Our Big Ol' Back Yard

Guidebooks to get you through the shoulder season.

Late spring in southwest Montana is a glorious time indeed—wildflowers garnish the foothills, meltwater cascades down matted slopes, and the sun yields more light each day. But the shoulder season, as it’s known, is not without its drawbacks. Namely, there’s no snow to ski on; it’s often too wet to hike, mountain-bike, climb, or camp; and the swollen, turbid rivers make fishing a fool’s game. Hardcore whitewater paddlers may praise Fortuna while bouncing through Class IV rapids, but what about the rest of us? What do we do when we’ve got two days off and it’s raining cats and dogs?

The answer: take a road trip. With Montana’s wide range of microclimates, there’s no better time to hit the highway and explore some of the amazing areas within a few hours’ drive of Bozeman. And spring’s notable lack of camera-toting tourists means rooms are vacant and deals await. So quit sulking in front of the picture window—load up your gear, pile in the car, and head for drier, sunnier parts unknown. Here’s a list of guidebooks to help make your next spring weekend one to remember.

Montana: An Explorer’s Guide by Patrick “Paddy” Straub
Serving as a complete guide, Montana: An Explorer’s Guide (The Countryman Press, $22) covers everything from getting to Montana to where to stay and what to see. This guide’s countless hikes, bikes, river floats, fishing opportunities, parks, historic sites, and legendary scenery will keep your itinerary full. Straub even rates destinations for their accessibility and child-friendly activities—making this the perfect guide for families.

Great Places: Montana by Chuck Robbins
Robbins divides Montana into seven regions in this recreationist’s guide to Montana’s public lands. Each region has 50-odd pages of description, complete with color pictures, maps, travel tips, and history to describe its wealth of habitat, wildlife refuges, and state parks. Focused on Montana’s wildest lands and their conservation, this guide will be your companion to the wilderness just outside your door. (Wilderness Adventures Press, $30)

Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks by Bradley Mayhew and Andrew Dean Nystrom
The title gives it away; this is one hell of a guide to two of our country's finest national parks. Although you’ll have to leave Montana, these parks have more to offer than you could dream of fitting into just one trip. Whether you want a tour of Yellowstone’s thermal features, a list of day-hikes, or places to find remote wildlife, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks (Lonely Planet, $20) will help you hit each destination on your list. It may not have the maps you need, but it will tell you where to get them.