Seventeen raptor species pass through the area each autumn. The migration begins in earnest in mid-September, and non-eagle activity reaches a crescendo in late September and early October. We count the greatest number of Golden Eagles in mid-October. Bright sunshine, warm temperatures, and strong southwest winds, which usually occur one to two days ahead of an approaching cold front, make the best conditions for seeing a large number of raptors.
I always enjoy the vigorous hike required to reach the summit and observation point, as well as the anticipation of the day’s flight. One never knows what will fly by, and the 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains is awe-inspiring; it’s worth the effort all by itself. Many outdoor enthusiasts visit, and I enjoy sharing the day’s highlights with them.
I also love watching the resident mountain goats, and some visitors have seen black bears and cougars. — Steve Hoffman
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
Conifer forest interspersed with mountain meadows.
Steep. The raptor-viewing point is on the concrete helipad atop Bridger Ridge, 200 feet north of the ski hut where the trail crests the ridge. Hiking distance is about two miles, and the elevation gain is 2,200 feet; allow 1.5-2 hours each way. You must be in great shape to complete the hike.
17 raptor species: Golden and Bald Eagles, Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks, Northern Goshawk, Red-tailed, Rough-legged, Broad-winged, Ferruginous, and Swainson’s Hawks, American Kestrel, Prairie and Peregrine Falcons, Merlin, Northern Harrier, Osprey, Turkey Vulture. Yellow-rumped, Townsend’s, and Wilson’s Warblers, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, Red Crossbill, Pine Grosbeak, Pine Siskin, White-throated Swift, Hairy Woodpecker, Clark’s Nutcracker, Steller’s Jay.
When to go
Mid-September through mid-October, especially on a warm, sunny, breezy day; late morning through mid-afternoon is the best time to see raptors.
Bridger Raptor Festival, October 4-6. No amenities onsite; it’s a remote, wild place.
National forest. No fees. The site is open throughout autumn.
Binoculars, good hiking shoes or boots, warm clothing (and a good windbreaker), and plenty of food and drink are necessities. Prepare for snow anytime from late September into October.
For more info
Montana Audubon, (406) 443-3949.
Sacajawea Audubon Society
Four miles east of Bozeman on Bridger Canyon Rd. Green-tailed and Spotted Towhees, Orange-crowned Warbler, and Lazuli Bunting along the trail to the big M on the southwest side of Bridger Mountain.
Battle Ridge Campground
On Bridger Canyon Rd. three miles beyond the Bridger Bowl Ski Area. Williamson’s Sapsucker, MacGillivray’s Warbler, Black-backed Woodpecker, Mountain Chickadee.