It’s been over two years since Bozeman squared off against another town—perhaps we’ve run out of worthy adversaries. Or maybe we’ve just been looking too far afield. What better way to re-test Bozeman’s merits than to climb into the ring with another Montana town? Let’s see if Kalispell, our in-state counterpart to the northwest, can keep up.
Runners and bikers in either locale can saturate their summer calendars with competitive events. Bozeman has a few more trail races, and of course nothing will EVER compare to the Ridge Run. But the Flathead Valley’s more cohesive, lake-oriented geography means increased opportunity: Bigfork’s Spartan Beast devours our BozeMonster, and the open-water triathlons in Flathead and Whitefish lakes make our Bozeman Triathlon seem like a doggie-paddle through a muddy pond—which it pretty much is.
For rugged, scenic beauty on a celestial scale, the towering peaks of Glacier National Park have no equal—and the downright mystical Swan Range on the east flank of the Flathead Valley is certainly part of Montana’s geologic pantheon, too. Then again, who but a disgruntled demi-god would scoff at the Spanish Peaks, the Taylor Hilgards, the sprawling Tobacco Roots, or the mighty Absarokas? Let’s not start a war in heaven.
Both towns are surrounded by public land, from national parks to Wilderness Areas, fishing access sites to backcountry camping. In Bozeman, a dayhike to glacially carved high-mountain plateaus is a rite of summer, and in Kalispell, locals can lazily float the picturesque North Fork of the Blackfoot from their back yard. We’re all winners here.
With Music on Main, the Art Walks, dozens of bars and restaurants, and throngs of revelers crowding the streets every night of the week, downtown Bozeman pulsates with the sprightly fervor of our fun-loving community. Kalispell’s diminutive “city center,” on the other hand, feels more like an afterthought, with most urban activity sprawling out to the endless Anywhere, USA strip-malls surrounding town. Lame.
The banks of Whitefish Lake seem to hold more mansions than trees these days, and the 24,000-square-foot, $78-million-dollar house on Flathead’s Shelter Island couldn’t scream “ostentatious asshole” any louder. We’ve certainly got our fair share of hilltop trophy homes around Bozeman, but at least the biggest offenders are politely tucked out of sight behind Lone Mountain.
While the city limits of both Bozeman and Kalispell continue to sprawl like LA and Phoenix, encroaching on vital habitat, there's hardly an urban center in the country that can compete when it comes to these cities' access to exceptional wildlife. Grizzlies, black bears, wolves, beavers, bald eagles, wolverines, mountain goats, moose, elk—the list goes on and on. Kalispell has more of some and Bozeman has more of others, but neither place can run away with this title.
Score: 2 to 1
Once again, we’ve come out on top. But this was a close one, and it’s got us thinking about summer road trips. At the end of the day, though, when the bike is back in the garage, the gear is unpacked, and we crawl into bed, we’re still happy to lay our heads in Bozeman.