3 - 4
FATMAP difficulty grade
The South Cottonwood trailhead is located right on the outskirts of Bozeman, making it a very popular access point for the Gallatin mountain range.
This trail can be filled with hikers, trail runners, and mountain bikers at all times and on any day of the week—especially during mid-summer.
Even still, it's a beautiful trail in an incredible mountain range and is well worth exploring. The run begins on a smooth, wide trail winding through the trees.
You'll cross the creek a few times, sometimes splashing through the water directly and at other times utilizing bridges. The higher you go, the narrower and rougher the trail gets.
Most hikers seem to turn around after just a couple miles of hiking, so thankfully, the trail traffic diminishes substantially as you work your way up the valley. After about 5.4 miles, you'll reach a series of beautiful meadows nestled in the bottom of the valley.
From the meadows, you'll enjoy expansive views of the mountain ridges towering high above you! The route as mapped carries on past the meadows, progressing into even rockier terrain.
The turnaround point shown here is actually a fork in the trail.
If 16.5 miles round-trip isn't enough for you, you can choose to continue on either trail, both of which get progressively more overgrown and harder to follow.
Another alternative is to turn left onto the Fox Creek Trail shortly after the meadows and climb to a beautiful overlook high on the nearby mountain ridge. There's no end of options here in the Gallatins! **Note:** The Bozeman 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.