Bozeman, Montana is a pretty fantastic hub for bike packing and cnyclotouring. Our little town lies in the large Gallatin Valley that is surrounded by mountains. Point your bike pretty much any direction and you are bound to find some beautiful riding. In my time here I have gotten to explore a lot of those places and as more folx begin to find out about this place I have received a lot of questions about places to ride and bike packing routes. This route is a great starting place for an adventure from Bozeman. The “base route” is a 3 night loop with one resupply which in my experience is a pretty “type 1 fun” route thought your experience may vary depending on fitness and experience. One of the reasons I have recommended this route to so many people over the years is that is is easy to make just as challenging or chill as you would like.
This route is called the Paradise loop because it takes you from Bozeman through the foothills of the Gallatin range and drops you into the stunning Paradise Valley, the official “Gateway to Yellow Stone”. From there you could add mileage by detouring to the park (The boiling river is a great spot), detouring up the Boulder River Valley, or even just ride to Chico Hot Springs and then ride back for a nice one night credit card tour. This route however goes through the quaint Western town of Livingston, climbs up the backside of the Bangtail Range and then up and over the Bridgers for one final push. The scenery is amazing and the mix of dirt/gravel roads and singletrack are truly world class.
Here is where I should add a disclaimer. This is a verrrry rough outline of this route and before going on this route you should prepare yourself with all of the necessary maps, tools and information required for any bikepacking excursion. This route doesn’t stray too far from civilization, but you will be in remote places with no cell phone service and lots of wild animals. Conditions change and the maintenance of some of these roads and trails can be inconsistent. Bear spray is a good idea.
That said, I find this route best suited for tires in the 42mm - 2.5” range. Almost all of it is on dirt road, though there is the option to come down the Bangtail Divide which is single track and pretty rocky at times. Flathead pass can also be quite chunky.
Water sources are usually pretty plentiful, though water in the Bangtails can be tricky to find starting as early as mid-June. I would not recommend planning on this route before July due to snow in the Bangtails, though you can re-route through Clyde park if that is the case.
Start in Bozeman. Alter Cycles is a great resource for any last minute bike needs, plus the Wild Crumb across the street is a great spot to grab a snack before you roll out. I usually load up on groceries at Heebs Grocery on the way out of town. You will need to carry at least one night of food and a light breakfast the first day. Take the townie trails out of town, take the railroad grade to Trail Creek road and enjoy one of the most beautiful gravel roads I have ever experienced all of the way out to West Pine Creek. Climb the road until you hit forest service and then help yourself to one of the many gorgeous creek-side camping options with great views of the Absorka range.
Hop on your bikes and cruise Down West Pine Creek to meet back up with Trail Creek road. Take a left there and back track shortly to the intersection with Divide Road. Take Divide all of the way down and stay left to keep on Old Yellowstone Trail. This dirt road eventually links right in to the bike path that will take you all of the way in to downtown Livingston. Here I usually like to grab breakfast at Gil’s before stocking up on groceries for the next two days at the Town & Country grocery. If you roll in a little later, Mark’s In & out is a classic burger stand and well worth the stop. Rumor has it Jimmy Buffet’s Cheeseburger in paradise was actually written about a burger in Paradise Valley, so how could you not?
The climb out of Livingston follows Willow Creek Road up the East side of the Bangtail range. This climb is steep at times and pretty consistently up hill. It is also rather exposed and can be very hot in the dead of summer, so plan accordingly. Depending on how you are feeling and how big you want the next day to be there is good camping pretty quickly as you get into USFS land, or you can even climb all of the way up to the top. You will cross cottonwood creek on one of the first switchbacks of the climb - this is often the last water source until you are on the other side of the range, even though there are some seasonal springs and creeks which can be found on USGS maps.
Either finish your climb up the Bangtails or start heading down. It can be a little tricky to navigate to the Bangtail trail in these parts, but generally keep right and TrailForks can be helpful for this too. Ride along the trail to the intersection with Skunk Creek Road and descend on down to Bracket Creek. Take the Bridger Canyon road up the the Battle Ridge trail head and then hop on to the double track. Take Carrol creek all the way up til you connect with Flathead pass and enjoy some nice camping there.
Descend down flathead and cruise Rocky Mountain road back into Bozeman!
Again, this rough route is just a starting point. Do some research, get the maps and make your own adventures. But most importantly have fun out there and be safe!