When patches of snow become harder to find around town and blades of grass begin to appear, many anxious Bozemanites hit the trails. Such eager hikers are often deflated when they reach the trail and find only mud and post-holing conditions. But if you're looking for an early-season, local/localish hike, here are a few spring standbys.
Bear Trap Canyon
Though certainly not a secret—especially for anglers—Bear Trap is a fantastic early-season trail. Most anglers, campers, and rattlesnakes have not come out of hibernation anyway. The seven-mile path follows the Madison River and has minimal elevation gain, making it a great option for all fitness levels. Depending on your distance ambitions, take in the scenic views of the rocky canyon walls, following the curves of the river for as long as you desire. Turn around and follow the trail back. The trailhead is off Norris Road just before you cross the Madison River.
Madison Buffalo Jump State Park
Just 25 miles from downtown Bozeman is a great spring hike at a historic Native American site. Trails start in open grasslands, then twist up to the top of the tall limestone cliffs. Indians used to run game off the edge, including bison and antelope, to stock up their food stores. Depending on the loop and trail you decide to take, the hike is about two miles. There is very little shade or water, so pack extra hydration for yourself and any dogs you’ve brought along. You can access the trailhead from Norris Road (turn right at the Black’s Ford fishing access and follow the road north) or from I-90 at Logan, where you’ll follow Buffalo Jump Road south for about seven miles.
Drinking Horse Mountain
This trail is close to town; it offers quick access and is a nice alternative to the adjacent (and always popular) “M” trail. A good amount of vegetation grows on this two-mile, figure-eight trail that starts in evergreen woods and opens up into exposed and rocky outcropped areas. It has a moderately steady climb to the top, and there are benches along the way for you to enjoy views of the valley. Its lower elevation and exposed sidehills allow it to dry out sooner than many other local trails. The parking lot is off Bridger Canyon Road, across from the “M” and next to the Bozeman Fish Technology Center.