Grinding Gravel

Dirt-road rides for spring. 

If you’re itching to ride but can’t wait for the trails to dry, dirt roads are where it’s at. A gravel-grinder is the best option, but hardtails and short-travel mountain bikes work, too. Here are some routes to consider this spring.

Gallatin River: easy; 10 miles round-trip; Axtell Bridge to Norris Rd.
For a beautiful ride in the middle of the valley, drive to Axtell Bridge and park at the fishing access. Hop on your bike and continue on Axtell-Anceney Rd., taking a right to head north on River Rd. This is nice dirt/gravel riding along the Gallatin River, winding its way to the intersection with Norris Rd, a few miles west of Four Corners. Ride River Rd. back along the Gallatin, with the option to continue past your vehicle and south to Gallatin Gateway, where adult beverages await at Stacey’s. 

Nixon Gulch: moderate; 35 miles round-trip; Manhattan to Menard
My personal favorite here in the valley, Nixon Gulch Rd. rolls though the Horseshoe Hills just north of Manhattan, connecting through to Menard and, if you like, even further north up Springhill. Or ride this rough, rolling road as an out-and-back from Manhattan.

Trail Creek: strenuous; 50 miles round-trip; Chestnut Mtn. to Emigrant
A gentle ride that melts out early, Trail Creek Rd. connects Bozeman to Paradise Valley. Drive east on I-90 and hang a right at the Trail Creek exit. There’s plenty of parking at the Chestnut Mountain trailhead, a short distance from the off-ramp. The ride begins with a few miles of pavement, but turns to nice dirt with amazing views into Paradise Valley and the Absaroka Range. Stay on Trail Creek. Rd down to the junction with Old Yellowstone Trail North Rd. Hang a left onto Hwy. 89 and ride the shoulder for one mile. Exercise caution on this stretch. Once in Emigrant, grab lunch at the Old Saloon, or cross the highway and cruise up to Chico for a soak. Head back the way you came.

The Morganzo 55: strenuous; 55 miles round-trip; Belgrade to Maudlow
This 55-mile loop winds through the rolling hills and stunning views of Springhill, just north of Belgrade. The Morganzo is a yearly brevet-style race that takes place in late August, but the route is great for riding throughout the season. Start at Dry Creek Rd. in Belgrade. Head north toward Menard, enjoying wide-open dirt roads before a big climb heading toward Maudlow. A long descent terminates just shy of Maudlow, the halfway point of the ride. Turn around and head back to the starting point on some of the best dirt roads in the valley, while enjoying great views all around. Fuel up at the Mint and drive home happy.  

Adam Sklar designs and builds custom gravel-, mountain-, and adventure-bike frames in Bozeman. Check him out at