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10 Springtime Hiking Destinations in Southwest Montana

We get it - springtime in Montana can be challenging. Mud season is upon us, and many of our favorite stomping grounds are either covered in snow or a muddy disaster.

Don't be discouraged, hikers! If you are willing to drive a little, there are plenty of interesting (and often dry) destinations in southwest Montana for you and your family to explore!

 

1. Bear Trap Canyon Trail

Bear Trap Canyon near Ennis, Montana

The Madison River in Bear Trap Canyon. Image courtesy of visitmt.com.

 

Bear Trap is stunning, remote canyon of the Madison River in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness. This is a nine mile trail with minimal elevation change with ample fishing, birding and picnicking opportunities. 

Getting there: From Four Corners, drive 20 miles west on Hwy. 84. Just before crossing the Madison River, hang a left onto Bear Trap Rd. The trailhead is about three miles in, at the end of the gravel road. 

2. Storm Castle Peak 

View of the Gallatin Range from Storm Castle Peak

View of the Gallatin Range on the way up Storm Castle Peak. Image courtesy of Zach Altman.

 

Storm Castle Peak is a fortress of limestone jutting out of Gallatin Canyon. The hike starts near Storm Castle Creek and follows a steeply-climbing trail up the south face. While the climb is steep, the views are worth every step - 360 degree views of the Spanish Peaks, the Gallatins and everything in between. Start this one early because the trail is exposed and gets very hot! Not to mention the sunrises are magnificent! 

Getting there: From Four Corners, take Hwy. 191 south toward Big Sky. Drive 16.7 miles to Storm Castle Rd. (formerly Squaw Creek Rd.) on the left, between mile-markers 66 and 65. Turn left, cross the bridge over the Gallatin River, and curve to the right. Continue 1.9 miles to the posted parking area on the left. 

 

3. Black Canyon of the Yellowstone

Black Canyon of the Yellowstone

Black Canyon of the Yellowstone. Image courtesy of Jim Peaco/NPS Multimedia Archives.

 

Just outside Gardiner, Montana lies a dramatic landscape of dark volcanic rock and tall grasses. This trail will take you as far up the Yellowstone River as you are willing to go - backcountry camp spots are available from the National Park Service. Be sure to purchase a map for this trail, as there are many junctions! 

Getting there: After taking the Livingstone exit on I-90, head south on highway 89 to Gardiner. Once you reach this Yellowstone entrance town, hang a left on Jardine Rd. Watch for trail head signs for Eagle Creek trail on your right.

 

4. Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park

Trails at Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park

Fun trails at Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park. Image courtesy of Bozeman Running Company.

 

There are plenty opportunities for adventure above ground at Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park! With over ten miles of stunning trails, you can take a mellow hike to the Jefferson River for some fishing, or climb of 1,500 ft to gain stunning panoramic views of the entire valley!

View the trail map here

Getting there: Taking I-90 west towards Three Forks, take the exit for highway 287. Turn west for highway 2 and follow the brown signs for Lewis and Clark.

 

5. Foothills National Recreation Trail

Runner enjoying the Bridger Foothills trail

A runner enjoys the Foothills trail during the spring. Image courtesy of Jim Bridger Trail Run.

 

The Foothills Trail is a classic trail in the Gallatin Valley. With numerous trailheads, you can do a quick out and back after work, or make a stunning spring backpacking trip out of your backyard mountain range! Keep an eye out for the Arrowleaf Balsamroot, the large yellow flowers that bloom in the spring near the M trailhead!

Getting there: The closest trail head to town the the College M Trail. Take Rouse Ave. north out of Bozeman until it becomes Bridger Canyon Rd. Look for the brown signs!

 

6. North Cottonwood Trail

North Cottonwood Trail in the Bridger Mountains of Montana

Be sure to return in the fall for some berries! Image courtesy of Zach Altman.

 

As spring presses on into summer, the northern Bridgers are the first to dry up. The proximity from town makes North Cottonwood trail a great destination to get away from the hustle and bustle of the for popular trailheads near Bozeman. The view of the sun setting over the Tobacco Roots from up there is worth the 30 minute drive!

Getting there: Head north on Springhill Rd. for 18 miles. Look for the trailhead signs on the right!

 

7. Bangtail Divide Trail

Mountain biking the Bangtail Divide Trail

Stunning views of the Bridger Range from the Bangtail Divide. Image courtesy of MTB Project.

 

The Bangtail Divide is a stunning, 20-mile trail traversing the entire length of the Bangtail Mountains to the east of the Bridgers. This trail starts with a steep climb out of Stone Creek in a pine forest, leading you into gorgeous meadows and a sweeping view of the Bridgers to the west and the Crazies to the east.

Getting there: Heading north on Rouse Ave. out of Bozeman, continue as it becomes Bridger Canyon Rd. Look for the Stone Creek TH signs. 

8. Livingston Peak 

Livingstone Peak in Montana

Livingston Peak watching over the town. Image courtesy of the Missoula Current.

 

If you climbed have Baldy in the Bridgers, Livingston Peak is comparable in terms of terrain and difficulty - but still with dramatic views! This trail will take you up 3,000ft for a commanding view of Livingston, Paradise Valley, the Crazies, and so much more! Be sure to bring a jacket, as the weather in the Absarokas can change quickly in the spring.

Getting there: There are several access points to this climb, but the most direct is to follow Swingly Rd. east out of Livingston. Look for the brown signs that say Livingston Peak!

9. Yankee Jim Canyon

Yankee Jim Canyon by Zach Altman

Yankee Jim Canyon on a rainy day. Image courtesy of Zach Altman.

 

Yankee Jim Canyon is a stunning river trail just north of Gardiner, Montana. The trail follows an road bed with plenty of boulders to explore! There is a campground nearby as well. This section has the largest whitewater rapids on the Yellowstone River outside of the park (you won't miss the roar of the rapids!).

Getting there: After taking the Livingstone exit on I-90, head south on highway 89 to the turnoff for Tom Miner Basin Rd. After crossing the bridge, keep left at both forks in the road until you reach the trailhead.

 

10. Copper City Trails

Copper City Trails near three forks

Watch out for rattlesnakes! Image courtesy of Zach Altman.

 

Copper City Trails is a new area - The first section of trails were just built by SWMMBA, the regional mountain bike association, in 2017! While bikers built these trails, they were intended to be shared by all. Traverse a surreal landscape of sagebrush and prickly pear cactus while golden eagles soar overhead. Be sure to bring water!

Getting there: Head west on I-90 and take the highway 287 exit near Three Forks. Head north on 287 until you see the turnoff for Copper City Rd. Continue down the dirt road until you reach the new gravel parking area!

 

By Zach Altman

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