10 Easy & Fun Things to Do in Bozeman’s Outdoors for the Whole Family

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Bozeman is surrounded by nature, bracketed by the Gallatin and Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forests and a short drive from Yellowstone National Park. It’s no surprise that most families in southwestern Montana spend a significant amount of time outdoors in all four seasons of the year. From summertime fly-fishing and hiking to wintertime skiing and snowshoeing, this outdoor community offers adventure for all ages. Here are a few local favorites:

1. Fly Fishing Day Trip

The Bozeman area is reputed around the globe for its blue-ribbon trout fishing. From the nearby Gallatin River to the famous waters of the Yellowstone and Madison Rivers, a seemingly endless supply of fly-fishing water is within striking distance of the mountain town. Many anglers bring their own fishing gear—kids equipment included—and head out on their own to great success. Those looking for a guided fly-fishing trip can choose from either walk-wade or drift boat fishing trips with local outfitters. The River’s Edge Fly Shop and Montana Troutfitters are favored shops of Bozeman locals.

2. Ski Bridger Bowl

Dedicated skiers in the family find plenty to love at Bridger Bowl.
Dedicated skiers in the family find plenty to love at Bridger Bowl.

John Eckman

An easy 20-minute drive from downtown Bozeman, Bridger Bowl is the preferred local’s ski area, and it offers runs suitable for skiers of all skill levels. A vertical rise of 2,700 feet and 2,000 skiable acres of terrain, including a terrain park, is coated with an impressive annual 350 inches of snow. Lucky visitors will have the chance to experience Bridger’s famous "cold smoke" powder days.

3. Cross-Country Ski Bohart Ski Ranch

Just down the road from Bridger Bowl is the cross-country ski haven of Bohart Ranch. A family favorite, the complex offers more than 30 kilometers of regularly groomed trails over varying terrain, including both classic and skate-style tracks. Friendly instructors offer lessons tailored to both children and adults, and rental gear is readily available. Relaxed ski excursions through the hills often result in wildlife sightings.

4. Ride the Lone Peak Tram at Big Sky

Big Sky Resort’s famous Lone Peak Tram ferries skiers to intermediate terrain in the winter, but in summertime it’s a favorite diversion for families. The 360-degree view from the comfortable tram offers views of two national parks, three states, and surrounding mountain ranges, even as far south as Wyoming’s Tetons on a clear day. The tram takes riders to an impressive 11,166 feet summit while a guide points out mountainside features and helps keep an eye out for goats.

5. Raft the Gallatin River

Enjoy rafting on continuous whitewater and stunning scenery.
Enjoy rafting on continuous whitewater and stunning scenery.

Visit Bozeman

The Gallatin River may be best known for its fly fishing (famously recorded in the movie *A River Runs Through It) *but it’s also a haven for whitewater enthusiasts. Thanks to rolling, continuous whitewater and stunning scenery, a whitewater rafting trip down the river is a must-do during a visit to the Bozeman area! Friendly local guides lead the way and ensure rafter safety while on the water. Most local guides will take accompanied children as young as age five.

6. Hike Sacajawea Peak

Enjoy excellent family hikes around Bozeman.
Enjoy excellent family hikes around Bozeman.

Visit Bozeman

The Bridger Mountains line the eastern side of the Gallatin Valley, forming an impressive barrier visible from anywhere in Bozeman. One of the most prominent peaks, Sacajawea, is a favorite of local hikers, and for good reason — the 4.1-mile out-and-back is rated as a moderate hike and is best suited for teenaged children and older, but the view from the top is well worth the climb of 1935 vertical feet. Mountain goats dot the rocky trail, offering convenient distractions during the climb! Those with smaller children can seek the nearby "M" trail, suitable for all ages.

7. Stand-Up Paddleboard on Hyalite Reservoir

Most outdoor shops in Bozeman offer stand-up paddleboard rentals. Smaller kids enjoy sitting on the board while being propelled by a paddler, and there’s hardly a better way to take in the scenery! Hyalite Reservoir, located 10.5 miles up Hyalite Canyon south of Bozeman, is a favorite location for stand-up paddleboarding. Fishing and picnic areas help break up the day, and the reservoir offers easy access with paved parking areas.

8. Wildlife Watch in Yellowstone National Park

Prepare to see plenty of roadside Bison at Yellowstone.
Prepare to see plenty of roadside Bison at Yellowstone.

