Length: 4-12 miles (round-trip)
Duration: 2.5-6 hours
Difficulty: Easy to difficult
Elevation Gain: 300-900 feet
Activities: Hiking, mountain biking, trail running, backpacking
Crowds: Heavy traffic
Located southwest of Bozeman, this trail follows South Cottonwood Creek through a dense old-growth forest with lush riparian areas and meadows, criss-crossing the creek along the way. This well-maintained path is great for hikers, mountain bikers, and trail runners. You gain fewer than 500 feet in elevation from the trailhead to the most popular turnaround point at the third bridge. The path continues across two more bridges, eventually connecting to Hyalite Canyon via the History Rock trail at 6 miles and the Mount Blackmore trail at 8 miles, offering short, full-day, or overnight adventures. Carry bear spray.
South Cottonwood is a great trail on a hot day, as the frigid creek provides ongoing replenishment for hot humans and dogs alike. It's especially ideal for kids and dogs, thanks to dense forest. Colorful wildflowers light up South Cottonwood during spring and summer. In the winter, the trail can get wet; make sure you've got waterproof boots after a snowy tempest.
Directions & Map
Head south on S. 19th past Hyalite Canyon to the intersection with Cottonwood Rd. Turn left and wind through a big S turn before taking another left on Cottonwood Canyon Rd. From there, it's approximately 2 miles to the trailhead at the end of the road.