Top-Tier Backcountry Mountain Biking Outside of Bozeman, MT

Explore the best backcountry rides near the epic mountain destination of Bozeman, Montana.

Mountain Biking Moderate, Difficult, Severe

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Fairyhouse Loop
Photo: Greg Heil

Description

The town of Bozeman, Montana, may be falling victim to its own success. With housing prices soaring out of control, the comparisons to Boulder, Colorado, fly fast and furious. Bozeman is also the longtime battleground of some of the most contentious mountain bike access issues in the United States. US Forest Service officials in the region banned mountain bikes from one of the best singletrack trails in the nation, the Gallatin Crest, after they included this trail and others in a recommended Wilderness area. The zone has yet to become a Wilderness (which would indeed ban bicycle access), but bikes have already preemptively been banned from the trails—some would say illegally. Lawsuits have ensued, and the drama has not yet fully reached its conclusion (we hope).

Even still, despite outrageous home prices, anti-mountain bike sentiment from some corners, and a massive influx of tourists during both the summer and the winter seasons, Bozeman deserves its renown... yes, even for mountain biking. Even after having some of the most incredible trails closed to bikes, the mountains surrounding Bozeman are still home to some of the best backcountry mountain biking in the nation.

The riding near Bozeman is found in two distinct mountain ranges: the Northern Gallatins, located just to the south of downtown, and the Bridgers to the north of the city. Arguably the most famous riding is anchored by Hyalite Canyon. This stunning valley gives way to a beautiful mountain reservoir up high, and along the corridor, singletrack trails begin in all directions. Two of the most famous trails in the state of Montana, Emerald Lake and Hyalite Lake, begin just above the reservoir. (And they are deserving of the fame.) You can access the fantastic South Cottonwood Trail from Fox Creek, and a vast selection of shorter and easier routes line the valley. And those are just the highlights—if you're motivated, you can connect to anywhere in the Gallatin Range from Hyalite Canyon.

Other routes in the Northern Gallatins are accessible from additional trailheads and drainages along the Gallatin front. Most notably, Leverich Canyon offers the only downhill directional mountain bike trail in the region, which has seen plenty of use and abuse as a result. Chestnut Mountain provides superb views and a ripping descent with a reasonable amount of effort expended. The trails near Bear Lake mix singletrack and ATV trail for loops of epic proportions. And again, these are just the highlights of the extensive trail system found here.

Heading north into the Bridgers, the singletrack gets a little more remote and a little more demanding. The mountains themselves are insanely rugged! Some bike-legal trails traverse along the brutal mountain range, while other trails cross epic alpine passes from one side to the other. Trails like the Fairyhouse Loop offer stunning alpine scenery paired with tough climbs. The Bridgers are also home to the region's local IMBA Epic—Bangtail Divide. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing in 2021, Bangtail has seen better days. The trail is still worth checking out, but the smooth trail tread has been turned into 24 miles of water-filled moto whoops. Prepare to get your manual game on.

The Bozeman area offers a lifetime of exploration for the avid mountain biker who isn't afraid to head deep into the mountains in search of adventure. Big climbs, rowdy descents, and remote singletrack with not a soul in sight are all par for the course in Southwestern Montana. Are you up for the challenge?

Note:

The Bozeman area is renowned as prime grizzly bear country. Signs at every trailhead warn that bears are highly active in the area. Mountain biking is considered a high-risk activity in grizzly bear country due to the quiet speed of a bicycle and how quickly you can accidentally sneak up on a bear when rounding a blind turn. To mitigate this risk, make plenty of noise while riding, try to ride with a group of people, and consider attaching a bear bell to your handlebars. Also, make certain that you carry bear spray with you every time you ride, in case you do get into an encounter with a grizzly.

Routes included

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