Mark R Frye

It’s hard to imagine a family vacation to the Bozeman area without a slight detour to nearby Yellowstone National Park. An hour-and-a-half drive will transport visitors to the national park’s plethora of activities, including wildlife watching, hiking, boardwalk-strolling, and scenic drives. Children delight in making a list of species sighted and keeping count of how many bison are on the roadway.

9. Stroll the Gallagator Trail

Running more than 1.5 miles through the east side of Bozeman, the Gallagator Trail is well-utilized by locals looking for an evening stroll with their dog or a quick post-work run. The largely-flat, crushed-stone trail is easy for users of all ages and can accommodate a stroller. Climbing rocks are dotted throughout the trail. It connects easily to downtown, offering the perfect opportunity to top off a stroll with a coffee or ice cream.

10. Tube the Madison River

Summertime in Montana means hot weather, and there’s no better way to escape the heat than to get in the water. Local outdoor shops offer float tube rentals and shuttles to the nearby Madison River, where a popular stretch through Bear Trap Canyon sees steady tuber traffic throughout the busy summer months. The river’s slow, meandering course offers a relaxing escape on the steamiest days.

Written by Jess McGlothlin for RootsRated Media in partnership with Bozeman Tourism.

Featured image provided by Visit Bozeman

6 Tips for Planning the Perfect Overnight Canoe Trip in Alabama

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There is absolutely nothing more soothing than the sound of water lapping on a shore, canoe, or kayak, or the beautiful white noise of water roaring through a tight rocky chute or crashing on the shore of a pearly white beach.

If you’ve experienced these sounds, whether by kayak or canoe, you know how they can make a might outdoors especially tranquil. Now, imagine being lulled to sleep by these soothing sounds as you camp next to those waters.

Camping near a slow-moving blackwater river, beside a rushing stream, in dark and mysterious bayous, or along a sandy shore is truly a remarkable experience. Whether you’re a beginner looking forward to your first paddle campout or a seasoned boater, there are some important steps you need to take to ensure that your overnight paddling trip goes smoothly. Here are six of the most important things to consider.

1. Choose a Suitable Trip

The key to experiencing the perfect overnight canoe trip is selecting a destination that matches your desires and abilities. Of course, you want to select a journey that has plenty of natural beauty, history, wildlife, and maybe even a few challenges—but, it should be reasonable. It’s thrilling to dream of paddling among alligators in the dark bayous of the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta (aka “America’s Amazon”), but that dream involves certain risks that are suited to only the most seasoned paddlers.

Choosing the perfect trip boils down to picking a route that fits your skill level. If you’re a beginner, you should consider trying your first paddling campout with an experienced group or outfitter.

It’s also important to factor in time requirements. Consider how much time you have for a trip, taking into account travel times to the put-ins, take-outs, breaks for lunch, swimming, etc. That will help determine the length of the trip.

Start slow and work your way up to more challenging trips, and always keep it simple. Shorter trips on smaller bodies of water are just as fun and exciting as paddling larger waterways.

2. Consult the Experts

Pull out that old trusty paper map or guidebook or consult online maps to find a waterway to your liking. Then, use the internet to find local clubs and outfitters in the area of the waterway you want to paddle.

“The knowledge of an outfitter allows you to experience everything from whitewater to the salty waves of the Gulf of Mexico and everything in between,” says Jim Felder with Alabama Scenic River Trail (ASRT). “They can show you things it could take you a lifetime to learn otherwise.”

Outfitters can offer insights on the best times of year to paddle the waterway, and they’ll point out possible launch sites and takeout locations. Plus, they can inform you of possible campsites and identify areas prone to log jams and portages.

Another consideration is the weather. It’s not only important to be aware of storms so you can stay warm and dry, but it’s also important to know how weather affects the waterways. Heavy rain hundreds of miles north of a river will dramatically affect the river’s water levels farther south. Without warning, paddlers downstream of a storm could find themselves in swift, rising water. And keep in mind that it’s dangerous to paddle a river that has reached flood stage.

Many streams and creeks in the Southeast are seasonal, and rain greatly affects their water levels. During periods of heavy rain, waterways can reach flood stage and become too hazardous to paddle. During a drought, there might not be enough water to allow your boat to float, and you’ll end up dragging it frequently.

Before you launch, consult an outfitter, American Whitewater, or another resource to determine the current water flow of your destination and whether the conditions are safe.

You also need to identify quick escape routes in case of emergency. “With Google Earth and all the other satellite mapping resources these days, there should be little chance that you run out of places to get out of the water,” says Felder. “Anywhere a road crosses a creek, you can probably get out.”

