Top 10 Bozeman Trail Runs

Sierra Holmes  |   Monday Jul. 1st, 2024

Ultra-runner and author Donald Buraglio once said, “The benefits and opportunities of running are available to anyone. You don’t have to be born a natural athlete and you don’t have to be uniquely gifted. A life-shaping experience is there for the taking, waiting right outside your door.” For most people, running can be an intimidating sport to get into. It can often feel as though everyone who runs is, as Buraglio says, a natural athlete who never seems to deal with the normal battles of training, like leg pains, cramps, and tiredness. But I have come to realize over time that the beauty of running is found in these struggles and that, truly, anyone can be a runner. There is no requirement of being uniquely gifted, you just must go out there and try it.

I found my love for trail running at the end of high school. I started out on easy runs that had little to no elevation gain, and simply found joy in running on dirt in pretty places outside. After moving to Montana for college, I found running trails that would become some of my ultimate favorites and lead to me enjoying the sport even more. I wish I had room for more, but here are my top ten trails that are in or around the Bozeman area!

                                                                                                                                                                    Lava Lake

Middle Cottonwood
At the Western base of the Bridgers lies a trail called Middle Cottonwood. Though this trail is on the shorter side, it is easily one of my favorites because of the views at the top, and how manageable the distance and elevation gain is. The drive to this hike delivers a beautiful view of the Bridgers, and, as you make your way up the trail, there are plenty of wildflowers along the way. You also get the perk of running alongside a rushing river for most of the trail. (though a good thing to keep in mind if you head to Middle Cottonwood for your next trail run is that you will have to cross the river at two points). The first doesn’t require taking off your shoes, but in my experience, the second one does. Of course, this offers a great opportunity to cool down mid-run. If you find yourself looking for a longer run and are feeling ambitious, Middle Cottonwood trail connects to Saddle Peak, so you can always keep going if you are feeling up to it.

Headwaters State Park
If you’re looking to escape the typical weekend crowds in Bozeman, Headwaters State Park is a great option if you’re willing to drive a little. The park can be found about thirty minutes down the interstate and, once there, you find yourself in sprawling fields with amazing views of the mountains all around. There are plenty of trails that will bring you along the river, to various historical sites, or to some beautiful, purple wild irises that can be found along the paths. The trails are still very grassy and will most likely get worn down as summer goes on, but make sure to watch your ankles because the ground can be a bit bumpy in areas. At the end of your run, I recommend heading to the river, where you can jump in and cool down after a long day.

Sourdough Canyon is an old logging road that runs along Bozeman Creek but is closed to all motorized vehicles. This trail can be as short as two miles or, if you want to go all the way up to Mystic Lake, where the trail ends, it can be around nine miles long. This road is beautiful, and the sound of the creek beside you is a great headphone replacement. It is a popular place to go because of how flat and accessible it is, so I recommend going earlier or later in the day to avoid foot traffic.

Grotto Falls
Hyalite canyon is a popular destination for Bozeman residents in the summer because of its stunning views and access to water. As a Michigander, taking a swim after a run is one of my favorite things to do, and is one of the reasons running up at Hyalite is so enjoyable. Hyalite provides a multitude of trails to hike or run on that all lead to various waterfalls or lookouts. Grotto Falls is a 2.4 mile out-and-back trail that runs adjacent to Hyalite Creek. This trail provides only 278 feet of elevation gain, and is a great option for anyone looking for a laid-back run through the woods. The falls at the end of the trail are beautiful—a great reward at the end of the run. Plus, you can head back to the reservoir for a swim when you’re done.

Gallagator/Peets Hill
If you’re looking for a trail run that is close to town, look no further than Peets Hill and the Gallagator Trail. These trails provide beautiful views of Bozeman/the Bridgers, and are located right in town. In fact, you can access the trails for Peets Hill right from the Public Library. When I run these trails, I tend to start on the Galligator and run a bit there before heading down to Peets Hill in order to increase the amount of miles I can complete. It is also a great trail on which to practice running uphill without committing to a ton of elevation gain throughout the entire run. As you run, keep an eye out for trails that stray away from the main path; they are a great way to make your run last a bit longer.

Bear Canyon
Similar to Sourdough, Bear Canyon starts off flat and moderate, but forks at different points that can lead you to various trails. You can get to destinations like Chestnut Mountain or the Bear Lakes from this trail. If you give this hike a try in late June or in July, you are sure to see some colorful wildflowers along the way. This trail can be as short as two hours, or it can take you all day, depending on how far or where you want to go. I most enjoy running in Bear Canyon during the week in midsummer, when the crowds are a bit lighter.

Sypes Canyon
Sypes Canyon is in a very similar area to Middle Cottonwood but is a very different hike. Sypes is about nine miles in total and is steep, with around 3,139 feet of elevation gain on the way up. The first half of this trail brings you through some beautiful, shaded woods; I would definitely recommend it for a sunny day if you are looking to avoid a sunburn. I love this trail because it is versatile, and you can make it as long or as short as you want. At about two miles up the trail you will find yourself at a beautiful lookout point and can turn around for a shorter run, or keep going for a more challenging route. Like many of the other runs on this list, there is a river at the base of the trail that is a great option for cooling down afterwards.

Triple Tree
A list of best trail runs in Bozeman would be incomplete without the beautiful Triple Tree Trail. Located just off Sourdough Road and just ten minutes outside of town, this trail offers beautiful views of the Bridgers, with only around 800 feet of elevation gain. While Triple Tree is a 5.4 mile long out-and-back trail, you do have an option to drive up a little further on the road and start higher up, cutting down on distance and making this a very beginner-friendly trail. Be cautious of bikers on this trail, because it tends to be heavily populated with them, so keep an eye out as you come around corners.

Lava Lake
If you’re like me, the best way to push through a steep or long trail run is to finish at a lake—and nothing is better than diving into the cold waters of Lava Lake on a warm day. This in-and-out trail is 5.4 miles long in total and, with 1,653 feet of elevation gain, it is steep enough to have you sweating by the time you reach the top. I recommend going to Lava Lake on a weekday, because the trail can get busy on weekends. Along with the crowds, Lava Lake is also a bit farther out of town than most people might want to go for a trail run. From Bozeman, it will take you about forty-five minutes to drive up the canyon and get to the trailhead. For some that might be too far, but I personally think the views make it worth the drive.

Drinking Horse
Across the road from the very popular M trail, Drinking Horse is easily accessible, and a great option for someone who is new to trail running since the elevation gain is only about 650 feet, and the distance totals around 2.2 miles. Though this is a popular hike in Bozeman, it can be a very approachable starting point for someone who is looking to get into trail running as a beginner. This hike is also a very popular one for dog owners, which makes it extra fun for anyone who loves animals.

A good reminder or tip if you are new to this sport is that trail running often does not look like the kind of running you see in town or on the street, where people are running at a seven-minute mile pace. Trails, especially in Bozeman, can be steep and very strenuous, which means that switching between walking and running on the way up is often necessary. Any amount of elevation gain is going to affect your pace, so keep that in mind and walk when your body tells you to.

The trails I have listed above are in the top ten because they are close to town, accessible, and great for all ability levels. Unfortunately, with that comes crowds. So, if you are looking for a quieter option, I would recommend exploring areas closer to Big Sky, or exploring longer trails where you can turn around at whatever mileage you desire. That said, the trails listed above offer some great views, and a level of comfort that comes with being closer to town. So, if you are someone who has been looking to get into trail running, any of the ones listed above are great starting points to discovering the benefits and opportunities of running outside.  

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