Bozeman Montana's Hyalite Canyon

Hyalite Reservori and the Gallatin Mountain Range
Hyalite Reservori and the Gallatin Mountain Range

Hyalite Canyon is a popular playground for Montana State University and other Bozeman locals and one visit the Hyalite Canyon will demonstrate why. Hyalite Canyon is exceptional to Montana's recreational areas in its accessibility, enjoyment for all ages and capabilities, and in its glaciated carved valley. The canyon is stunning in its beauty and splendor, a great getaway for all to enjoy.

Hyalite reservoir is the centerpiece and hub for canyon activities and National Forest Campgrounds. Built in the 1940's the reservoir has a hold capacity of 8,000 acre-feet of water. Hyalite Reservoir is used for drinking water for the city of Bozeman and to irrigate the Gallatin Valley. Its waters offer great trout fishing spots and gorgeous vantage points for photographing its majestic mountains.

10,000-foot mountain peaks, creeks, streams, lakes and a plethora of waterfalls, surround the Hyalite Drainage Recreational Area. The hikes to Blackmore Lake, Palisade Falls, Emerald and Heather Lakes the trail to Hyalite Lake all lie in the Hyalite Canyon.

Hyalite Reservoir, gallatin mountain range
Hyalite Reservori and the Gallatin Mountain Range

The Hyalite Peak Trail can be enjoyed by the novice as well as experienced hikers. The trail begins in a deep glaciated valley, just south of the Hyalite Canyon and is surrounded by high peaks and steep ridges. There are ten waterfalls along the route providing refreshing diversions for summer hikers, and ideal ice-climbing locations for climbers in winter. Several trails branch off of the main trail for extended hiking. Snow can be expected along the trail until mid-July. From the peak, there is a stunning view of the surrounding mountain ranges the ones to the south border Yellowstone National Park. The trail begins at an elevation of 7,000 feet and reaches 10,299 feet at Hyalite Peak.

Another great amenity is the Hyalite Challenge Area. This area includes six handicapped-accessible trail systems, a renovated rental cabin and several fishing piers. These facilities are designed to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities, families with small children and senior citizens. During the late 1980s the Gallatin Empire Lions Club and the Gallatin National Forest sponsored a program called the Hyalite Challenge. This program opened up recreation opportunities to more people by providing facilities that are accessible to individuals with disabilities, such as the easy access trails to Grotto Falls and Palisade Falls.


Gallatin Range
Maid of the Mist Mountain up Hyalite Creek Trail

Hyalite Canyon is said to be the most popular National Forest recreation area in Montana. Several hundred hikers, some mountain bikers, and a few “four-wheeler” ORV drivers use the Hyalite Creek trail each week between late June and early November. Expect to see lots of dogs, most of them off leash.

Hyalite Canyon has four excellent trails plus two great wheelchair accessible trails to its waterfalls.

History Rock Traihead is one mile short of the reservoir, you will see the pull-off for History Rock on the right. This trail goes by a sandstone rock supposedly etched by John Colter (1.2 mi). the trail continues on to a divide (1 more mile) which takes you down through Fox Meadow, some say, the prettiest wildflowers on the planet. If you continue down to South Cottonwood trail, it is a 4.2 mi total.

Mt Blackmore Trail: Park at the Hyalite Reservoir the trail climbs 3800’ in five miles, ten miles round trip to Mt Blackmore (10,100’). It is snow bound until late June the trail is easy to follow but very steep. Mt Blackmore trails main appeal is it is close and quick to the beauty of high elevation sub-alpine terrain and has a superb view at the top.

hikers   silken skein falls, hyalite creek trail
Hikers Silken Skein Falls, Just off Hyalite Peak Trail

Hyalite Peak Trail: Drive past the reservoir on a gravel road now another 5 miles to the dead end. Lots of snow make it tough to get to the cirque before July. The trail climbs 3900 feet in seven miles, 14 miles round trip, switchbacks, along a stream with many waterfalls. The cirque below Hyalite Peak (10,200’) is gorgeous with a nice lake and part of the obvious glacier formed U-shaped valley. Many continue on past Hyalite Peak down the Gallatin Crest Trail all the way to Yellowstone Park.

When starting from the trailhead the trail is wide and packed for wheelchairs. In ½ mi the Hyalite trail cuts uphill to the left. Leave the wheelchair trail here. The wheelchair trail crosses the Hyalite trail twice as it heads to Grotto Falls. You can take it to the falls and note a trail heading uphill from there that does intersect the Hyalite trail.

Emerald Lake Trai:l Just past the reservoir turn left on a good but unmarked gravel road. Turn to Palisades Falls in 2 miles then straight 3 miles more on rougher but passable road to dead end. Emerald Lake Trail receives heavy mountain bike use, you gain 2100’ in four miles and it is an 8 mile round trip. A switch-backed climb brings you to a pretty cirque Heather and Emerald Lakes, about ¾ mi apart.

