FATMAP by Strava

Emerald Lake and Heather Lake


Renowned as one of the best mountain bike rides in Montana!

Mountain Biking Difficult

18 km
676 m
676 m
1-2 hrs
Low Point
2.2 km
High Point
2.8 km
Emerald Lake and Heather Lake Map

In the early days of mountain biking, Emerald Lake was often heralded as the best ride in all of Montana. But times have changed, and incredible new trails have been built, and other historic backcountry routes have risen in popularity. So while Emerald Lake probably isn't the best ride in the state, it is still undoubtedly an incredible trail ride that is well-worth putting at the top of your to-do list when you visit Bozeman!


The route is a simple out-and-back to Emerald Lake with zero possibility of getting lost along the way. However, you can opt to continue past Emerald Lake to reach Heather Lake just another mile up the trail (which is highly recommended).

This popular trail is open to hikers, horseback riders, and even motorcycles on certain days. Due to its incredible popularity, a "shared use" schedule has been implemented, which bans bikes from the trail on Sundays and Mondays between July 16 and September 5. Never mind that the hikers and equestrians don't actually do any "sharing," as they can use the trail any day of the week that they desire. But as mountain bikers in the dramatically anti-mountain bike environment near Bozeman, we need to be thankful for every trail that remains open to bicycles in any capacity.

The ride begins by slowly meandering its way up along a rushing creek on very rideable singletrack. The undulating singletrack eventually steepens, with switchbacks offering upward passage on the steepening mountainside. Despite gaining a couple thousand vert to reach the lakes, this trail is eminently climbable thanks to the well-built switchbacks. Undoubtedly, this is one of the reasons that Emerald Lake has long been popular with mountain bikers.

As you climb, you'll encounter occasional rock gardens and root webs, but nothing that should cause too much concern. While some resources label Emerald Lake as a black diamond ride, it only receives a "Difficult" FATMAP rating. Emerald Lake should be quite achievable for most intermediate mountain bikers. In the few places where the trail gets chunky, the trail tread is actually quite wide, allowing riders the option to challenge themselves on the tech or to skirt around the edge.

As the trail nears Emerald Lake, you'll break out of the trees into breathtaking alpine meadows with jagged, rocky mountain ridges soaring high above you. You'll see that you're pedaling into a bowl at the very end of a valley, and then you'll quickly encounter Emerald Lake.

The green water makes it immediately clear how this lake got its name. Take a break on the shore, but be sure to keep pedaling up to Heather Lake if you have the stamina. While Emerald Lake is close to the bowl at the end of the valley, Heather Lake is actually cupped in the final bowl, with steep-sided mountain ridges rising dramatically from its shores. It is undoubtedly even more scenic than Emerald Lake!

While it's only another mile up to Heather Lake, the singletrack gets a bit tighter and narrower due to the diminished traffic up to that point.

After enjoying the views at Heather Lake, it's time to rip! Since this trail is an out-and-back and there's some tension between user groups, be sure to ride heads-up as you descend and yield to hikers and all oncoming trail traffic.

When the crowds thin, you can really get ripping on this trail! Especially as you drop into the trees, the wide trail tread and long sightlines allow for some high-speed ripping. A few optional kickers will launch you over the rock gardens and root webs. The flow is interrupted somewhat by the switchbacks in the middle, but when you reach the lower undulating section, you can really let it out! But as always, be aware and ride heads-up for hikers.


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.



Mostly stable trail tread with some variability featuring larger and more unavoidable obstacles that may include, but not be limited to: bigger stones, roots, steps, and narrow curves. Compared to lower intermediate, technical difficulty is more advanced and grades of slopes are steeper. Ideal for upper intermediate riders.

Medium Exposure

2 out of 4

The trail contains some obstacles such as outcroppings and rock which could cause injury.


4 out of 4

In the high mountains or remote conditions, all individuals must be completely autonomous in every situation.

Best time to visit

between July and October


  • Flow
  • Technical
  • Picturesque
  • Singletrack
  • Roots
  • Rock Gardens

Similar routes nearby

Guidebooks in this area