The Fast Track
Summer bike rides around Bozeman.
Mud season is over, let the mountain biking begin. There are a ton of options, but if you aren't in the mood for a three-hour car ride or only want to mess around after work for a while, then this short list is right up your alley. If you're unfamiliar with the area, I recommend the Bozeman, Big Sky, West Yellowstone Recreation Map available at local bike shops. Also, bozemanbiketalk.com is a useful forum for trail information and condition reports.
The Ride: Bangtail Divide Trail
Why I Like It: Because, if you haven't done it yet, you should
Length: 22 miles
Conveniently close to Bozeman and accessible to most people due to its moderate difficulty, this trail offers some of the best panoramas you'll find and is 22 miles point to point. Most riders start at Stone Creek (located 12 miles up Bridger Canyon Road). Be prepared for a long but steady climb over a couple dozen perfect hairpin turns. Fourteen more miles of varied but consistently excellent riding take you to Brackett Creek. Unless you want to turn around and experience it all over again from the other direction, hit the pavement for seven miles back to your car. Better yet, check out the next pick.
The Ride: Brackett Creek to Bridger Bowl FST 538
Why I Like It: Because it's a pity that no one knows about it (until now)
Length: 5 miles
Think of this as the cherry on the Bangtail Divide sundae that will take you halfway back from Brackett to Stone Creek. From Brackett Creek, ride two miles up Forest Service Road (FSR) 631 (left fork on the west side of the highway) before taking a right up Forest Service Trail (FST) 538. At a fork one-half mile later, merge left to stay on FST 538. Just after connecting with the ski area's access road, keep an eye out to the left for the continuing single track that will take you all the way to the base of Bridger Bowl.
The Ride: Lick Creek
Why I Like It: Because its close enough to town for a quick evening workout
Length: 8-9 mile loop
Nontechnical, it's suitable for a wide range of abilities and allows you to go as hard as you want. From the Hyalite Reservoir parking lot cruise back down the main road for 1.5 miles and make a hard right turn on FST 455 (gate). The ensuing four-mile climb is interrupted once by a fast downhill with a blind dip at the bottom; watch out for this one. At the top, a left turn takes you over Wildhorse trail into Bozeman Creek drainage, but that's for a longer day. Instead, go straight for another mile and take a hard right for an Autobahn-like descent to the dam or go straight for a more technical descent to Hyalite road.
The Ride: 1st Yellow Mule Trail FST 162, Big Sky
Why I Like It: Because this trail will take your breath away
Length: 14 miles out-and-back, round trip
From Hwy 191, go 2.75 miles toward Big Sky and turn left on Ousel Falls Road. Or, take the next left and stop by Gallatin Alpine Sports for detailed beta and spare tubes. Drive two more miles to the Ousel Falls Trail parking lot on the left. From the trailhead, go three-quarters of a mile down the multi-use path, yielding to all other users. Then head up the newly improved FST 162 through forests, creek crossings, wildflower-speckled meadows, and 3,000 feet of elevation gain. Wildlife sightings are likely and bear spray is advisable. The trail is faint for the last few miles, but the objective is unambiguous and well worth it; Buck Ridge is at 9,300 feet and offers breathtaking views of surrounding mountains.
The Ride: Forest Service Trails in general
Why I Like It: Because they are challenging and take you to amazing places
Length: As long as you like
Most forest service trails are open to mountain bikes and are therefore free for you to explore. However, they are typically designed for hiking and technically difficult for biking. If the trail is excessively muddy or if you can't climb or descend it without skidding, you'll contribute to erosion, so don't ride it. Stay out of designated wilderness, and remember that hikers and horses have the right of way. That said, some of the most beautiful and epic adventures await you, so don't miss out.