Explaining Bozeman’s playground
by Phil Knight
Why go all the way to Glacier Park for high, rugged mountains when you can get into serious high country less than an hour from your door? Just south of Bozeman lies one of the world’s greatest multisport mountain playgrounds. In Hyalite Canyon and the surrounding peaks, you can pretty much do it all.
This has long been the go-to place for locals seeking their mountain fix. But Hyalite has matured from a place to shoot old televisions, cut firewood, and get your truck stuck to a sophisticated adventure Mecca. Motorized recreation has been scaled back in favor of human-powered pursuits and wildlife conservation. Thanks to effective winter road plowing, what used to be a mess of stuck rigs and frozen ruts is now a fairly easy drive.
You want wildlife, Hyalite’s got it—even wolves and grizzly bears are making a comeback here in the north end of the Gallatin Range. Mountain goats and bighorn sheep skitter across ridge tops, golden eagles ride the thermals, moose lurk in the deep woods, and coyotes cruise for stray poodles.
Though Hyalite is close enough to Bozeman for great day tripping, you can also pitch your tent or park your camper at Langhor, Hood Creek, or Chisholm campgrounds. Or, if you prefer a fully equipped cabin, reserve the Window Rock or Maxey cabins—both accessible by car in the summer or easy approach on showshoe or ski in the winter.
Brim-full early in the summer, the reservoir is a paradise for boaters seeking still water. Stand-up paddleboarders look like lost surfers, families putt along in overloaded outboards bristling with fishing poles and dogs, and couples enjoying evening picnics paddle by canoe or kayak. Hardy scuba divers train in the chilly depths of the snowmelt-fed water and boaters jump ship to take a cool swim—just watch the sunken stumps. There’s great fishing year-round, and in winter, ice fishers set up shop on the frozen tabletop. More remote lakes beckon from the backcountry, offering awesome lakeside camping and fishing.
While quality rock is limited in Hyalite, a few crags offer some fine routes for rock jocks. Despite its diminutive size, Practice Rock has variety and challenge enough for days of climbing, and Crocodile Rock offers quieter but more awkward crack climbs. Come winter, the climbing opportunities expand to one of the world’s great ice and mixed-route destinations. From humble WI2 flows like Greensleeves to multi-pitch rock and ice epics like Winter Dance, you can find a lifetime of ice in Hyalite.
Hyalite’s trail system is legendary and offers anything from an easy stroll to weeklong expeditions through the heart of a 500,000-acre roadless area. Throw in heaps of spectacular waterfalls, like Grotto, Palisade, and Horsetail, and it’s hard to find more classic hikes. Epic mountain biking also awaits, with favorite rides including History Rock trail into South Cottonwood Canyon, the East Fork trail to Emerald Lake, and the easier West Shore Trail along Hyalite Reservoir.
Ski-trail grooming has expanded every winter lately, and now there are enough quality Nordic ski trails to keep you coming back every winter weekend. Call the posse and assemble some avalanche gear, and you can ski from a 10,000-foot peak almost any time of year. I’ve skied Blackmore in late June and snowboarded it by full moon in December.
Grab some buddies and go for a late summer evening paddle. Load the bikes and grind up some steep switchbacks. Sharpen the tools and swing for all you’re worth on a giant popsicle. Clean the gun and don the camo and creep deep into the woods to fill the freezer with a year’s supply of elk. No matter what you’re after, you can probably find it in Hyalite.