TEN Cross Country Ski Locations Around Bozeman
Steve McGann | Thursday Dec. 1st, 2022
Having deserted Montana winters about five years ago for warm and sunny Arizona, I have felt neither interest in nor expertise for writing about the season. This year, however, my wife and I will be in Bozeman for most of December and into January for a holiday family reunion. So, while scanning the garage rafters searching for skis and poles, I began contemplating where to do some cross-country skiing. We may now migrate south with the rest of the birds but we do have forty plus years’ experience of winter activities around Bozeman. Over those years, our main recreation in the cold months has been on the cross-country ski trails in this area. I came up with a list of ten that we have enjoyed. The ten selections can be divided into three categories; convenient tracks right in Bozeman (2), nearby pay-to-ski Nordic resorts (2), and National Forest skiing in the woods (6).
We live just a block-and-a-half from Bozeman High School. For a number of years, after a big snow dump, I skied right out of my garage on sidewalks that hadn’t yet been shoveled, and made tracks around the school athletic fields. It was mostly just to be able to say that I skied without having to drive anywhere, but at times others helped make the tracks, and I would see skiers there. Almost as close are two other choices in the city.
The Lindley/Sunset Hills area is on the east side, right in town. The two main tracks, groomed for both ski and skate, head out from Lindley Center. Laps on these trails are great, but it is also possible to ski uphill toward Hillcrest, over to Burke Park, or even across the street to Highland Glen. Of course, most of these alternatives are not groomed, and skate skiers would have a tougher time—but those guys seem tougher anyway. For us, Lindley is so close that it is great for a quick spin on a lunch hour, or after work in the twilight.
The other option in town is the Bridger Creek Golf course. There are loops groomed in the hilly area northeast of the clubhouse, and also across McIlhattan Road. One of the loops across the road meanders along Bridger Creek in the cottonwoods, and even features a couple of bridges. This is a great venue on extra cold days. It is possible to lay out your skis on the sidewalk a few feet from your vehicle and be off and running a minute or two after getting out of the warm car or truck. Some of the bike/hike trails here eventually connect to Glen Lake Park and, though I have never tried to ski through, some people surely have.
The Bridger Ski Foundation has been a fixture in the Bozeman skiing community for decades. They champion all things skiing in the area, with a particular focus on a variety of youth ski programs. The BSF provides the equipment, personnel, time, effort, and funds to groom many of the trails I am mentioning. They do this for the community, and the skiing is free. However, they do sell an optional Nordic ski pass, and accept donations. Any of us who use these trails should contribute.
Crosscut Mountain Sports Center, formerly known as Bohart Ranch, is located a few hundred yards north of Bridger Bowl, just off Highway 86. Their website advertises 500-acres with 45 kilometers of ski and skate trails. They also offer separate areas for snowshoeing and fat bike riding. Crosscut is a center for biathlon, the hybrid sport of skiing and target shooting. I have not skied there for some time, but remember the area as set in the forest with a rolling terrain. They feature great signage with information on their trails, such as length and difficulty. They offer equipment rentals, seasonal and daily rates, along with punch cards for ski visits.
Lone Mountain Ranch has been around for over 100 years. A year round full amenity resort, it is located part way up the mountain at Big Sky. For the winter season, they list 85 kilometers of trails, rentals, lessons, day and season passes. They also feature cabins, a restaurant and saloon, live music, sleigh rides, fat bikes, snowshoeing, ice skating, and transport up the mountain for downhill skiing. Enjoy full-on winter adventures, or just drive in for a day of skiing and warm up with a hot drink afterward.
The Big Sky Community Organization maintains an extensive network (over twenty miles) of ski trails throughout the Big Sky area. There are many loops and spurs around Meadow Village, Town Center, the golf course, and Ousel Falls. There is even a trail from Mountain Village all the way down to Highway 191. These trails are free and are a great addition to the Big Sky experience. We have skied down the Mountain to Meadow trail and taken a shuttle back up for a great Nordic ski day. The Big Sky trails offer a unique combination of an in-town and in-the-woods ski experience.
The other cross-country skiing locations I have frequented over the years are on National Forest land, a bit more remote, more in the wilderness. They are all either north or south of Bozeman. The area to the west the Gallatin Valley is not known for snow. People in Three Forks are proud to play golf in February. To the east, the snow does not stay put. I love the town and people of Livingston (both my wife and I worked there for years). But, as the songwriter Ben Bullington put it; “The wind blows like a fire hose.” There is great skiing in the Crazies and the Absarokas, but that is farther afield. My final five spots include two in the Bridgers and three in the Gallatin Range.
The two that we have skied most in the Bridgers are roads; Brackett Creek and Fairy Lake. Brackett Creek refers to a maze of logging and access roads that begin at the intersection on Highway 86 a few miles north of Bridger Bowl. The road that was primarily the cross-country ski track began there and ran up a slope back, parallel with the main road. Easy to spot. Another road began a bit to the north and, years ago, was primarily used by snowmobiles. Access to these areas is determined by where the Forest Service locks the gates. Regardless, Brackett Creek is a great ski venue, the terrain fairly gentle, rolling through forest and meadow with views of the rugged Bridger Ridge high above.
Fairy Lake is another road you have to scout to find how far the road closure is from the highway. No matter, the skiing will be fine from behind any gate. We went there mostly to cut Christmas trees and, after downing the perfect tree, realized it was huge, and located a mile from the truck; we then wished for a friendly snowmobiler, who was always on another trail that day, to shake his head and drag it out.
Bozeman Creek/Sourdough Canyon is the most popular winter trail in the area—at least, it seems that way. It is an in and out road without any loops, so two-way traffic. If you are a Nordic ski purist, pursuing a speed workout at this location may not be for you. Sourdough is full of skiers, snowshoers, walkers, joggers, dogs, fat bike riders, and kids in strollers and on sleds. The ski track might be obliterated by all these fun-seekers, but this is a Bozeman outdoor mecca. It is always fun to see so many people out enjoying the winter. Of course, going earlier or later on weekends, or heading up on weekdays make for better parking and fewer crowds. It is five miles of steady uphill climb to the creek bridge, and ten all the way to Mystic Lake, so any distance can be skied. It is also possible to ski up and drop into Moser Creek on the Hyalite Road.
Hyalite is a wonderful place, summer or winter. It could absorb the Sourdough crowd and tenfold more and still provide a wilderness experience. There are many miles of trails with all of the opportunities mentioned above, along with ice fishing and ice climbing. Ski right out on the reservoir after you notice the fishermen and their coolers, chairs, and even snowmobiles out there on the ice. A coalition of skiers and ice climbers secured the plowing of the Hyalite Road years ago. Of course, the BSF is involved in that effort, and in the grooming of the trails there and on the Sourdough trail.
Last on the list is Moose Creek. We used to go there when we wanted real solitude. The road heads up across the highway from the campground, along the river in Gallatin Canyon. This is another place I look forward to scouting this month; I’m guessing it is probably more popular than previously.
Whatever your sport or venue, be sure to get out for winter activities, both rewarding and refreshing. And remember those who make it possible to enjoy these great places!