We all love Bozeman—no doubt about it. But the times, they are a-changin’. Gone are the quaint, small-town attitudes, the relaxed pace of life, and the slow, steady growth. Nowadays, you’re as likely to overhear folks discussing investment gains or real-estate deals as crop yields or trail conditions. Yes indeed, Bozeman is different, and it ain’t all for the best. When we visit other mountain towns—such as Sandpoint, Idaho—we’re reminded of why we moved to Bozeman in the first place… and we often wonder what happened. Has the Last Best Place been usurped? Let’s find out.
Bozeman is all but surrounded by public land: the Gallatin National Forest, the Lee Metcalf Wilderness, Yellowstone National Park—the list goes on. But Sandpoint is also a public-land-lover’s paradise, with proximity to millions of acres of the Idaho Panhandle National Forests, and more amazing waterways—both lakes and rivers—than you can shake a paddle at.
We all know how expensive it is to live in Bozeman: the average listing price for a single-family home in April 2017 was $355,000. Sandpoint, by contrast, is reasonably affordable, with a current average home price of under $215,000. Still think you’re getting a sweet deal on that $400k condo?
Sandpoint sits on the shore of Lake Pend d’Oreille—a picturesque, mountain-framed lake that’s 43 miles long and over a thousand feet deep. Think Hyalite Reservoir and Lake Tahoe combined—a gorgeous place, any time of year. Bozeman? Well, we’ve got the East Gallatin Pond…
In Bozeman, we can practically spit into Yellowstone—not only the world’s first national park, but arguably the best. North Idaho is pretty neat, but there ain’t a national park anywhere near it.
Lake Pend d’Oreille is an amazing fishery, with game-fish species growing to huge proportions. It still holds the record for producing the largest non-genetically-engineered rainbow trout—a 37-pounder caught in 1947. But Bozeman is hallowed ground for fly fishermen (and Brad Pitt admirers) with access to the Gallatin, Madison, Yellowstone, and other trout-filled rivers just outside of town.
About half of all elk harvested in Montana come from Region 3 (that’s us), along with good numbers of deer, antelope, waterfowl, and upland birds. In short, Bozeman is an incredible place to be a hunter. And while north Idaho may be less crowded, with fewer rich trophy-ranchers posting their property, the numbers just don’t come close.
Bridger Bowl is 16 miles from downtown Bozeman: much beloved, but ultimately a small, increasingly crowded ski area that’s usually tracked out before noon, even on a weekday. By contrast, Schweitzer Mountain lies just over 12 miles from downtown Sandpoint, offers almost 50% more terrain, and has 100% fewer college kids amped on Red Bull and narcissism. Fresh snow lasts longer in Idaho, even if it isn’t cold smoke.
With visitors and sometimes-residents like the Kardashians, Tom Brady, Justin Timberlake, and Matt Damon, the greater Bozeman area is basically California Lite. Sandpoint is starting to attract B-team stars looking for quiet and anonymity, but there’s no comparison: Bozeman is an attention-whore’s dream—which is a real downer.
Everyone likes to get out into the mountains, but some days that just isn’t in the cards. That’s why Bozeman’s Main Street to the Mountains trail system, hospital trails, Peets Hill, and our in-town Nordic tracks are key to work-life balance. Sandpoint is working on building a cool lakeside trail, but otherwise it’s a drive to the trailhead.
While subjective, every town has a “vibe.” Bozeman is full of energy, but it’s definitely become a city, and these days the constant wheeling-and-dealing feels more Front Range than Montana. Sandpoint… well, it’s basically Bozeman 25 years ago. Better? Maybe not, but it feels familiar in the best way.
Score: 5 to 4
For the first time in O/B history, Bozeman has been edged out. A sign of the times? A warning? A brain lapse of epic proportions? You tell us—the future of Bozeman is in your hands, people. And remember, we may not be able to go back, but we can always do better.