Amid the sporadic snowfall, spring is doing its best to break in, bringing with it blue skies, chirping birds, and—a few days after each dump, anyway—some dry singletrack.
While the mountain trails right around Bozeman are largely snow-bound or mud-laden (or both), just a scant jaunt down the road toward Three Forks, there lies a trail system that is rapidly drying out—yep, we’re talkin’ Copper City.
In just three years, it’s become a shoulder-season must-ride, and this year is no different. It’s on every trail user's bucket list, and it’s on O/B’s Spring Hit List.
Who: Damn near everyone. The word is out on Copper City, and folks will likely flock there from as far away as Helena. We don’t condone cross-county travel at this juncture, given statewide restrictions, so if you ain’t local, find somewhere else.
It will be hard to maintain strict social distancing in the near-term at Copper City, so ride, run, or walk at off-hours or mid-week. Avoid weekends for now—unless you have a really good headlamp.
What: Newish singletrack amongst the Montana sage. The Southwest Montana Mountain Bike Association (SWMMBA) funded and constructed the serpentine system over the last three summers, and they plan on wrapping up the project for good this year.
The stacked loops offer something for everyone, from mellow, rolling rides to technical, downhill-only terrain. This is not the time to push yourself beyond your comfort zone—in fact, dial it back a notch or two and be thankful there is any dry trail this time of year, because that isn’t always the case.
When: More than ever, this is a tricky one. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a time when Copper City won’t be crowded this spring. With social-distancing protocols in place, the 6-7am window might be your best bet.
Conditions are improving daily, but the upper loops will hold snow and then mud through the end of the month, further consolidating traffic. As always, if it rains, find a road to ride—keep the trails in good shape for the long season ahead.
Where: Due west from Bozeman, a few miles past Three Forks and a few miles north of the interstate. Get on I-90 and cruise until you hit the Hwy. 287 exit. Take it and head north until just past the Dolan horses on your left. At the top of the rise beyond the horses, there's a quick right-hand turn onto Copper City Rd. Bump along the dirt until you reach the large parking lot.
Why: So you don’t go completely crazy. We’re all cooped up, way more than usual, and champing at the bit to get out. While this isn’t the time for group rides and tailgating, if you play your cards right, you can responsibly enjoy some trail time.
Having said that, if the parking lot is packed, find a dirt-road ramble. There are endless options near Copper City, and a Gazetteer map is a great resource for exploration. Hell, you’re more likely to find solitude, adventure, and reprieve from the crazy times out on a country road than you are at a trailhead, so this might be your best option regardless.