3. Choose Campsites Carefully

Ok, so you’ve found the river you want to paddle. Now, what about camping? Many people think that any river, creek, or stream is publicly accessible. You may be just fine paddling that waterway, but unless designated campsites have been established, you may find yourself stepping out of the boat and trespassing on private property.

If land in the river—like a shoal or sandbar—has trees growing on it, it's probably part of the adjacent landowner's property. If there aren’t trees on the land, you're likely OK.

Once again, this is where contacting local outfitters and paddling clubs comes in handy. You can also turn to ASRT, which has made things easier by logging hundreds of campsites along the state’s waterways.

4. Keep it Simple When Gearing Up

As you’re gathering your camping gear and supplies, remember the mantra “keep it simple.”

There’s no need to go fancy and invest in a lot of expensive gear. In general, you should try to carry a relatively lightweight load. Remember, you have to bring all of it with you. The size of your canoe or kayak will limit your load, and if you have to portage, you have to physically carry all of that gear with you. And, of course, extra weight and how it’s loaded can play havoc with the balance of your boat.

While it’s good idea to go light, don’t leave behind important essentials. Bring (and wear) your PFD, and be sure to pack food, water, a fire source, first-aid kit, flashlight, sunscreen, maps, and navigation devices. If you paddle during mosquito season, or if rain is a possibility, consider bringing a tent. Otherwise, you can choose to just sleep out under the stars.

REI has a very useful and complete list of “possible” items to take on a paddling campout, so check it out and make adjustments to suit your particular needs.

Before you depart for your camping trip, do a shake down by loading your boat to find the perfect balance when stowing the gear. Then, eliminate any items that you decide you don’t really need.

Be sure to use watertight bags or containers to protect items that shouldn’t get wet, such as clothes, sleeping bags, electronics, matches or other fire-starting supplies.

5. Food and Water

The adventurer in all of us dreams of paddling down a river, dropping a line, and catching our meals fresh from the river. It’s a dream, friends. With luck you can, but it’s not something you want to rely on. So, do a little meal planning, and bring your own provisions. Most paddlers like quick and easy breakfasts to get the day started, a more substantial lunch, and a larger dinner.

Avoid carrying perishables like eggs, and keep things simple. Breakfasts can be as easy as oatmeal, cereal with dry milk, fresh fruit, bagels, or muffins. Lunches can be anything from PB&Js to tuna and crackers to summer sausage and cheese on crackers. For dinner, you can’t beat the latest freeze-dried meals. They’re tasty and quick, with easy cleanup. And, be sure to pack along your favorite snacks, too.

As for water, if you’re paddling freshwater that can be treated, bring the proper water-treatment system or a stove to boil water. Even if you’re prepared to treat water, you should still carry a minimum of one gallon of water per day per person.

6. Fire it Up

There’s nothing like sitting around a campfire after a day on a river. Before you shove off, check fire regulations to see whether or not campfires are allowed, where you can build them (sometimes they’re only allowed on sandbars), and if there are any burn bans in effect.

Organizing an overnight paddling trip for the first time can be a challenge, but it’s also pretty exciting. With all of the things you need to consider, it can feel like you’re planning a great expedition. By mapping out things carefully and gathering information from knowledgeable sources you’ll ensure smooth days on the water, and you’ll finally experience every paddler’s dream—a peaceful night where the lovely sound of lapping water lulls you to sleep.

Written by Joe Cuhaj for RootsRated Media in partnership with BCBS of AL.

Featured image provided by Jordan Bauer

8 Reasons Charlotte is an Awesome City for Outdoor Lovers

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Not that long ago, mentioning you were from Charlotte led to an inevitable lesson in Southeastern U.S. geography. What state is that in? Did you say Charlottesville? Charleston? But that’s all changed as the Queen City’s rocketed to third place in the list of fastest-growing U.S.cities.

Abundant four-season outdoor recreation opportunities and a focus on healthy, active living are major contributors to the Queen City’s newfound notariety. Here’s our list of the top reasons why you need to get outdoors in Charlotte.

1. It’s Home to the World-Class U.S. National Whitewater Center

An Olympic kayak and canoe training center, multisport mecca, concert pavilion, and gastropub all rolled into one at the USNWC, the epicenter of Charlotte’s outdoor adventure scene. At the center you can raft Class I-IV whitewater, climb, zip, navigate high ropes obstacles, paddle the Catawba River, and run or bike on more than 40 miles of singletrack. Then, you can relax with a craft beer and burger on the River’s Edge Grill patio at sunset.

