Montana and Wyoming are among the greatest the great outdoors has to offer, in the United States or anywhere in the world. There are literally millions of acres of public spaces where you can cast for native cutthroat trout or herd cattle, go rock climbing or four-wheeling, raft, or ski. These states collectively boast a trio of spectacular national parks, four national monuments, one national recreation area, two national historic sites, five national historic trails, 14 national forests, one national grassland, more than 20 million acres administered by the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and 62 state parks. All things considered, there are many lifetimes of outdoor recreation to be experienced in these parts.
Montana offers a surprisingly wide range of outdoor activities, from desert hiking and rafting to fly-fishing and skiing. Among the many online outdoor recreation information sources are the very informative and user-friendly Public Lands Information Center website, www.publiclands.org, and the GORP (Great Outdoor Recreation Page) website, at www.gorp.com.
Throughout this guide, you'll find contact information for national and state parks, national forests, and the like. Here are some key statewide and regional resources. The U.S. Forest Service has information about national forests and wilderness areas in Montana, as well as Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming, at the Northern Region Office, Federal Building, 200 E. Broadway, Box 7669, Missoula, MT 59807 (tel. 406/329-3511; www.fs.fed.us/r1). The rest of Wyoming's forests, as well as Thunder Basin National Grassland, are covered by the Rocky Mountain Region Office, 740 Simms St., Golden, CO 80401 (tel. 303/275-5350; www.fs.fed.us/r2).
The federal Bureau of Land Management also manages millions of acres of recreational lands and can be reached at its Wyoming state office, 5353 Yellowstone Rd., Cheyenne, WY 82009 (tel. 307/775-6256), or its Montana state office, 5001 Southgate Dr., Billings, MT 59101 (tel. 406/896-5000).
For information on Montana state parks, fishing, and hunting, get in touch with Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, 1420 E. 6th Ave., P.O. Box 200701, Helena, MT 59620 (tel. 406/444-2535; www.fwp.state.mt.us). In Wyoming, contact Wyoming State Parks and Historic Sites, 2301 Central Ave., Cheyenne, WY 82001 (tel. 307/777-6323; http://wyoparks.state.wy.us). For hunting and fishing, contact Wyoming Game and Fish, 5400 Bishop Blvd., Cheyenne, WY 82003 (tel. 307/777-4600; http://gf.state.wy.us).
You'll have no trouble finding detailed topographic maps -- essential for wilderness trips -- plus whatever equipment and supplies you need. And despite the well-publicized cuts in budgets and workforces in national parks, recreation areas, and forests, every single ranger I encountered was happy to take time to help visitors plan their backcountry trips. In addition, many sporting-goods shops are staffed by area residents who know local activities and areas well, and are happy to help the would-be adventurer. In almost all cases, if you ask, there will be someone willing and able to help you make the most of your trip.
What to Pack & What to Rent
Planning for a trip into the great outdoors may conjure images of vacationers loaded down with golf clubs, skis, cameras, tents, canoes, and bikes. If a car or light truck is your mode of transportation, try to keep the heaviest items between the axles and as close to the floor of your vehicle as possible; this helps improve handling. If you have a bike rack on the rear bumper, make sure the bike tires are far from the exhaust pipe; one bike shop owner told me he does a good business replacing exhaust-cooked mountain-bike tires. Those with roof racks will want to measure the total height of their packed vehicles before leaving home. Underground parking garages often have less than 7 feet of clearance.
One alternative to carrying all that stuff is renting it. Many sporting-goods shops in Montana and Wyoming rent camping equipment; virtually all ski areas and popular mountain-bike areas offer rentals; and major boating centers such as Flathead Lake, Jackson Lake, and Lake Flaming Gorge rent boats. You'll find many rental sources listed throughout this book.
In packing for your trip, you'll want to be prepared for all your favorite activities, of course, but you'll also want to be prepared for an unforgiving climate and terrain. Those planning to hike or bike should take more drinking water than they think they'll need -- experts recommend at least 1 gallon of water per person per day on the trail -- as well as high-SPF sunscreen, hats and other protective clothing, and sunglasses with ultraviolet protection. Summer visitors should carry rain gear for the typical afternoon thunderstorms, plus jackets or sweaters for cool evenings. Winter visitors will need not only warm parkas and hats, but also lighter clothing -- the bright sun at midday, even in the mountains, can make it feel like June.
