Located in south-central Montana, the Gallatin National Forest includes over 1.8 million acres of various terrain. First established in 1899 as a forest preserve, Gallatin protects valleys, ridges, rivers, lakes, and mountains. Two Wilderness Areas find themselves inside this forest that borders Yellowstone National Park. Visitors from cities across the country like Seattle or St. Louis travel through Bozeman, MT, to enjoy the scenery, fish the lakes, and climb the mountains of Gallatin. With six mountain ranges inside the park to choose from, rock and mountain climbers find plenty of action here. Others come to hike the over 2,290 miles of trails that run through the forest.
From mountain peaks to lakeside trails, there's a hiking trail for everyone in the Gallatin National Forest.
The Lava Lake Trail, also known as the Cascade Creek Trail, is an in-and-out pathway that is wide enough to accommodate traffic both ways. The path travels through coniferous forests alongside a creek with several small waterfalls. The grade is gradual until the final section, where a series of switchbacks gets you up a slope to the lake's location with tremendous views in every direction.
Length: 5.7 miles
The Hyalite Peak Trail is a well-established ascent of Hyalite Peak through a series of switchbacks. While the average grade of the climb is 8%, some switchbacks attain 20% or more. Your hike brushes several impressive waterfalls before it reaches the midway point at Hyalite Lake. From there, the intensity of the walk increases until you reach the peak, where an incredible panoramic view greets you.
Length: 15.0 miles
Ousel Falls Trail is a short in-and-out pathway that descends to a picturesque waterfall. The path is wide and well-maintained. Along the route, a series of outlooks allows you to stop, rest, and observe the river as it passes alongside you on its way to the waterfall.
Length: 1.6 miles
To get the same view as the Bridger Party did in the early 1800s, take the Bridger Ridge Traverse. The trail immediately ascends 4,000 feet to the top of Sacagawea Peak. From there, hikers walk the ridgeline for miles. The last section of the hike is a knee-pounding descent to the plains surrounding Bozeman.
Length: 18.7 miles
The Pine Creek Lake Trail is an exciting climb of 3,391 feet to the source of Pine Creek at 9,022 feet in elevation. The path follows the stream through a forest and into intermittent clearings. These meadow-like exposures include a small lake where the creek pauses before crashing further down the mountainside. Pine Creek Lake sits amongst a stunning series of mountaintops that provide a once-in-a-lifetime view.
Length: 10.4 miles
The hundreds of streams, pools, and lakes that Gallatin National Forest offers bring anglers from around the country. These waterways are rich with trout, which seem to be highly elusive. For many anglers, the challenge of climbing the hills to find a seldom-visited fishing hole is irresistible.
To engage in the game of geocaching in the Gallatin National Forest, stick to sections of the region that are not designated as Wilderness Areas. Regulations also apply as to where and when you may hide a cache. Most cache sites are subject to seasonal timelines. Stop at the visitor center for advice on how and where to plant your prize.
Wherever you spend the night in the Gallatin National Forest, the sky holds the possibility of a vision that you will never see in a city. With most of the valley floors at over 4,000 feet in elevation, a clear night brings an incredible view of the Milky Way. At higher elevations, stargazing reveals stars you have never seen before as a sky reminiscent of a light show opens before your eyes.
Address: 10 East Babcock Street, Bozeman, MT 59771
Fee: Entry fee $0
No matter what time of year you visit the Gallatin National Forest, the best way to explore the area is in an RV. With over 2,290 miles of hiking trails, Gallatin National Forest is a great place for an RV adventure, and an RV is a comfortable way of reaching the trailheads. Since most of the trails are in and out, knowing that a comfortable rest is waiting after a hike is a pleasant thought. In such vehicles, families create memories that last a lifetime.