Beyond Hyalite: Exploring the Gallatin and Madison Ranges

Beyond Hyalite: Exploring the Gallatin and Madison Ranges

London Bernier – The Greater Yellowstone Coalition

It’s finally April, which means a few things here in Gallatin Valley. First, it means mud season is nearly upon us (though with this onslaught of new spring snow, we might be waiting longer than usual to see bare ground!). Springtime also means we are starting to see bears wake from their winter slumber, so it’s time to check the expiration date on your canisters of bear spray and get them back onto your belt during adventures. Finally, each spring, Hyalite Canyon Road – the primary portal to adventure for Gallatin Valley residents of all stripes – undergoes its annual closure to protect the integrity of the roadbed during the spring thaw. While the road is closed to vehicle traffic between early April and mid-May, access to trails in Hyalite and the heart of the Gallatin Range will be limited. Yet, this might be the perfect time to discover new adventures or revisit old favorites and make the most of shoulder season in the Gallatin and Madison ranges.

Here are six suggestions to keep you out and adventuring during the six-week Hyalite Road closure!

Hyalite Canyon Road, Gallatin Range

Surprise! First up is Hyalite Canyon Road itself. While the road is closed to vehicle traffic for a portion of the spring, it remains open to walkers, bikers, runners, and other recreators. Stroll (or, while the snow persists, ski) along Hyalite Creek, bike to the reservoir, or cast a few flies in the creek without worrying about traffic along the road. This is a particularly great idea when mud season is impacting trails around town. Do your part to protect trails and surrounding plant life by not using trails when they are muddy.

Storm Castle Trail, Gallatin Range

This steep, steady climb rewards you with incredible 360-degree views of the Gallatin and Madison ranges (when it’s not overcast, that is). Storm Castle Trail is about five miles out and back, switchbacking up Storm Castle Peak through a mostly treed hillside – although you are treated to spectacular views of the Gallatins, Madisons, and Gallatin River throughout the hike. At this time of year, micro spikes are an almost guaranteed necessity for this trail. The trailhead is located down Storm Castle Road, which is gated and locked through early spring. If the gate is closed, be prepared to add an additional three miles to your journey!

Spanish Creek Trailhead, Madison Range

Tucked into the Spanish Peaks at the northern end of the Madison Range is the Spanish Creek Trailhead. Situated less than a mile from the edge of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness, Spanish Creek Trailhead provides multiple avenues to explore this incredible corner of the landscape. To access the multiple trails leaving from this trailhead, turn off Highway 191 onto Spanish Creek Road, traveling approximately eight miles through Flying D Ranch to reach the trailhead. Choose to take South Fork Spanish Creek Trail, Cherry Creek Trail, or Little Hell Roaring Creek Trail, each of which can be navigated as an out and back or used to access other trails. With unpredictable ice and snow conditions, these trails can be great for a walk, run, snowshoe, or cross-country ski depending on the day!

South Cottonwood Trail, Gallatin Range

Just one drainage south of Hyalite in the Gallatin Range is South Cottonwood Trail. South Cottonwood is an out and back trail that meanders through dense pine forests and meadows, offering views of the surrounding hillsides and multiple bridge-assisted creek crossings. The trail begins with a few switchbacks but maintains an otherwise easy-on-the-knees grade, making it a great run or walk. Beware of ice, as with any trail this time of year, and don’t forget your micro spikes! South Cottonwood is great because you can spend 30 minutes or all day exploring the trail. At six miles in, you can connect to History Rock Trail, or at eight miles, Blackmore Trail, which both bring you into Hyalite.

Bear Canyon Trail, Gallatin Range

In the winter, Bear Canyon in the Gallatins is known as a great place to earn a few backcountry turns, but it is also a great place to take your fish-scale skis out for a wander. Bear Canyon Trail is not groomed – you’ll largely follow a single track as it winds through willow-filled meadows and pine forests with some incredible rocky faces and features along the way. After the first bridge, you’ll reach a fork with options to ski along the creek to the right or head up a couple switchbacks to ski above the creek to the left – I personally enjoy skiing along the creek. Less than a mile later, the trails rejoin and continue to wind up the drainage. There are a few blind corners on both trails, so watch out for downhill traffic! To get to the trailhead, park at the parking area about four miles down Bear Canyon Road and walk about a quarter mile to the end of the road where you’ll see a gate to the downhill ski area. Just to the left is the beginning of Bear Canyon Trail and a gate marking the entrance. Between April 1 and July 16, this trail is only open to foot traffic, so fat and mountain bikes must be left at home! This trail can be an out and back, you can take the Bear Canyon Loop Trail, or connect to Chestnut Mountain Trail, making for a choose-your-own-adventure kind of day.

Lava Lake, Madison Range

A well-loved trail in the Madison Range, Lava Lake is a beautiful hike while there is still snow on the ground. From the trailhead, you’ll begin a steady three-mile climb along Cascade Creek through dense pine forests and the Lee Metcalf Wilderness to reach the lake. Take in views of the snow-capped peaks surrounding the lake while enjoying the peace and quiet of this hike during the off season!

Have other favorite Gallatin or Madison range adventures you want to share? Let us know at