What to do in Bozeman
This artsy college town is used by many travelers as a gateway to Yellowstone National Park, which is about 90 minutes south. But families should consider it as more than just a pit stop: Not only are there great museums and a thriving restaurant scene, the small, friendly city offers easy access to skiing, hiking and horseback riding in the nearby mountain ranges.
Where to go in Bozeman
The Smithsonian-affiliated Museum of the Rockies is located on the Montana State University campus and is known for having the largest collection of North American dinosaur fossils. Some of the museum's most famous resident skeletons include Big Al (an allosaurus) and Deinonychus, a close relative of the Velociraptor. The museum also has a planetarium and a recreated farmstead with a blacksmith's shop, garden and woodburning stove.
Montana Grizzly Encounter is a wildlife sanctuary that's home to a handful of these famous bears, most of whom were born in captivity and can't be released into the wild. Kids ages 6 and older can zipline over the Gallatin River with Montana Whitewater. The basic trip starts with three traverses, and guests can also can additional options like raft trips.
Where to stay in Bozeman
The Element Bozeman, one of the area's newest hotels, has a super-central location right in the heart of downtown. The rooms are on the smaller side, but all have kitchenettes; families should opt for either a studio guestroom or upgrade to a one-bedroom suite (both have a king bed and a sleeper sofa). A daily continental breakfast is included in the room rate, and on weekday evenings, complimentary wine and snacks are offered in the lobby.
If you close your eyes and imagine what a Montana ranch hotel should like, 320 Guest Ranch, about an hour south of Bozeman near Big Sky, has all the boxes checked: wildflower-flecked meadows, pine-covered mountains rising in the distance and neat, one-room log cabins. (The roomier three-bedroom chalets have kitchens and wood-burning stoves for families who want to spread out.) This 110-year–old homestead has been re-imagined into modern lodgings, and guests keep busy with summer activities like hiking, horseback riding and fly-fishing. During winter, there are evening sleigh rides and the chance to snowshoe or ski nearby.
Where to eat in Bozeman
A restaurant with a game room to help occupy kids? That's the tempting premise at Sidewinders American Grill, a relaxed, unpretentious spot founded by a former Marine. The stuffed pretzels (with filings like mozzarella, pepperoni or jalapeños), French onion soup and chicken pot pie have all been featured by Food Network's Guy Fieri, who traveled to the restaurant's sister spot in Jackson.
Joe Darr came from a family who ran fried chicken and barbecue restaurants in Tennessee, so he brought his skills to Bozeman and opened Roost Fried Chicken, which specializes in three variations on the bird: regular fried, Nashville Hot or the mellower Sweet Heat. The "Chicken on a Stick" — a single boneless thigh with a buttermilk biscuit, both neatly skewered—might be a fun way to convince picky kids to try the house specialty. Otherwise they can choose among a variety of simpler options, like macaroni and cheese, chicken nuggets and grilled cheese.