Best Trail Runs in Big Sky, Montana

Explore the wild mountains surrounding Big Sky, Montana, on these epic trail runs.

Trail Running Difficult, Severe

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Beehive Basin
Photo: Christine Henry

Description

The Southern Gallatins near Big Sky provide a stunningly-beautiful landscape that is quintessential Montana: wide, shallow rivers; endless meadows; rolling ridges covered in towering pines; and vaulted peaks off in the distance standing sentry above the more moderate landscape below. By "more moderate" and "rolling ridges," I mean mountain ridges that require 4,000-5,000 vertical feet of climbing to ascend. From a distance, the mountains look soft, but up close, the sheer scale of the undertaking weighs down on you, and you realize you're in for a big day in the mountains no matter what.

As you progress from the softer mountains to the vaulted, rocky peaks, the challenge only gets more formidable. In places like the Spanish Peaks, towering spires of sheer granite rise dramatically above you. Entire mountain ridges are composed of treeless, barren rock cliffs that provide a beautiful tableau from below or a dramatic challenge if you attempt to scale them directly.

Big Sky Resort plays host to "The Rut," an annual trail race that's become "one of the most coveted trail running events in North America," according to ultrarunner Brendon Voelker. "In fact, the 2020 race sold out in a mere four hours, with 3,060 participants spread across four distances and multiple events," he continues. Some of the trails at Big Sky Resort are open to trail runners all year round, and others are only open to runners during the race. For an entire guidebook detailing the various distance options for The Rut, click here.

If you're looking for backcountry trails to run that are open all season long, you don't have to go far from Big Sky. On the Mules Loop, you can even run straight from downtown Big Sky deep into the mountains. You'll gain a vaulted high alpine ridge and traverse it for a couple of miles before heading back down the mountains and back to your favorite brewery for a post-run refuel. As a bonus, the Mules Loop is little-traveled, offering an incredible backcountry feeling straight from downtown.

While you can choose to run popular trails such as Beehive Basin, to beat the crowds of tourists and enjoy a mostly uninterrupted running experience, you'll have to start at dawn (or before). But for a less-traveled alternative in the Spanish Peaks, consider the steep 15.8-mile run (round-trip) to Summit Lake. Finally, for a little-traveled yet easily-accessible loop, check out "Grizzly Loop" off of Porcupine Road.

And these are just the top recommendations in the area. The singletrack trails spread far and wide through the Montana wilderness, and if you aren't afraid of a little bushwhacking and searching for little-used trails, the opportunities increase tremendously! Whichever route you choose, you're in for a fantastic adventure here in Southwestern Montana!

Note:

The Big Sky area is renowned as prime grizzly bear country. Signs at every trailhead warn that bears are highly active in the area. To mitigate the risk of bear encounters, make plenty of noise while running, try to travel with a group of people, and consider attaching a bear bell to your backpack. Also, make certain that you carry bear spray with you every time you head into the mountains, in case you do get into an encounter with a grizzly.

Routes included

Related guidebooks