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Montana's Ale Trails

Après-Adventure Watering Holes

Billings. Photo: Donnie Sexton

GETTING TO MONTANA IS EASIER THAN EVER

Few landscapes make the traveler as thirsty as the mountainous peaks and blue ribbon waters of Montana. Luckily, in addition to hiking and biking paths, there’s another well-worn trail system, along which local breweries help refuel outdoor adventurers for their next foray into Big Sky Country.

Montana ranks third in the nation for breweries per capita, boasting 60+ taprooms for about a million residents. Over the next year, more watering holes will set up shop, serving suds that satiate the thirsty local and cater to the craft connoisseur. Inspired by popular pastimes, Montana’s pints aptly pair with a day on the slopes or along the riverbanks. Here are a few statewide brewery trails to inspire your editorial thirst:

 

 

Leaf Peeping and Pint Sipping in the Bitterroot Valley

Nestled between the Sapphire Mountains to the east and the rugged Bitterroot Mountains to the west, this vibrant corridor welcomes fall’s leaf-peeping hikers and bikers along 1,600 miles of lush, forested trails. Fill a growler at one of the breweries in Lolo, Stevensville, or Hamilton, and head up to a refurbished, 1940s Forest Service fire lookout for the night.

 

Post-Prohibition Libations

At the height of prohibition era, Butte once boasted 130 speakeasies. Visitors can still visit these clandestine establishments via an underground tour (that also features a medieval-esque jail where Evel Knievel paid the price for reckless driving in the ‘50s). Today, legal libations are served at a handful of breweries and what will soon be the biggest distillery in the West. Enjoy a pint after riding the area’s extensive CDT trail system and ask a local about the annual Evel Knievel Days festival and its infamous urban downhill bike race.

 

Catching a Buzz on the Fly

It’s no secret that fly fishing and craft beer go hand in hand. Thankfully, Montana is replete with both. Basing out of Bozeman, visiting anglers can float or wade five nearby rivers – the Gallatin, Madison, Jefferson, Yellowstone and Missouri – and pull up a bar stool afterwards at one of the area’s eight watering holes. Some breweries even match the hatch with their suds, throwing on a Salmon Fly Honey Rye and Dropper IPA when the time’s right.

 

Canoes and Brews: Following in Lewis and Clark’s Footsteps

Over two hundred years ago, Lewis and Clark pioneered Montana’s uncharted waterways where riverbank towns and their local breweries thrive today. Great Falls, and its rapids that once stymied the early explorers, is a watercraft basecamp for day-trippers and expedition boaters. Grab a pint in town and head north to the Wild and Scenic Missouri River. Or, paddle through the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness Area just outside Helena. Top off the day with a Pompeys Pilsner or Sacajawea Stout in the capital city.

 

The Billings Biathlon

The extra-adventurous can embark upon a multi-craft journey, visiting both craft breweries and a micro distillery – no compass required. Termed “Montana’s Trailhead,” downtown Billings offers the state's only brewery tour, featuring eight stops along a one-and-a-half-mile jaunt, navigated by foot or trolley.

 

Hop Turns in Glacier Country

In Montana’s northwest region, Highway 93 connects hop turns to their hoppy après counterpart. To the south, Lost Trail Powder Mountain and Snowbowl offer some serious vert for under $45 a day. Heading north towards Whitefish Mountain Resort and Blacktail Mountain Ski Area, 19 hydrating pit stops are located in mountain towns along the way. While après choices abound, locals celebrate the area’s light, cold smoke powder with its namesake scotch ale out of Missoula.