Finger Lickin' Good

Running Hyalite's hidden gem. 

Fall leaves drift across the doubletrack and the sound of the creek trickles through the low country. Raspberry canes line the edge of the forest while frost shimmers in the grass and collects in yesterday’s footprints. Solitude, just a dozen miles south of Bozeman.

After work, I pull off at a nearly empty trailhead, park my battered Subaru, then lace up my running shoes and release my overly enthusiastic pup for a quick loop through the hills north of Hyalite Reservoir.

While a steady stream of cars drives past to trailheads higher up the canyon, we cross the pavement to the gated, old road along Lick Creek.

Running up Lick Creek is a slow grind on old logging roads with easy footing but a relentless grade. I work to keep my head up as elk wander across the path, and I’m constantly mindful to keep my dog close and off the chase. When a grouse explodes from the undergrowth, I momentarily lose that battle and have to wait patiently for him to come charging back.

As the path winds higher, the trail frequently splits. Being mindful of all the junctions and ready to acknowledge a wrong turn, we climb higher. Thankfully, the main track is the widest and the main junctions are well marked.

Stepping out of one of the sidetracks that’s regrowing into the forest is a grouse hunter in a tattered orange vest. Nodding and exchanging pleasantries between deep breaths, my pup and I continue up the path.

Alternating between young stands of lodgepole and open meadows, the trail winds up for four miles toward the divide between Hyalite and Sourdough. Fresh snow caps the peaks that spread across the horizon. With open views of Mount Blackmore and the mountains beyond, this is where I often turn around. It’s a good place to reflect, not only on how far I’ve traveled, but on the fact that it is part of our public commons.

Today I’m in for a longer adventure. Descending over the divide can bring me to Mystic Lake, but I have in mind to loop toward the reservoir by jogging along Hood Creek. Gazing down at the path, I see fresh tire tracks in the softening dirt. Besides being a great run, this loop is ideal for a quick, after-work bike ride.

Continuing south, the forest gets progressively thicker. On the north-facing slopes, the air cools and shade consumes the trail. The path contours along the flank of Palisade Mountain, falling steadily once reaching the next side drainage. From here, our pace quickens and I race my pup down the trail. Smooth footing and a buttery trail leads us down toward the reservoir at a nice clip.

Near the six-mile mark, the loop strays away from the descent and turns back toward the trailhead. This last section is flatter, open, and an invitation to go fast. Completing the loop is a downhill sprint. A perfect slope spits us back out on the Hyalite road. Catching my breath as my pup shakes his tail, we wait for traffic to pass and then return to a quiet parking lot.

A cold beer and extra kibble are well-deserved treats.


Distance: 9.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 1,500 ft
Trails for Loop: FS 452 to 455 to 436 to 456 to 452
Additional Options: Mystic Lake, Moser Creek, Wildhorse

Lick Creek, Hyalite Recreation Map, Bozeman