falls I would say “go for it!” without a second thought.
All that said, I believe that the “best” backpacking is the backpacking you’re going to be able to do and excited to do most frequently. So if you’re enthusiastic about grabbing a map and have a capable vehicle for rough ranch-type roads and don’t mind hiking off trail with not major destination for your trips (which, for the record, I think is kind of fun) then you’ll be set. And if moving to eastern Montana would likely allow you to do more backpacking than you currently do, then definitely make the leap.Jan 21, 2021 at 10:11 pm #3695011
Thanks Mark, that’s some very helpful insight and about what I expected: primo stuff in the west, maybe some enjoyable, everyday hiking in east requiring some more effort to search out.
I would agree that “the best backpacking is the backpacking you’re going to be able to do and excited to do most frequently.” I’ve lived mostly in the east (Virginia, Tennessee), and have been fortunate to have had relatively easy access to the AT. Having such access and all the information surrounding that trail has made it easy to head out for quick last minute trips with minimal preparation. The AT isn’t necessarily the most exciting place to hike, but in recent years I’ve been able spice things up by setting section hiking goals, which help me push myself to hike farther, faster, in all sorts of conditions. I think that if I do end up in a place like eastern Montana, it would be worth my while to sit down and map out some long distance routes that I could easily plug into whenever I have some free time. If I already had the bulk of the planning done and a clear goal established, it would be a lot more motivating to go out and continue working on a route I developed vs. searching endlessly for a new “mediocre” trail to hike out and back.Jan 22, 2021 at 9:43 am #3695047Dave @ OwareBPL Member
@bivysack-comLocale: East Washington
No personal experience but I have a lot of family in the eastern two thirds.
Rafting, fishing, hunting and skiing are the stuff my relatives do outdoors these days.
My Dad grew up in Miles City. The big outdoor recreation at that time was hunting and fishing which could be done nearby. My Grandad also was very hook and bullet and they both traveled west into what is now the Bob Marshall, the Crazy Mtns and the East side of Glacier and did hunting by horse packing or skiing in. But they eventually built a little vacation cabin on Canyon Ferry Reservoir near Helena so they could be more west and nearer good jobs for my Dad.
Some people just love the prairie and it’s big sky and others are much more happy in deep woods, or at the seashore, or up in the mountains (or in the bustle of the city). How adaptable are you?Jan 25, 2021 at 7:02 pm #3695577
My friend spent the last part of 2020 in Miles City and said that hunting was still a big past-time around there. Not something I grew up with, but I’m open to trying it out, especially if combined with backpacking.
How adaptable am I? That’s a good question. I spent the first 22 years of my life near mountains (Blue Ridge), and that’s always felt like home to me. The first time I lived in flatlands near the coast, I got into kayaking and enjoyed it, but it was a difficult time of transition, so I didn’t care much for the geography. Other times I’ve lived in coastal flatlands have been in the suburbs, which I didn’t care for at all. I spent a good part of the summer in South Dakota this year, and found the rolling hills pleasing (only downside was biting flies!). Ultimately, I think I’ll have to spend a couple months over in Montana to get a feel for it and see if it could be “home” as well.Jan 25, 2021 at 10:51 pm #3695610Ryan JordanAdmin
@ryanLocale: Central Rockies
I spent 20+ yr in MT (bozeman).
+1 for Red Lodge, but that’s still SW/SC-ish and not really Eastern.
The Missouri Breaks, Fort Benton area – are incredible. One of my favorite places on earth. Hiking is actually very good. Great flat water paddling too, obviously. Charles Russel NWR is a terrific public lands project there.
The rest of the E part of the state is locked up with a lot of private lands, but the landowners are usually OK with giving permission to hike (not so much hunting/fishing) – often they will ask you if you need a ride, and can’t figure out why you want to walk thru their property :) And the bigger public land units there (near Miles City and Terry) tend to be crisscrossed by a lot of jeep roads, so you’ll have some motorized company in those areas.
The Bitter Creek WMA east of Havre is awesome – no trails, terrific open hiking, canyons, slots, hoodoos. Very cool area. But there’s not much else out there accessible to the nature-lover…Jan 25, 2021 at 11:59 pm #3695619Luke SchmidtBPL Member
I’m of the opinion that if you are called to a place you can make pretty much anything work. But I don’t think East Montana would be to bad.
You might need to get creative. If you get closer to the Dakotas the Maah Da Hay trail sounds interesting for hikingor biking. On longer vacations you could of course head for the mountains.
This is going to offend some people but oh well. You could try coyote hunting. I imagine most ranchers would welcome you if that was your thing. My friend got invited to hunt all kinds of cool places that way in North Dakota. In some areas they can cause some problems.
I imagine there is some fishing to be had as well.
What Ryan is describing sounds like a good place for a mountain bike or possibly a gravel bike. And shoot, maybe you could look into horse riding.
One thing to consider is the winter weather. My understanding is that eastern Montana is sort of like the artic without the bragging rights. Not saying don’t go but have your eyes wide open. It will get cold and anything warmer will be a long way off. Have a plan and some indoor hobbies.
Hope it works. Who knows you might love it.Jan 29, 2021 at 11:37 am #3696160
Thanks for the tips, Ryan. I’ll be sure to check those places out.
Luke- I agree that if one is called to a place, they can make pretty much anything work. Those are some great ideas for non-backpacking recreation. This past fall I was working an on-call position near the AT, so I couldn’t do overnight trips. Instead, I started day hiking sections, got bored with it, and then started running portions of the trail. It really kicked it up a notch for me and turned it into some fun exercise. I’ve been interested in trying out gravel biking, especially combined with some bike packing, so eastern Mt might be a good place to give that a go. I haven’t heard of the Maah Da Hay trail, so I’ll have to check that out. I’m living and working in Jackson Hole for the winter, so I’m getting a pretty good taste of true winter weather, although here it probably has more glamour.Jan 29, 2021 at 12:15 pm #3696169Dave @ OwareBPL Member
@bivysack-comLocale: East Washington
If you like temperature extremes-
“Chinook winds account for the greatest 24-hour temperature change ever recorded on earth when, in Loma, Montana, the temperature rose from -54° on January 14th to 49° on January 15th in 1972:”Feb 1, 2021 at 9:37 pm #3696853
I remember learning about those winds and their effects on wildland fire, but wow, over a hundred degree temp difference in 24 hours!! I can’t even imagine what that would be likeFeb 3, 2021 at 5:45 pm #3697224Jenny ABPL Member
@jenniferaLocale: Front Range
One thing to consider if you relocate is that you probably won’t be fighting crowds like you would in the western part of the state. It’s Montana, it’s a big state mostly without the large cities that you have in other western states, but many areas are noticeably more crowded than they were even 10 years ago. Mountains tend to be a big draw, but there are certainly opportunities to be had elsewhere.
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