Staying Safe & Healthy in the Outdoors
The wide-open spaces and rugged landscape that make these states such a beautiful place to explore can also be hazardous to your health, especially if you're not accustomed to the extremes here. The isolation of many of the areas that you'll seek out means there may be no one around to help in an emergency, so you must be prepared, like any good scout. Also, be sure to carry a basic first-aid kit. Most important, check with park offices, park rangers, and other local outdoor specialists about current conditions before heading out.
Outdoor Etiquette --Many of the wonderful outdoor areas you'll explore in this area are quite isolated; although you're probably not the first human being to set foot here, you may feel like you are. Not too long ago, the rule of thumb was to "leave only footprints"; these days, we're trying to not even do that. Being a good outdoor citizen is relatively easy -- it's mostly common sense. Pack out all trash, stay on established trails, be careful not to pollute water, and, in general, do your best to have as little impact on the environment as possible. The best among us go even further, carrying a small trash bag to pick up what others have left behind.
There are plenty of opportunities for adventure in Montana -- and some terrific outfitters to help you plan and execute your trip. You can take part in a cattle drive; thrill to the excitement of white-water rafting on the Snake or Flathead rivers; scale a mountain in Grand Teton National Park; or head out into some of the most spectacular scenery in the country on foot or on bicycle, or in a four-wheel-drive vehicle. The variety of tours available seems almost endless, but the tour operators can help you find the one for you. In many cases, you can work with an operator to plan your own customized trip -- all it takes is money.
Below are some of the most respected national companies operating in Montana and Wyoming. Most specialize in small groups and have trips geared to various levels of ability and physical condition. They also offer trips in a range of price categories, from basic to luxurious, and of varying length. Numerous local outfitters, guides, and adventure travel companies are discussed throughout this book. For a complete list of outfitters in Montana or Wyoming, as well as a lot of other useful information and Web links, contact Visit Montana, P.O. Box 200533, 301 S. Park St., Helena, MT 59620 (tel. 800/847-4868 or 406/841-2870; www.visitmt.com), or the Wyoming Business Council Travel & Tourism Division, 1520 Etchepare Circle, Cheyenne, WY 82007 (tel. 800/225-5996 or 307/777-7777; www.wyomingtourism.org).
- AdventureBus, 375 S. Main St., Ste. 240, Moab, UT 84532 (tel. 888/737-5263 or 909/633-7225; www.adventurebus.com), offers trips on its customized buses with an emphasis on outdoor adventures, including multisport and mountain-biking tours in the Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks areas.
- Austin-Lehman Adventures, P.O. Box 81025, Billings, MT 59108 (tel. 800/575-1540 or 406/655-4591; www.austinlehman.com), offers guided multiday mountain biking, hiking, and combination tours in the Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks areas.
- Backroads, 801 Cedar St., Berkeley, CA 94710-1800 (tel. 800/462-2848 or 510/527-1555; www.backroads.com), offers a variety of guided multiday road biking, mountain biking, and hiking tours in the Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton national parks areas.
- Escape Adventures, 8221 W. Charleston Ave., Ste. 101, Las Vegas, NV 89117 (tel. 800/596-2953 or 702/838-6968; www.escapeadventures.com), offers guided mountain biking and road cycling in Yellowstone National Park and Jackson Hole.
- Ski the Rockies, 4901 Main St., Downers Grove, IL 60515 (tel. 800/291-2588 or 630/969-5800; www.skitherockies.com), provides customized skiing and snowboarding packages at the major resorts in Montana and Wyoming.
- The World Outdoors, 2840 Wilderness Place, Ste. D, Boulder, CO 80301 (tel. 800/488-8483 or 303/413-0938; www.theworldoutdoors.com), offers a variety of trips, including multisport adventures that include hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, and rafting in the Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks areas.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.