Epicenter: Year-Round Climbing in the Northern Rockies

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With World-class Ice and Rock Routes, There's No Such Thing as Seasonal Sending in the Bozone

Bozemanites will tell you that there’s nothing to see here. Move along. Maybe it was Missoula you were looking for? But the town and its immediate surroundings harbor some of the best climbing (and general adventure) in America’s northern Rockies and is, in a word, awesome.

Conrad Anker follows the 3rd pitch of Winter Dance (WI5-6 M8) | Photo submitted by MP user Bud Martin.

Home to Montana State University, a funky downtown scene, and a lifetime of fun within an hour’s drive—there’s a whole lot to see here. It’s renowned for Hyalite Canyon’s reliable ice (more than 150 ice and mixed routes in just three square miles, according to locals), and with the Bozeman Ice Festival held annually in December, it’s one of America’s ice Meccas.

But you don’t (always) need axes to get vertical. To the south, Gallatin Canyon boasts a variety of climbing on equally varied rock, from limestone sport climbing to granite and gneiss multi-pitch trad lines. There are even some pebbles to wrestle at Sagebrush Point and Cascade Creek. If big mountains are more your style, find quality alpine experiences in Paradise Valley, also just an hour’s drive. A few days here and the town begins to feel like an isolated paradise separated by the 10,000-foot peaks that surround the town.

What to Climb: The 10 Best 4-Star Routes

As ranked by Mountain Project users

Sparerib (5.8)
Gallatin Canyon
“The second pitch is brilliant. I had to remind myself to place pro; it’s easy to forget when you’re having so much fun.”

Standard Route (5.9)
Gallatin Tower
“This is a great climb, though it does get a lot of traffic. I’ve even heard of a bachelor party at the top of the route! Cookouts utilizing the fabled grill stashed near the summit have become something of a tradition for Bozeman locals.”

Unknown party on the second pitch of Standard Route (5.8+) | Photo submitted by MP user TomKingsbury.

Tigger (5.10a/b)
Gallatin Tower
“Stout climb. This one is great training for other sandbagged 5.10 routes at places like Devils Tower. Can’t wait to return to Montana and battle with Tigger again!”

Theoretically (5.10+)
Hyalite Canyon
“Stunning, pumpy, thin fingers. A don’t-miss route—the best on Hyalite rock.”

Montana Centennial Route (5.11a)
Cowen Cirque, Paradise Valley
“A year later and the day is still burned into my memory. This is one of the best alpine routes anywhere in the Lower 48—I promise. The climbing itself is perfect, and the setting is equally amazing. Even the 18-mile hike in and the campsite by the lake are spectacular. Do it.”

The spectacular pitch 7 of Montana Centennial Route (5.11a) | Photo submitted by MP user Kurt Prond.

The Fugitive (5.12-)
Gallatin Canyon
“The best line in the canyon. Discontinuous finger cracks on beautiful stone. Grip it and rip it!”

The Dribbles (WI4)
Hyalite Canyon
“Longer than other climbs. It has nice belay ledges and a few steep sections on flows that are routinely thick and forgiving. And it’s one of the few climbs that can handle more than one party at a time. The descent gully is avalanche-prone, so rap the route if you are in doubt.”

The Thrill is Gone (M4)
Hyalite Canyon
“Fun, relatively easy, but sometimes-serious corner. If there’s not enough ice you’ll scratch up the corner and have a hard exit, too much ice and all the good pro in the chimney is covered, but if you hit it just right you get one-swing sticks and great rock gear. Whoop, whoop!”

Cleopatra’s Needle (WI5)
Hyalite Canyon
“The climb is in an amphitheater with views of high, windswept ridgelines and ice flows off rotten cliff bands. The approach, climb, and views are all world-class.”

Cleopatra's Needle (WI5) | Photo submitted by MP user Byron H.

Winter Dance (WI5/6 M8)
Hyalite Canyon
“Surrounded by overhanging choss, free-hanging ice, and cold air, Winter Dance is the ultimate journey into the upper tier of Hyalite and is like stepping onto another planet.”

Live Like a Local

[Sleep] Bozeman is surrounded by National Forest, where dispersed camping is plentiful and free (ask nicely at the REI or Northern Lights, and they’ll clue you in). Hyalite Reservoir, a half-hour south of Bozeman, offers multiple campgrounds off of Hyalite Canyon Road. The primitive sites are free. Want a roof? The Bozeman Backpacker Hostel (406-580-3330) right off Main Street has 16 shared rooms with bunk beds and bathrooms. For $22 a night you get a bed (bring a sleeping bag or rent linens), air conditioning, Wi-Fi, laundry, and a full kitchen.

[Eat] With two locations and a progressive vibe, Community Food Co-op  is an excellent place to pick up groceries—and a bite to eat. It’s like a way less corporate Whole Foods. The Flying C juice bar and espresso shop upstairs in the Co-op’s W. Main St. location is a welcome alternative to crowded downtown coffee shops (and a great place to get some work done). Montana Ale Works  dishes out jazzed-up comfort food along with an extensive collection of regional craft brews from across the mountain region. To stay light, go for the fish tacos or steak salad.

Bozeman's Rocking R Bar | Photo: Courtesy

[Beer] Downtown Bozeman has a lively nightlife, with a mix of rancher bars, dives, mountain-chic pubs, and live music. A true piece of Bozeman history is the Rocking R Bar, which has been a hot spot since the 1940s. Destroyed by a natural gas explosion in 2009, the bar is back open as of 2011 thanks to community support. To hand with the crustiest of locals, stop into The Haufbrau, a hole-in-the-wall joint that hosts local artists in a cozy setting. Tip: Bring a pocketknife—carving your name into the table is encouraged (at least it was last time we were there). The place is one of a kind.

[Chill] Rest day? Soak in the healing waters at Norris Hot Springs, 40 minutes west of Bozeman in the Madison River Valley. Or take a hike.

More Bozeman Area Climbs

EPICENTER is a destination guide series highlighting America’s best climbing areas, produced in collaboration with Climbing magazine.

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