A Clean, Dry Ride

Isn’t it funny how things work? All summer long I dream of backcountry powder, but as soon as those long winter nights set in, I begin passing the time on a bike trainer and dreaming of future “gravel grinder” rides on my cross bike. After spinning away in that stationary trance, I pore over a host of scruffy guidebooks and a stack of tattered maps searching for the dirt roads and trails that will be the first to dry up in the spring.

Depending on the snowpack, most of the prime singletrack around Bozeman doesn't melt out until late June. However, you can start the season early by exploring the bounty of unpaved county roads in the area. Here are few gravel grinders around Bozeman that might even allow you to clock midday miles after a morning of spring powder.

Bridger Foothills Loop
Start by parking near the old cemetery and volunteer fire department just north of the junction of Reese Creek and Springhill Road. Head north on Rocky Mountain Road over “rolling” terrain until you hit the junction of Pass Creek and Flathead Creek roads and turn west. For a shorter loop, head south when you hit Theisen Road and work your way back to Reese Creek. To really extend the value of this ride, do not turn south on Theisen—keep heading west to Dry Creek road. Now head south with the Horseshoe Hills on your right. You will come to Reese Creek and can continue to your car. Keep an eye out for ranch dogs along this route—you may receive an unexpected sprint workout. A good sense of direction and photocopy from a Montana Gazetteer will also help you find your way.

Ringling to Maudlow or Belgrade
The Gallatin Valley Bike Club has an annual fall ride from Ringling to Maudlow and all the way in to Belgrade, and you can do it in the spring if it has had a chance to dry out. Your legs might not have many miles in them yet, so it may be best to do this ride as a key swap, with one group starting at Ringling and the other at the historic Maudlow town site. If you leave from Ringling, head south and west across a small divide with excellent views and cruise along the Middle Fork of Sixteen Mile Creek into Maudlow. Up for another 18 miles or so? Turn south on Dry Creek Road and spring south, eventually coming to some pavement for the final push into Belgrade.

Eagle Scout and Archery Range Trails in Helena
To find the earliest, driest singletrack you will need to road trip. For me, the destination is Helena. The capitol of Montana is a mountain-biking gem and rarely receives the respect it deserves from the Bozeman cycling community. By March, Eric Grove of Great Divide Cyclery begins posting early-season trail conditions on greatdividecyclery.com.

At the top of Eric’s early-season hit list are the Eagle Scout and Archery Range trails near Mount Ascension. The great thing about these trails is that you do not have the lung-busting climbs just to access prime single track. If you’ve warmed up on those two rides and still have some energy, head on over to Rodney Ridge and start up the very steep Don’t Fence Me In Trail over the top of Rodney Ridge. Head southward, descending the tear-filled, smile-inducing T.R. trail and cruise back to the northeast and the trailhead via the Waterline trail. They're all fairly short—what’s keeping you from doing multiple laps anyway?