Bozeman. Montana, is a year-round destination for outdoor activities, with terrain that will lure adrenaline and fresh air junkies of all ages. It's the main reason the town attracts so many visitors, and why so many people end up relocating to this natural corner of Montana full time.

The main draws for travelers are hiking and biking, but the stunning rivers and mountains around Bozeman offer everything from river rafting and horse riding to paddleboarding and extreme ice climbing. Even if you're just passing through for a few days, there's no shortage of things to do.

There are two main activity hubs near Bozeman. The Hyalite Canyon, southeast of town, is a playground for hiking, biking and family paddling, while the Gallatin Valley, southwest of Bozeman around Big Sky, is the place to come for rafting, horse riding, biking and fly fishing. Don't worry if you can't cram your equipment into the overhead bin on your flight; there are numerous places in town to rent gear.

Here's a guide to the best outdoor activities in and around Bozeman.

Montana's big sky will take your breath away

Float on the Madison River

On a sizzling summer's day, there's no better way to beat the heat than to rent a rubber inner tube, head east for 30 miles (48km) to the Madison River, and kick back on a lazy downstream float. The most popular stretch of river runs from Warm Springs to Black's Ford, covering 6.5 miles (10.5km). The only challenge is arranging a shuttle to get back to your car – and not running out of beer!

Madison River Tubing rents tubes for $15 a day and offers day trips for $30 per person that include tube rental and shuttles back to your start point (there's a $5 discount Monday to Thursday). For do-it-yourself trips, Big Boys Toys in Bozeman rents everything from paddleboards and tubes to canoes and kayaks.

Pro tip: bring a floating cooler of ice for cold drinks. Pack water, river shoes, sunscreen and a sun hat.

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Two men riding horses in a forest clearing in Montana
Get around on horseback and feel like a true Montanan © Justin Foulkes / Lonely Planet

Horse ride through sagebrush country

There's no more activity that's more quintessentially Montanan than riding through the rolling sagebrush and flower-filled mountain meadows on horseback. It's a dream for many visitors, and a daily reality for many Montana ranch hands.

Several ranches offer horse riding trips in the southern Gallatin Valley near Big Sky, as well as multi-day pack adventures in Yellowstone National Park, and past riding experience isn't necessary. You can even go llama trekking with llamas carrying your gear (trying to ride them isn't recommended!).

The 19th-century 320 Ranch, 12 miles south of Big Sky, offers everything from a one-hour mosey to a full day ride, with the option of dinner at a barbeque cookout or in the excellent ranch restaurant, plus overnight stays in the ranch's historic cabins.

Sunrise Pack Station offers half-day, full-day and multi-day horse trips in the remote northwestern corner of Yellowstone National Park, accessed from the Gallatin Valley, as well as riding lessons and wintertime sleigh rides from their ranch on the northern fringes of Bozeman.

Go whitewater rafting on the Gallatin River

For something with slightly higher thrill levels than a gentle river float on an inner tube, daily whitewater rafting trips run all summer on the pristine Gallatin and Madison rivers less than an hour outside Bozeman. Kids from six years old are welcome on most trips, and organizers take safety seriously.

The main whitewater action is on the lower Gallatin, thanks to the pulse-raising, class IV rapids known as the "Mad Mile." You can expect to get seriously wet here. The adrenaline rush varies according to the season: June's meltwater brings the wildest rides and flows then taper off throughout summer. A three-hour trip starting from near Big Sky costs $75 per person.

The Madison River offers an alluring alternative because it's a proper wilderness trip (other local rivers are flanked by roads). The rafted section traverses remote Bear Trap Canyon, with some rewardingly splashy rapids at the "Kitchen Sink," but trips are more expensive at $225 per person for a day trip.

Montana Whitewater and Geyser Whitewater offer a similar range of rafting trips and activity combos (for example, rafting with zip lining) on both rivers.

Man fly fishing on the banks of river surrounded by fall colors in Montana
Montana is one of the best spots for fly fishing in America © Patrick Orton / Getty Images

Take up fly fishing on one of Montana’s amazing rivers

If your idea of heaven is a gently riffling river, a box of dry flies and a wily population of hungry cutthroat, rainbow or brown trout, then you probably already have your eyes set on the blue-ribbon rivers that snake through the hills around Bozeman.

The Gallatin River is the closest fishing spot to Bozeman and is perfect for photogenic, knee-deep wades surrounded by towering canyon walls. It's where they filmed the fishing scenes from A River Runs Through It. Enough said.

The Yellowstone River in the Paradise Valley offers equally superlative fishing, with open scenery and mountains framing the horizon to the east and west. The river has several access sites and five camping areas on public land, though fishing from drift boats is more common than wading here.

Get advice on the best sections of river and seasonal choice of flies, as well as gear rental and guides, from Bozeman's many excellent fishing outfitters. Women can learn the sport on three-day, testosterone-free clinics at Montana Women's Fly Fishing School. Catch and release is standard procedure in Montana.

Ice Climb the Hyalite Canyon in winter

This might sound a bit hardcore, but humor us. One of Bozeman's biggest secrets is the spectacular ice climbing in the Hyalite Canyon, some of the best in the USA according to world-class climbers such as Bozeman local, Conrad Anker. Few things focus the mind like the crunch of your spikes and chip of your ice axe as you inch up a frozen icefall, and there are some 150 lines to test your skills.
 
The best time to try the sport is during December's Bozeman Ice Festival, when you can sign up for beginner (and more advanced) full-day climbing clinics ($150), with several aimed specifically at women, people of color and LGBTQ+ climbers. This is seriously world-class training, and it's rightly popular, so book several months in advance.

If these dates don't work, try the two-day intro courses run by Montana Alpine Guides. Lucky Montana residents can score an afternoon of ice climbing tuition free of charge. As a warm-up, consider honing your climbing skills at Bozeman's Spire indoor climbing wall; an intro class costs $30.

A snowboarder riding on a slope in Montana
The hills around Bozeman offer everything from Nordic trails to downhill runs © Shutterstock / Tetra Images Photography

Cross country ski on sparkling powder

Nordic skiing around Bozeman is the perfect way to enjoy Montana’s powdery snow without shelling out for an overdraft-inducing ski lift ticket at a swanky resort such as Big Sky (though the downhill runs are impressive in their own right). You can even ski inside the city limits, thanks to the 43 miles (70km) of trails maintained by the Bridger Ski Foundation; Bridger Creek Golf Course is a good starting point for Nordic beginners.

Alternatively, head out of town to the Crosscut Mountain Sports Center for 25 miles (40km) of groomed skate and x-country trails ($25 pass), plus snowshoe routes and gear rentals. Experienced skiers can also tackle the wilderness trails southeast of town to Hyalite Canyon, South Cottonwood Trail or Mystic Lake.
 
Further afield, Lone Mountain Ranch in Big Sky offers perhaps the most scenic groomed trails in the region, though serious skinny skiers will have their eye on the Rendezvous Trails in West Yellowstone, where the US Olympic team trains each winter.

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