Patagonia Pilgrimage

Make your next shopping trip an adventure.

Patagonia stores usually creep me out. Around here, the line is often referred to as Patagucci, and the pricey goods are worthy of the slang. I’ve been to several of their retail stores, most recently the one in Chamonix, France, where sales associates were actually wearing Gucci, and their aloofness was almost as overwhelming as the price of their down vests. Fortunately, even those willing to pay full price reject some pieces and we live near where all the leftovers get dumped.

The rejects arrive in Montana, where the Western spirit resides in most residents, and we scoff at retail price. We even scoff at sale prices. What we love is a deal—and they are found in abundance at the Patagonia Outlet sale held three times a year in Dillon. Although the outlet store has good prices year-round, the President’s Day, Memorial Day, and Labor Day sales defy belief, and the bargains found are innumerable: a $185 sweater for $9, a $240 jacket for $35, and long underwear deals that make you feel warm before you even put them on.

As this is a grand quest for a deal, you’ll want to get more out of the trip than just shopping: if you plan it right, it could turn into a well-rounded excursion. Fish the Beaverhead, rent a ranger cabin, camp out along the Big Hole, and hike the Pioneer Mountains—it’s all there.

For the quick trip to Dillon, drive west on I-90 to Whitehall, take Highway 55 south to Highway 41, and continue south on Highway 41 into town. The Patagonia Outlet Store is on Idaho Street downtown, but finding the store is the easy part; people camp out for first dibs on the sale items when the place opens at 8 am. After browsing the goods be prepared to wait in line for the three dressing rooms, one of which is a temporary curtain. The best practice is to wear thin clothes so you can try on as much as possible on the store floor.

Once you’ve found enough deals to outfit yourself for the coming year’s outdoor activities (and indoor, too: some of Patagonia’s shirts and dresses are now first-date worthy), take a breather around the corner at Sweetwater Coffee (26 E. Bannock, 8-5 M-F, 10-4 Sat). Sit down for a meal or get a latte to sip while you browse the music store next door; if it’s Labor Day weekend, go to the parades and rodeos that make up the town’s jam-packed weekend.

Try out your new purchases with a variety of options on a leisurely drive back: get a local to direct you to RD 206, also known as Sweetwater Road, a glorified gravel pathway that connects Dillon to Alder, and stop near the end of the drive to participate in the recreational joys of the Ruby River Reservoir. Take Highway 287 east to Virginia City, where you can eat ice cream while walking up boardwalks and talking about all of the old buildings you saw at nearby Nevada City.

Continuing on down the road to Ennis, take in a meal at the Reel Decoy BBQ and Grill, where the former chef of the five-star Big EZ Ranch dishes up fine cuisine, or, if you’re in the mood for something more along the lines of the bargains that inspired the trip, eat at the outdoor Mexican hut on your way out of town. Upon leaving, if you’re not in a hurry, go south along the Madison River, perhaps pausing to take a float if you’ve brought any inflatable devices along.

Eventually you’ll take 191 north up Gallatin Canyon, taking in a dinner at the Corral or the Blue Moon Café, but the trip is almost at an end as you begin to notice more custom-built homes and traffic. When you do arrive back in Bozeman, a walking Patagonia advertisement, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing your outfit not only cost less than the guy at the Lounge and BeSeen, but you’ve already managed to beat it up a bit.