2. Charlotte is Close to the Smokies, Appalachians, and Blue Ridge

The tallest peaks east of the Mississippi reside just a couple hours west of Charlotte, offering lush day hikes through thickets of rhododendron, mountain laurel, and wispy Smoky Mountains mist. The Blue Ridge Parkway winds its way from Cumberland Knob to Cherokee, with miles of easy out-and-back routes to spectacular 360-degree vistas. For backcountry hikers, there’s no shortage of challenging weekend loops traversing Smoky Mountain balds and Appalachian valleys.

3. The City Embraces Cyclists and Runners

Every few months, we celebrate the opening of yet another section of urban greenway connecting neighborhoods with parks and community spaces. The bike- and pedestrian-friendly movement that’s sweeping the city is great news for road-weary cyclists and runners looking for scenic training routes. Little Sugar Creek Greenway is evolving into one of the most popular segments of the future XCLT Trail that will extend 30 miles from Pineville to University City. South End’s Rail Trail is ground zero for happy hour runs, and cyclists own the Booty Loop, where they gather for evening and weekend rides through the shady streets of Myers Park.

4. Neighborhood Gear and Bike Shops Abound

From Davidson to Waxhaw, local bike shops and gear outfitters offer expert advice to keep Charlotteans peddling, paddling, and pitching tents. Stores host group rides and give route recommendations, with service bays for maintenance and repairs. Check in with Performance Bicycle and The Bike Gallery downtown; Spirited Cyclist to the north; South Main Cycles in Belmont; and NC Velo south of the city.

Great Outdoor Provision Company has been outfitting North Carolina hikers and paddlers for more than 30 years. Then there’s the USNWC Outfitter, a virtual trip to candyland for outdoor enthusiasts. Major retailers like REI, North Face, and Trek have set up shop in Charlotte as well, another sign of Charlotte’s love affair with adventure.

5. The Outdoor Community is Passionate and Welcoming

Much of the credit for Charlotte’s outdoor awakening goes to local advocates who have worked tirelessly for change. And the best news—there are plenty of ways to get involved. The Carolina Thread Trail offers trail master certification classes, the Tarheel Trailblazers expand singletrack with trail work days, and Sustain Charlotte is bringing issues like clean air and water, public transportation, and local food systems to the forefront of the community conversation.

6. Bikes, Brews, Bouldering — We’ve Got a Festival for That

Nothing whips up enthusiasm like a good party, and every month brings new opportunities to celebrate the outdoors in the Queen City. Open Streets 704 closes downtown streets to cars for a four-mile street festival. At Biketoberfest, businesses and breweries line the route to welcome cyclists, and the Charlotte Marathon has grown into a weekend party and the city’s signature running event.

USNWC festivals draw thousands for equipment demos, sports competitions, live music, food trucks, and craft beer. In addition to holiday celebrations (think paddling a neon green river for St. Paddy’s Day and running a 5K with Santa), there’s Flowfest’s yoga and bouldering; an outdoor gear market every October; and Tuckfest, four days of multisport competitions and clinics that opens the summer season in April.

7. Plenty of Waterfalls and Swimming Holes

There’s only a couple months when the Charlotte weather’s too cold to get your feet wet. You can relax beside some of the most scenic aquatic spots in the Southeast, all an easy day trip from downtown. The best spot include High Shoals Falls at South Mountains State Park, Carrigan Farms Quarry; Hooker, Triple, and High Falls in DuPont State Forest; Eno Quarry in Eno River State Park; the summit and waterfall loop at Stone Mountain State Park; and Pisgah’s thrilling 60-foot natural waterslide at Sliding Rock.

8. Epic Climbing Surrounds Charlotte

Charlotte is home to a solid climbing community, and beginner to expert climbing destinations are within easy reach of the city, adding up to great year-round cragging. Close to home, Inner Peaks has two locations for instruction and training, while Crowders Mountain State Park offers beginner to intermediate sport and trad routes minutes from downtown. USNWC has everything from belay classes to private instruction on its 30-foot rock wall, 46-foot spire, and free climbing Deep Water Solo routes. More experienced climbers drive two hours north to quality quartzite routes at Moore’s Wall, Pilot Mountain, and Sauratown, or head west into Linville Gorge, one of the southeast’s premiere climbing destinations.

Written by Ann Gibson for RootsRated Media in partnership with OrthoCarolina.

Featured image provided by Better Bike Share/Michael C. Hernandez Photography