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Relatively pristine, south-central Montana is a world-class playground for the outdoor recreation enthusiast. Its biggest draws are the mountains that are a haven for hikers and campers, and the fly-fishing waters of the four major rivers that run through its valleys -- the Madison, Jefferson, Gallatin, and Yellowstone.

During the winter, downhill skiing takes over at Bridger Bowl, Big Sky, which boasts the largest vertical drop of any hill in the United States (4,350 ft.), and the relatively new Moonlight Basin resort. The region is also excellent for cross-country skiing -- Lone Mountain Ranch and Bohart Ranch are two of the best Nordic skiing facilities in the state.

Booming Bozeman, home of Montana State University, provides the hip, intellectual charm and culture of a college town -- good bookstores and restaurants, charming shops, a lively bar scene -- as well as cultural events that appeal to both the cosmopolitan and cowboy cultures. The Livingston Rodeo, one of the best in the region, complements Bozeman's Sweet Pea Festival, a celebration of music and the performing arts.

A few years ago, the area around Bozeman bounded by the Bridger, Gallatin, Madison, and Tobacco ranges seemed like an undiscovered bargain for real estate opportunists. Those times have changed; the communities of Bozeman, Livingston, and Belgrade experienced a boom as newcomers moved in, attracted to the easygoing Montana lifestyle and the wide range of outdoor activities. It's also been discovered by a number of Hollywood types, such as Peter Fonda and Glenn Close, who have purchased real estate in the area. Media mogul Ted Turner is another famous part-time resident.