9 Montana Backpacking Trips: A guide to the various trails


There’s something heavenly about waking up at a hotel around a countryside and then planning to camp near a quiet lake or alpine cirque with panoramic views of the surrounding peaks and nature all around. There are many places like this in the Big Sky State of Montana that we can call the “Montana Experience”.


Let us discuss some of the favorites trail around this incredible city. Montana has incredibly varied terrain, so I have mentioned different regions as well as different levels of difficulty and distance.

East Rosebud Trail aka The Beaten Path

Location: Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness

Probably one of the best hiking experiences that the Rocky Mountain has offered in any state, the East Rosebud trail between Red Lodge and Cooke City offers something to everyone. From diverse wildlife that you will notice and experience so close to you, to the beautiful fishing lakes surrounded by craggy peaks, to trailside berries to munch on while trailing; this trail offers the best for everyone.

This is a 26 mile hike and a strong hiker can cover this distance in a day but if you want to get the most out of the trip, expect to spend minimum of three days here. It is not crowded and you can enjoy the nature at its very best. Take any of dozens of side trails and you’ll find yourself in a complete solitude.


Cottonwood Creek, Crazy Mountains

Location: Gallatin National Forest

This trail will offer you the panoramic view of great mountains right from the beginning of your trip. The trail follows Cottonwood Creek through prime moose habitat before climbing to excellent camping in the beautiful glacial tarn that embraces Cottonwood Lake.

You can enjoy fishing in Cottonwood Lake. Another unnamed pond just below Cottonwood has water so clear you can watch the foot long trout strike your line. Make sure to bring a stove to cook your catch yourself, as firewood is scarce.


Boulder Pass

Location: Glacier National Park

This trail is filled with various interesting geological features that are unique and interesting. The beginning of the hike is marked by ample huckleberries along alpine lakes, lovely expanses of prairie and spectacular views of Harris Glacier. Waterfalls will make your walk even smoother as you climb up to the Boulder Pass.

At Boulder Pass, geology gets more interesting. The terrain is like a moonscape with lava pools and other reminders of the area’s volcanic past. The trail goes through Hole-in-the-Wall campground, said to be the most remote campsite in Glacier Park. The glacier is also famous for narrow cliff-side trails.


Bechler River Trail

Location: Yellowstone National Park

Bechler River Trail offers you with everything that you had hoped from the Yellowstone Park. Wildlife, waterfalls, hot springs, picturesque river canyons and great fishing lakes and ponds; the trail has everything. It is also one of the least visited areas of the park. That said; don’t leave getting your backcountry permits until the last second.

Camping is limited to established and allocated campsites. It is one of the least strenuous trails in the Rockies, because it is flat and has slight decline for most of its length. Its flat grade turns boggy in some areas making it almost impassable until early August.



Big Creek to Bear Creek Traverse

Location: Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness

The first several miles of the Big Creek Trail covers the bottom of forested canyon and rugged nature of the Bitterroot Range. After stepping out of the trees near Big Lake, you will get to the jagged peaks that will continue for rest of your hike, twice crossing the spine of the Bitterroot divide between Montana and Idaho.

The breathtaking views and complete solitude makes the trip well worth it.


Moose Lake Trail

Location: Bob Marshall- Great Bear Wilderness

There are almost infinite possibilities of routes from lake-to-lake angling excursions to alpine summit expeditions. The trail is located just south of Glacier Park’s southern boundary, offers you the best of Bob Marshall Wilderness options.

The trail to Moose Lake begins in the dense woods but soon you will get the spectacular views north into Glacier and south/east into the Great Bear Wilderness. You can drop to the Moose Lake or climb to Tranquil Basin, the choice is yours. If you are not opting for both then you may also descend into Elk Lake or hook up with the Twenty-five Mile Creek Trail.

From there, choose between heading for the Middle Fork of the Flathead River or climbing Vinegar Mountain. There are several options to choose from.


Hyalite Creek to Hyalite Peak

Location: Gallatin National Forest

This trail is short however sweet, and considered by numerous to be the premier trek of the Bozeman range. In the initial five miles to Hyalite Lake, the trail passes eleven separate waterfalls falling from Hyalite Basin’s red rock dish. At Apex Falls, just beneath Hyalite Lake, the trail branches toward Apex Crest and Hyalite Peak.

Hyalite Peak may not be the most noteworthy peak in the Gallatins, but rather it is the loveliest one, looking down on a standout amongst the most extraordinary seepages in Montana.


Crystal Lake- West Peak

Location: Lewis and Clark National Forest

Beginning at Crystal Lake, the trail leads in a long circle to the highest point of the Snowy Mountains, associating with a few side trails that prompt top stowing opportunities—remarkably Promontory and Grandview Peaks. No less than two cave passages along the trail will lure spelunkers to light up and investigate.


Upper Potosi Hot Springs

Location: Tobacco Root Mountains

The Tobacco Root Mountains are regularly ignored with regards to backcountry adventures. Enormous mistake. The scene is drier than most in Montana, which makes for open, all-encompassing perspectives. Hot springs on the trail rise into primitive backcountry drenching pools. A simple compensation for the trek in.

Know more about Montana through our older posts.


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