"C'mon, let's go." It was a typical Saturday morning at the Schaeffer house in Bozeman. Mom had been up early brewing coffee, the little one was making a fort in the living room, and the teenage twins were still sleeping. Dad was frantically packing the car while the dog was already in the back, anxiously ready to hit the trails.
Regardless of the season, the family tried getting up early, going out the door, and exploring the local trails. After moving the family back to Bozeman following a 20-year stint in Seattle, WA, they hiked over 300 trails and documented 227 through GPS and video for the Best of the North West project. The Schaeffers relocated to Bryan's birthplace, Bozeman, to have better access to skiing, mountain biking, hiking, backpacking, and swimming in mountain lakes.
The music started playing once everyone had loaded into the car, and a soft breeze greeted the morning light. As miles passed on the road, the week's stresses began to fade away. Every week brought a new trail and a fresh experience that showcased the changing seasons, from the budding of leaves to the emergence of summer berries. The forest constantly evolved, and these moments of connectedness as a family forged lifelong memories.
Photos were snapped at essential viewpoints, capturing moments of beauty or humor. The trail was GPS mapped. Upon reaching the destination, whether it was a mountain lake, waterfall, or pristine overlook, they would pause to absorb the beauty of the place. The price of entry was the exertion required to get there, but over time, the process and the journey became just as cherished as the destination.
Back home, Bryan would catalog photos, upload GPS data, and prepare notes to incorporate into the manuscript. Drawing the scenes would solidify the time and place in his memory even more profoundly than a photo. He would write the descriptions, illustrate the maps, and tell the stories, ensuring that this chapter of the Schaeffer family's life would be remembered long after the social media posts had come and gone. The printed work would endure the test of time and inspire other families to overcome the challenges of packing up and creating lasting memories.
Recognizing the need for a multi-sport guidebook, Bryan had been GPS mapping Southwest Montana trails with his family for the past six years. The illustrated book covered the Missouri Headwaters in the West, the Bridger Mountains north of Bozeman, extending to the edge of the Beartooths outside Livingston, and the Paradise Valley. It also featured West Yellowstone and trails along the park's perimeter leading up to Big Sky, the Spanish Peaks, the Gallatin Range, and Hyalites, as well as Bozeman town trails.
The Last Best TRAILS wasn't about revealing the best-kept secrets (those are for you to discover individually). Instead, it carries a seize-the-day message, urging readers to make the most of their time in this remarkable area, whether for a day or decades.
The book includes background information on the history of human migrations in the area, general safety guidelines (the ten essentials), and recommended gear for each sport. During the research for the project, Bryan interviewed over 50 local leaders from various trail organizations and sports groups. These interviews became podcasts accessible through QR code links in the additional resources section of each sport.
Entrepreneurial pioneers established Bozeman to equip prospectors traveling west to booming gold towns. Today, it is the epicenter of the latest boom. The incredible access to outdoor recreation is drawing attention far and wide.
It seemed fitting to design a modern guide that captures the adventurous, exploratory nature of the place and the people who have inhabited it throughout the ages. The Schaeffer family spent six years (24 seasons) hiking, mountain biking, and skiing in the "Bozone." They explored hundreds of trails, GPS mapped them, and took photographs. The trails they kept returning to have made it into this three-sport book.
The book rewards the curious. The deeper you dig, the more there is to uncover. Each printed book comes with a digital version, with QR codes serving as buttons in the online and downloadable ePub versions. These QR codes unlock videos, audio, and exclusive GPS maps. There are over 50 podcasts featuring interviews with local trail organization leaders in the additional resources. Bryan has removed written driving directions in the book in favor of tap-and-go trailhead buttons. GPS maps of each corridor help you see the recommended trails in each area for each sport.
This book isn't intended to provide step-by-step instructions but rather serves as a reference for developing your own sense of adventure in the Bozone and beyond. Bryan hopes this project's multimedia format and spirit transcend the physical location and inspire you to create your own adventures. These are 100 classic trails to get you started. There are hidden gems out there, and with some insight, you can discover these Montana treasures.
Bryan Schaeffer is the author, illustrator, and lead animator for The Last Best TRAILS multimedia book, published on May 3, 2023. His previous book, The Last Best BIKE, won the Bozeman People's Choice Awards for best local book and author in 2022.
Several local gear shops, listed on the website thelastbesttrails.com, sell copies of The Last Best TRAILS book. Pick up your copy and lace up, strap in, and buckle on your footwear. Let's get out the door and explore the last best trails!