A Trail Wish Comes True

There’s no trail fairy creating new trails around Bozeman, but with partnerships, fund-raising, hard work, and patience, wishes can come true.

Just 10 minutes from downtown Bozeman, south of I-90 off the Trail Creek exit, 4.6 miles of new trail climb 2,200 feet past the spectacular Frog Rock pinnacles to the ridge of Chestnut Mountain. Part-way up the mountain, a one-mile spur trail traverses west providing climbing access and a spectacular hike or bike ride to the base of Frog Rock. Both trails are open to all nonmotorized users. The Gallatin National Forest (GNF) designed and funded this new Chestnut Mountain Trail (#458) and partnered with the Southwest Montana Climbers Coalition (SMCC) to build the Frog Rock spur trail (#463).

Over the span of ten years, Gallatin Valley Land Trust (GVLT), the Trust for Public Land (TPL), Gallatin County, Montana Outdoor Science School (MOSS), GNF, SMCC, and private landowners worked together to create this major new trail and conserve a critically important link in the Bozeman Pass wildlife corridor. The entire project was made possible by the Schmidt family, who worked with GVLT, TPL, and GNF to conserve 2,055 acres of their land straddling I-90.

A conservation easement now permanently protects 1,240 of those acres, and the other 815 acres have become public land. They include the popular climbing area north of I-90 and 640 acres south of I-90 over which most of the new trail was constructed. Funding for the conservation easement came from Gallatin County Open Space Bonds and the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The Chestnut Mountain Trail starts with a bridge across Bridger Creek 0.2 miles from the I-90 Trail Creek off-ramp. Parking is currently on the shoulder of the road (better parking may be constructed in the future). The first 0.6 miles of trail cross private property protected by GVLT’s first conservation easement in 1991. The trail follows an easement granted by MOSS when it owned the property in the mid-2000s.

At 0.8 miles, the trail intersects with an old logging road, which it follows for the next 1.2 miles, offering dramatic views of the Frog Rock pinnacles. From the end of the logging road, new single-track climbs steadily through forest and fields of wildflowers onto the Chestnut Mountain ridge, which hikers can follow all the way to the back of Bear Canyon. From start to finish, the trail’s sustained grades demand good fitness—especially on a mountain bike. But you’ll be well-rewarded with spectacular views you’ve never seen before, amazing wildflowers, and access to a whole new area waiting to be explored.

Ted Lange is the Community Trails Planner for the Gallatin Valley Land Trust. Check out a map of the new trail here.