Length: 4.4 miles round-trip to the junction with the Bear Lakes trail (the most popular turnaround), 13 miles round-trip to Bear Lakes
Duration: 2 to 8 hours
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Elevation Gain: 400 to 1,400 (at Bear Lakes) feet
Activities: Hiking, mountain biking, trail running, cross-country skiing, dirtbiking
Crowds: Heavy traffic
Bear Canyon is a lush drainage between Mount Ellis and Chestnut Mountain southeast of Bozeman. The Bear Canyon trail follows Bear Creek up the shady canyon and eventually to Bear Lakes. This trail stays close to the cascading waters of the creek, gaining relatively little elevation and making for a very pleasant hike, bike, or ski. Beyond the junction, the trail continues for a couple of miles to another junction; the right fork also goes to Bear Lakes, while the left takes you to the Chestnut Mountain Trail.
Bear Canyon is open to foot traffic only from April 1 to July 16; mountain bikes and stock use are permitted afterward. During spring and early summer, the trail can be muddy in shaded areas and quite buggy during wet months. While popular with cross-country skiers, the trail is steep in places and there are several blind-turn switchbacks. If you choose to follow the creek instead of taking the switchbacks, be careful on the way down as the trail is tight and lined with rocks.
Head east on I-90 and take the Bear Canyon exit, the first exit east of Bozeman. Turn right and then make a quick left onto Bear Canyon Rd. Drive approximately four miles to the parking area near the end of the road. The trailhead is about a quarter-mile farther up the road, beside the entrance to the old ski area.
Map and information courtesy of Robert Stone's Day Hikes Around Bozeman, Montana.