Gettin' Dirty

Bike tire tracks in mud, muddy trail

Making the most of mud season.

“But in the mud and scum of things, there alway, alway something sings.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

We all know the feeling: as the air warms and the snow melts, you get those springtime butterflies in your stomach and your heart aches for your favorite trail. Triple Tree, Leverich, Bridger Foothills… after being strapped to skis or crampons all winter, you crave the freedom of trail shoes or the power of a mountain bike. No one wants to wait, but if the trails are muddy, it might be best to take a rain—er, mudcheck. That doesn’t mean you have to stay locked inside all day. Spring is full of outdoor opportunity, you just have to get a little creative.

Essential Trails
These trails and roads tend to dry out earlier than most. Rely on them for mud-free recreation.

  • Bozeman Creek
  • Springhill
  • Axtell-Anceny Road
  • Storm Castle Road
  • Hyalite Canyon Road. during vehicle closure (April 1 – May 16)
  • Bear Trap
  • Copper City
  • Lewis & Clark Caverns

Dos & Don’ts
Do get after it. Gravel roads, paved trails, or trails with good drainage are great options for hiking, running, and biking.
Don’t ignore the signs. Plodding across muddy ground causes long-term damage to the trails and surrounding areas, which is difficult and expensive to repair. If your feet or tires sink into the trail, it’s time to turn around.

Do stick to the trail. If you come across a muddy section on an otherwise dry trail, jump over it or create a makeshift bridge.
Don’t go off-trail to avoid muddy sections. This tramples vegetation and widens the path, both of which cause erosion and degradation of the trail.

Do steward the trails. If you notice water running or pooling on a trail, identify the cause and take a moment to clear the debris. Or, volunteer with local trail crews through organizations such as Gallatin Valley Land Trust, Southwest Montana Mountain Bike Association, and Montana Conservation Corps.
Don’t complain about the quality of trails if you don’t do your part to take care of them. Bozeman’s extensive trail system is a community effort. Know the trail etiquette, be kind to others, and help out when you can.

Scratch the Itch
Resist the urge to traipse through ankle-deep muck on your favorite trail. If you absolutely must get out, look for south- or west-facing trails with greater sun exposure. Go early in the morning when any remaining wet spots are still frozen. And, as always, common sense is your friend. Assess the conditions and be considerate.

Lean into Shoulder Season
Rather than dreading the early-spring lull, use this time to seek out new, enjoyable pastimes:

  • Strap skis to your pack and search for lingering patches of snow deep in the backcountry
  • Charge the raging spring runoff in a new type of watercraft (paddleboard, anyone?)
  • Poke around the woods looking for sheds of deer, elk, and moose
  • Forage for morel mushrooms and then cook them up with elk backstrap
  • Read a book on the patio—an actual book, with your phone turned off
  • Relax at a brewery with friends, enjoying the simple pleasure of sunshine on your face

Hit the Road
Take a weekend trip to drier areas such as Helena, Dillon, or central Montana. The Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest has hundreds of miles of relatively low-elevation dirt roads that make for phenomenal spring gravel riding. Alternatively, make a break for Glacier National Park to either ride or run Going-to-the-Sun Road, before it opens to vehicles for the summer.