Bozeman is a great mountain town with no shortage of activities, and arguably the number one thing to do there when you are not skiing is hiking. Surrounded by mountains on three sides and being only an hour from Big Sky, hikes in the area are plentiful and gorgeous. Because of the varying terrain, there is a hike for everyone. Here are 6 of the best hikes in and around the area:
The M Trail
Created by MSU students in 1915, the M hike is an icon of Bozeman that can be seen in most parts of the city. The hike features two trails of differing difficulty that both lead up to the same destination, which is a big white “M.”
The hike itself is relatively short, stretching out about 1.5 miles in total. The actual length is based on which trail you take! The first trail is about 1.3 miles, but it is quite steep and would be categorized as moderate to hard difficulty. This trail is popular with serious trail-runners because it provides a consistent and accessible challenge to anyone who sets off on it.
The second trail is more like 2 miles, but that is because it takes a slightly less direct path up to the M and has a much more gradual increase in elevation.
Regardless of the path you choose, be wary of the fact that the M hike is an extremely popular one! There is always a steady flow of sightseers coming in and out of the trailhead, and the second trail especially will hold many of these tourists. This hike also is dog-friendly, so you can feel free to bring your furry friend along!
Once you get to the top of the hike, you have a few rewarding sights before you. The first is the great big white “M”, which is fun to gaze at up close after seeing it so often from afar. The second is a great view of most of Bozeman, including the grand Montana Hall of MSU! The M is pretty much a must-visit if you happen to be in Bozeman, as it is easily accessible and a hallmark of the city. And it can be done without a ton of planning since it is so close to town.
Drinking Horse Mountain Trail
Drinking Horse Mountain is a great hike for anybody that is not looking to travel more than 15 minutes from the city but still wants a hike that feels like it’s fully in the forest. Similar to the M hikes, the Drinking Horse trail has two available routes and is friendly to hikers of all types.
The first path is of moderate difficulty and sits at a quick 0.7 miles, containing some speedy elevation gain and great workout potential. The second trail is more around 2.3 miles, but offers longer and fuller views of the creek and forest.
Regardless of the trail you opt for, Drinking Horse always offers wonderful views of the plains beginning to rise into mountains and is also nice in that the foot traffic is not quite as heavy as the M’s. It should also be said that the 2.3 mile trail is slightly easier than the 0.7 mile trail.
Storm Castle Peak Trail
Simply called Storm Castle by the locals, this trail is an absolutely terrific hike between Bozeman and Big Sky. About 5 miles long and of moderate difficulty, Storm Castle offers exceptional views of the Gallatin River Valley and is a satisfying trek. It normally takes around three to three and a half hours round trip, and the peak definitely makes the going up and down worth it.
There is an extremely photogenic little rock-arch at the very top of the hike that formed naturally in the mountain and it allows for some great pictures and compelling views. There is also plenty of space at the top for a picnic or prolonged water break, which you will probably want after going up the 2,300 feet contained within the hike!
We personally recommend doing this one in the morning as the quiet, gently-foggy views are best at this point and there is also almost no foot traffic. Even in the middle of the day, you probably won’t have to worry about it being busy either. This one is a must.
Beehive Basin Trail No. 40.
Beehive Basin is a great hike located right next to Big Sky, and it is a great trek for anyone wanting a little longer hike with stunning views and a well-defined destination.
A little over seven miles long roundtrip (or more like 6 miles if you turn around at the lake), you can expect this moderately difficult hike to be about 4.5 hours long, give or take. The trail winds through patches of forest and mountain face, and ends at the beautiful little Beehive Lake which is wonderful to see with a powerful mountain background. Beehive Basin also boasts a sizable destination area, which is great for a food break or well-deserved rest. It is a hook hike to devote some time to, and provides enough challenge to practice your hiking skills on.
One thing to know about the Beehive Basin hike — for the first mile, you will still feel some civilization. There are a handful of homes (very nice ones) within view of the hike. But after about the 1.25 mile mark, you will feel like you are in the backcountry.
Going during Montana wildflower season — generally late July and early August — can be a real treat, given how much of this hike is meadow. You will have some colors popping if you time it right.
The hike itself is fairly popular because of its close proximity to Big Sky, but it never is to the point of actually being congested. You most often will only run into 3 or 4 other groups going up the trail, but during peak times you might see 7-10 other groups.
One thing to be conscious of with this hike is that the basin it sits on holds a fair amount of water, so tread with caution if going right before or after winter or shortly after rainfall. In summer you will generally be fine, but in April, May and early June, it can still have spots of snow and get quite muddy and slushy.
Lava Lake Trail
The Lava Lake hike is arguably the most famous trail throughout the entire Big Sky area, and for good reason! Featuring 6 miles total of hiking through beautiful mountain forest terrain, this trek is certainly one to write home about. Over its course you gain 2,500 feet of elevation, and at the top is what may be the best hiking destination in the entire state of Montana. Lava Lake itself is a shimmering monument to the mountains, sitting as a truly picture-perfect oasis in the tall Gallatin mountains.
Once at the top, you are able to sit down and eat, fly fish in the lake, swim, and simply sit back and take in the phenomenal view. Because this hike is so magnificent, it is fair to expect a good amount of foot traffic while going up and down. There will of course be less people early in the morning, but it is very understandable if you would prefer not doing the hike at 7:00 AM. One bonus about Lava Lake is that (and no promises here) it is the most common hike for Yellowstone Club celebrities, so you might just catch a glimpse of Justin Timberlake on your way up the mountain! Don’t cry a river if you don’t see anyone, though, as this hike by itself truly is magnificent.
This is a good hike to bring a daypack and some fuel (food) and water on, it is a bit more involved. Allow yourself a little over 4 hours to take this experience in.
If you are interested in doing a simple yet beautiful hike in the stunning vista that is Hyalite Canyon, look no further than Palisade Falls. Only a little bit over a mile and 240 feet in elevation gain, this paved hike provides the perfect trek for anyone looking to take it easy while still taking in the signature grandeur that Montana has to offer.
This hike features terrific views of Hyalite canyon as well as the up-close experience of Hyalite’s roaring Palisade Falls and the intriguing rock that borders it. It may honestly be the best bang-for-your-buck hike in all of Montana, as you get truly top-tier views in a refreshingly short stretch of trail. The hike even offers a sort of pre-bonus as driving through the canyon to the trailhead is an entire sightseeing event in itself. This one we very highly recommend.