Backcountry Romance

In a more cosmopolitan setting it could be entirely expected that any sort of romantic outing might take place over an expensive meal at some trendy gourmet eatery. In and around Bozeman, however, romance can and maybe even should assume a decidedly rugged form. Why worry about pleasing your date with the charm of a questionably elegant social establishment when it is so darn easy to retreat into the splendorous loving arms of the backcountry, whose elegance is never in question? Plus, many would agree the seclusion is more inherently romantic to begin with.

Hiking is obviously a natural choice, not to mention an inexpensive way for dudes to spend some quality time with their significant others, but if the idea is pitched properly it can also build some much-appreciated “brownie points” from the ladies. “How about we go on a nice little hiking trip?” is probably a decent way to phrase this.

The following suggestions are fairly well-recognized and highly esteemed hikes in the Greater Gallatin Valley, which I think make them the backcountry equivalent of taking a date to an exclusive club or five-star restaurant in a more urban existence. These familiar destinations are relatively close (within a one-hour drive) and offer a wondrous array of secluded wilderness for hiking and other romantic outdoor activities.

Picnic at Fairy Lake
Lush alpine meadows that cradle the highly revered and pristine Fairy Lake are fantastic for hosting a tranquil picnic lunch, particularly in the fall after some of those pesky summer bugs have thinned out. There are countless random logs, otherwise known as picnic tables, strewn on a level plateau of land that seems somehow suspended between the majestic soaring crag of Sacajawea Peak and the jagged Crazy Mountains rising in clear sight from the valley many miles off on the horizon.

Gettin' Sweaty with Sacajawea
For some ambitious afternoon recreation, head back towards the parking lot and start your way up the Sacajawea/Hardscrabble trailhead. The numerous gently sloping switchbacks soon open up above tree line, offering dramatic views of distantly wrinkled landscape to the north, east, and south, and exposing the grandeur of the Bridger Range’s climactic peaks immediately to the west. As it traces a creek up to the ridgeline of a jaw-dropping bowl, the trail remains gradual enough to enjoy the scenery and any intimate conversation without having to worry about minor nuisances such as imminent danger and general survival. But if you think such a hike might interfere with digesting that wondrous picnic that you just enjoyed, you might consider packing the picnic on the hike, bringing it perhaps to the very top of Sacajawea Peak, where a few rock piles would accommodate an epic if not windy lunch.

Taking the Plunge
Returning to Fairy Lake, you should follow the looping trail along the rim to the southwest shore where there are some secluded campsites. If you want to cool down before things heat up, make sure to look for the skillfully constructed rope swing, which provides the most entertaining way into this invigorating mountain pool.

Hot Lava
Lakes produce a certain romantic charm that, for a date, is at least as important as the ambiance of fancy French restaurant, but without the arrogance, of course. Lava Lake is another local alpine wonder that will modestly rival the splendor of Fairy Lake. Viewing this lake requires a longer, three-mile uphill hike. This is a popular day hike for Bozemanites. So, many hikers will leave just in time for you and your date to enjoy a private dinner on any number of large, contoured rocks situated alongside the slender body of water. Ample camping is hidden on the right side of the trail as you approach the lake. And after an adventurous day, nothing is more romantic than a night sharing a private screening of a billion stars, miles away from the blinding glow of a million city lights.