Runs in the Sun

Trying to pick the best places to run near Bozeman is a little like trying to decide between ice cream and candy—they're all so good! So when the editors asked me which five I thought were the best, I had some thinking to do. Long or short? Hilly or flat? After years of running, it came down to these, all of which are trails (because a bad trail is better than a good road).

1. South Cottonwood
This is an out-and-back from the South Cottonwood trailhead. To get to the trailhead, take South 19th south of town. Turn left on Cottonwood Road at the T junction, then left on Cottonwood Canyon Road. Park at the trailhead parking at the end of the road. The outbound run is a beautiful, gradual climb through the trees, following Cottonwood Creek with many log-bridge crossings. The ascent is not steep, but it adds up to significant climbing in the end. The return is gentle enough to let it rip without destroying your legs. Water is always near at hand, so your dog will thank you in the summer. Running hard would not get you to the saddle below Mount Blackmore and back in less than a three-hour round trip.

2. Sourdough Creek—Galligator—Peet’s Hill—Cherry/Holly—Painted Hills
There are many options for the start and finish on this loop. For a weekday spin on the trails in town, this one is hard to beat. It yields about an hour on the trails with very little time on roads and sidewalks. These trails are the backbone of my commute to work and back. Be nice about sharing the trail with walkers, dogs, kids, retirees, and bikes.

3. Kirk Hill
Follow South 19th out of town to the parking lot at the first big turn to the west. This is also an out-and-back, notable for a brutal uphill pretty much right out of the parking lot. It's a great trail to work on your uphill rhythm. It’s only a couple of miles to the Forest Service road at the top of the trail, but it seems longer. The trail is lined with pine needles, and small placards will help you learn the wildflowers as you go. The trail is also a good place for songbirds. There are several options along the trail, but most of them eventually wind up at the top. To go longer, take the Forest Service road to the left to access Leverich Canyon, or keep going and drop into Sourdough Creek or even Hyalite Canyon. This run can be as long as you like.

4. New World Gulch
This is another out-and-back, although you can also run to Mystic Lake and then descend the Wall-of-Death trail to the Bozeman Creek trail (but that requires a car shuttle). To get there, drive on Kagy east out of town until it becomes Bozeman Trail. Continue east onto Bear Canyon Road just after the school and firehouse. Park at the USFS trailhead on the right along the jackfence. This run features steady, gradual climb through the trees. There are also a few meadow runs for variety. The trail is a favorite with horse riders, so expect some flies. If you like mud, this is the one for you, especially after a hard rain. Extra points if you lose a shoe in one of the quagmires. Expect about an hour of hard running to the first point, at which you can see Mystic Lake. This is also a good trail for bumping into bears and moose, so be awake.

5. Beartrap Canyon
This is one of the first trails to dry out in the spring, so it is a nice option when most of the trails in the Bridgers are still buried in snow and mud. To get there, drive east on Norris Road from town, turn left (south) along the Madison River just before crossing the bridge, and park at the USFS trailhead at the end of the dirt road. The run is a relatively flat out-and-back that takes about two hours. The trail has varied footing with great views along the river, especially when the canyon narrows and the trail climbs a hundred feet above the water. There are a few tricky patches of talus, but they are all short. Turn around at the fence (no trespassing, despite the hole in the fence) below the dam. Mind the ticks.