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Bridger, Montana

Bridger (also known as Bridger Canyon) is in Montana’s Carbon County and comes under the Billings Metropolitan Statistical Area.

The population of this small community is still less than 1000, and the town was named for the scout and trader Jim Bridger.

Reportedly local residents initially wanted to name the town after George Town–one of the original settlers—but it was actually Town who convinced them to name the newly founded town after his friend Jim Bridger, a renowned mountain man and guide of the area.

The region in south-central Montana along the Yellowstone River that now includes the community was used by Bridger and other trackers, traders, and mountain men for convenient transportation purposes by using a cut-off trail through the canyon.

Fort Ellis was the only Cavalry Post in western Montana and it began operations in 1867. 

Logs and lumber were required for the fort and apparently, it was soldiers from the fort who built a road running more than 15 miles along with a sawmill at the military timber camp in the vicinity.

What is now Bohart Ranch is today located on the same spot on the Bridger Canyon Road.

German immigrants began to arrive over the next decade or two and ranches, cabins, and eventually schools and other similar buildings began to spring up to form a proper community.

The town’s commercial district today retains much of its early 20th-century look, especially by way of the old bank buildings and a few 2-story commercial buildings—some of which are listed in the National Register.

The buildings stand as a modern testament to how quickly merchants came to the area and launched into businesses to attract the increasing numbers of homesteaders in the Clark Fork River valley.

As you head north into Montana from the direction of Wyoming on US 310, the first place you run into is Bridger.

Bordered to the north by nearby Fromberg, Bridger is another typical Northern Pacific Railroad town from the turn of the 20th century that has managed to survive and thrive.

This region of the Clark’s Fork River Valley contains the well-known Bridger Trail that passes to the southeast of the town.

People have been attracted to Bridger Canyon today for similar reasons to the first settlers more than a century ago—the lush, fertile land and the scenic surrounding regions with peace and solitude yet within close proximity to the much bigger Bozeman.

bridger
Image: Tumbleweed1954

Main Attractions In or Near Bridger

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Image: 25or6to4

The first homesteaders built a few lasting community institutions like the Bridger United Methodist Church that are worth seeing today.

The church stands as an impressive example of vernacular Gothic design and is thus listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

The town library is a similarly impressive example of what the best formal buildings looked like in their original small town setting.

There are various other historic elements related to the town’s community buildings such as the Civic Center from the 1930s.

This place isn’t at its best these days but it has served its time as an important point for the community and social gatherings for decades. The town reminds in many ways of the deep past of the Clark’s Fork River Valley.

With its National Register-listed historic homes and other buildings like institutions and local businesses, it showcases an important but often overlooked chapter in the history of the Clark’s Fork Valley.

Recreation Activities In or Near Bridger

Once the snow arrives locals and visitors alike will doubtless head into Bridger Canyon’s main winter wonderland by way of Bridger Bowl.

The Bridger Bowl Ski Area has got to be one of the main recreation attractions in the area and includes more than 1,500 acres of mainly downhill skiing, with backcountry access. 

Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing can also be accessed along the main Bridger Canyon Road—this is incidentally the only access to Bridger Bowl.

This year-round destination is the closest ski area to Bozeman, located in the Bridger Mountain Range of the Gallatin National Forest

You can get here from Bozeman by heading north on Highway 86 and following the signs north onto Bridger Canyon Drive, and to Bridger Bowl.

Wildlife

Bridger Canyon is renowned among birders as the place where yearly raptor migration occurs, quite often in the first two weeks of October.

It is possible to catch glimpses of these impressive-looking birds of prey as they migrate to more southern regions. There are two decent viewing sites in the Bridger Mountains, and one is located at Bridger Bowl.

This makes it possible to reach viewing areas via a hike up the Bridger Lift area, where the Forest Service maintains a raptor monitoring station.

Sacagawea Peak is another top viewing site and is accessible from Fairy Lake.  Anyone intending to view a variety of birds might want to check in at the fish hatchery next to Bridger Creek.

This is five miles from downtown Bozeman and contains a mix of cottonwood, willow, dogwood, and Douglas fir which act as something of a magnet for plenty of birds. 

Biking

biking

Road bike enthusiasts get a treat when they enjoy a ride from Bozeman up Bridger Canyon and/or vice versa. 

Here they can make the most of smooth, paved roads surrounded by amazing scenery. This is a 20-mile stretch with an elevation gain of 1400 feet, and many have found it to be a great way to spend a sunny morning.

Fishing

fishing

For those interested in fishing the areas rivers and streams, there are some excellent choices including Dry Creek and Spring Creek.

Bridger Creek is a freshwater stream near Bozeman that is a popular angling destination for catching Brook Trout, Brown Trout, Rainbow Trout, and Mountain Whitefish.

The most common species caught here is undoubtedly Brown Trout, but whether you’re fishing for Sunfish, Whitefish or Warmouth, there are good odds. 

The town has an access site for fishing within the town, and Fairy Lake and Cooney State Park are also both within reach if you fancy lake fishing.

Hiking

hiking

Bridger Canyon provides relatively easy access to some decent hiking trails. Expect surrounding alpine wildflowers, plenty of wildlife, and a good few rocky outcrops. 

The Fairy Lake Trailis a 1.2-mile loop with hardly any elevation gain running through the lush, well-shaded forest and along the canyon’s south wall with some scenic views.

The Sypes Canyon Trail is a 4-mile round trip with slightly more elevation gain of 1,000 feet.

This route connects to the Ferry Lake Trail, finishing up at an overlook with amazing views of the Gallatin Valley, across Bozeman, and including the Madison and Tobacco Root Mountain Ranges.

The Sacagawea Peak Trail is one of the most challenging of all the trails in the area, containing the highest peak in the Bridger Range at 9,665 feet.

The 4-mile round trip hike includes a 2,000-foot elevation gain as it climbs up Sacagawea Mountain.

From the Bridger Divide, the trail leads up to the rocky summit for some of the best views anyone is likely to get off the mountain ranges whichever way you look.

Camping

camping

Bridger does have its own campground, which is adjacent to the town’s swimming pool on Broadway Avenue.

This spot may be just the ticket for any families who can take advantage of the pool as well as a playground and basketball court. 

The campground is operated on a first-come, first-served basis with no reservations. There are 6 hook-ups with water, sewer facilities, and electricity for RV’s and campers.

Other amenities include picnic tables, and RV campers are liable for fees in the region of $20 per night, while $10 per night is the fee for tent camping.

The campground operates a ten-day limit on stays. The Campground phone number is:  406-662-3677

Accommodation–Hotels and Lodging

You won’t find too much actually in Bridger if you are looking for anything resembling a full-service hotel with all the amenities, but if you head down the road to Bozeman and Billings you’ll be spoilt for choice.

Special Events

  • OctBridger Raptor Festival—annual event near Bozeman related to Golden Eagle migration and raptor viewing
  • SeptOctoberfesta special event at Bodhi Farms near Bozeman
  • NovBSF Ski Swap—annual event with thousands of ski items held at Gallatin County Fairgrounds

Activities and Other Points of Interest

Forests/State/National Parks/Wilderness Areas

Museums/Historic Items

Nearby Towns/Cities

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