Gallatin National Forest Hiking Trails

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Gallatin National Forest Hiking

The Gallatin National Forest is a hiker’s Mecca, with over 2,290 miles of trails running through the Gallatin, Madison, Bridger, Absaroka and Beartooth Ranges waiting to be explored.

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  • Bridger Foothills National Recreation Trail is an easy to difficult 24-mile-long trail that runs north-south through the center of the Bridger Range. Access points are located all along the range. 
  • Hyalite Creek Trail is an easy to moderate 11-mile out-and-back that climbs up to Hyalite Lake, passing waterfalls as it winds through Hyalite Canyon. 
  • Buck Creek Ridge is a moderate to strenuous 15-mile out-and-back or one-way hike that rewards hikers with beautiful vistas.

Overview

The Gallatin National Forest, part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, contains 1.8 million acres of grasslands, forests, mountains and wilderness in the Northern Rockies of south-central Montana that provide habitat for a diverse native wildlife population, including grizzlies, wolves, mountain lions, eagles, elk, bison, moose, bighorn sheep and antelope. In addition, the abundance of streams, rivers and creeks (including the Gallatin and Madison Rivers) play home to some of Montana’s world-class trout fishing.

The 2,000 miles of hiking trails throughout the Gallatin National Forest provide adventurers plenty of ways to access even the most remote wilderness areas. At high elevations, snow often lingers through May, making June through September the best months for hiking peaks.

While local shops, guides and outfitters can help you find your ideal trail and have the latest maps and up-to-the-minute trail conditions, here are a few trails to get you started. All these trails have multiple variations and either link up with or are near other trails, making them good spots to start your exploration.

Bridger Foothills National Recreational Trail

Running through the center of the Bridger Range, the 24 miles of the Bridger Foothills National Recreation Trail links with dozens of other trailheads, camping areas, fishing spots and parking areas. The ease of access makes it a great trail for anything from short hikes to overnight trips. This area is very dry in the summer and fall, so plan to carry all your water.

"M” Picnic Area is the southernmost access point for the Bridger Foothills National Recreational Trail and can be found on the south side of Baldy Mountain, just north of Bozeman on Route 86.

The Fairy Lake Campground provides access at the northern end of the Foothills Trail. Access Fairy Lake by heading north from Bozeman on Route 86 and taking a left at Fairy Lake Road. Stay right on the jeep trail at the intersection with Cache Creek Rd.

  • Distance: 24 miles 
  • Time: Average time varies depending on starting and ending points – hikes can be adjusted to match individual desires 
  • Elevation: Gains varies depending on route 
  • Difficulty: Varies from easy to difficult 
  • Type: Can be done as a one-way or an out-and-back

Hyalite Creek Trail

This popular trail near Bozeman makes its way up-canyon along Hyalite Creek, passing multiple waterfalls as it winds through the canyon up to the alpine-setting of the Hyalite Lake Basin at the base of Fridley and Hyalite Peaks. From Hyalite Lake, it’s possible to continue up to the top of Hyalite Peak, another 2.5 miles further and ~1,200 feet higher.

The Hyalite Creek Trail Trailhead is located approximately 12 miles up Hyalite Canyon; from the main Canyon road, take a right at the sign indicating Hyalite Creek Trail and follow it two miles to the parking area.

  • Distance: 11 miles 
  • Time: 4-6 hours 
  • Elevation: 2,000 feet of elevation gain 
  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate 
  • Type: Out-and-back

Buck Creek Ridge

This trail runs south from Big Sky along a high ridgeline toward Flattop Mountain, providing stunning views or surrounding peaks and far-away mountains. Several other trails intersect with Buck Creek Ridge, providing many variations. This trail is shared with mountain bikers.

To access Buck Creek Ridge, take 191/Gallatin Road south from Big Sky Village. Turn west on Doe Creek Road and follow it until you reach the trailhead.

  • Distance: 15 miles 
  • Time: 2 hours to all day 
  • Elevation: 3,332 feet of elevation gain 
  • Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous 
  • Type: Out-and-back or one-way 

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