Ice Climbing

Ice climber hyalite canyon, mt
Ice climbers

Since a scare that access to ice climbing access in Hyalite Canyon, Montana, would be lost, local climbers, led by the Southwest Montana Climbing Coalition, have worked hard to communicate with the Forest Service and other user groups to keep access open. Climbers held productive meetings with the Forest Service and with cross country skiers, another major user group. All groups have agreed to make efforts to co-exist in Hyalite above the Reservoir.

Maybe the Forest Service realized ice climbers are a tenacious bunch that were easier to deal with than to ignore. They agreed to work with ice climbers and other users to manage the road and implement changes through a series of stages. In the end—it could take several years—we'll address their safety and road concerns, achieve the primary goals of the Travel Plan, give the XC skiers some peace and quiet, and—most importantly—maintain reasonable access to the end of the road where the action begins.

Mountain Biker, hyalite canyon, montana
Mountain Biker, Hyalite Creek Trail

Home to 140 ice climbing routes in a mere two-and-a-half square miles Hyalite ice climbing is unique. Classic routes like Cleopatra's Needle, Black Magic, Mummy Cooler and one of the top ten routes in the world, Winter Dance, all provide great challenges in Bozeman’s Hyalite Canyon

Mountain Biking

Emerald Lake Trail is about 4 miles south of Hyalite Reservoir in the Hyalite Peaks high country. Highlights: This is the single-track nirvana; it has roots, rocks, and water bars but always offers a rideable line. Intermediate riders will enjoy looping through the many switchbacks, all relatively easy to ride, up and down. Plus you get a babbling creek, wildlife, spectacular alpine scenery, and a "gem" of a lake.

Grotto Falls is located south of Hyalite Reservoir, along the West Fork of Hyalite Creek. It is an easy, shaded ride to a beautiful waterfall.

Hyalite Creek, Gallatin Range, Bozeman, Montana
Winter in Hyalite Canyon

Lick Creek/Hood Creek Loop is Located 1.5 miles north of Hyalite Reservoir, on the divide between Hyalite and Sourdough (Bozeman) creeks. Highlights: Great views of Hyalite Reservoir and surrounding mountains; 3.3 miles of fun and sometimes challenging single-track; fairly low use.

More Mountain Bike info at
Some of Hyalite Canyon Water Falls.

GROTTO FALLS Approach: This is a fairly easy, very popular half-mile hike from the Hyalite Creek trailhead in the Gallatin National Forest, Montana, to the first of at least nine named waterfalls visible from the trail. The hiking trail is paralleled all the way to Grotto Falls by a graded gravel path that is said to be wheelchair-accessible. However, recent washouts in the gravel path may make that designation inaccurate.

Photographer Jim Osterhout setting out to capture of a Hyalite Canyon winter
Photographer Jim Osterhout setting out to capture of a Hyalite Canyon winter

ARCH FALLS 1.2 miles south of the Hyalite Creek trailhead in the Gallatin National Forest, Montana, is Arch Falls. Proceeding south on the Hyalite Creek trail you will eventually see on your right a trail sign announcing your arrival at Arch Falls. A clearing separates the sign from the dangerous drop-off to the west. Enter the clearing and cautiously proceed toward the edge of the drop-off; stop when you think it prudent. Let your eyes follow the sound of falling water and you will see Hyalite Creek tumble, take a quick right turn through a stone arch, swing left, and proceed again to the north.

Arch Falls, hyalite canyon, bozeman montana
Arch Falls, Hyalite Creek Trail

SILKEN SKEIN Approach: Difficult/Dangerous after moderate 2.0 miles south of the Hyalite Creek trailhead in the Gallatin National Forest, Montana, a marked side trail takes you east to Silken Skein. This is a slim, graceful, multi-level waterfall in the early summer. By summer's end it may have shrunk to a trickle. Hard to appreciate from a distance, it's best seen close-up. The side trail to Silken Skein crosses the falls' outflow only once. Beyond that crossing, heading toward the falls, the trail climbs the left bank of the creek. Near the top of the bank a vague subsidiary trail branches off north and east. Follow the subsidiary trail steeply uphill through the forest. Your destination is the base of the tallest of Silken Skein's component waterfalls. Because the trail is so vague you will likely come to dead ends and need to backtrack. The trail to your destination will be on your right, roughly at eye level and hard to see. When you reach the base of the falls, turn back the direction you came and enjoy a great view of Maid of the Mist Mountain

Hikers hike under Silken Skein Falls just off of Hyalite Creek Trail.
Hikers hike under Silken Skein Falls just off of Hyalite Creek Trail.

CHAMPAGNE FALLS Moderate to Easy 2.6 miles south of the Hyalite Creek trailhead in the Gallatin National Forest, Montana, is a sign marking a side trail that leads southwest to Champagne Falls. This waterfall is surrounded by relatively open country and so is often sunny. On the way to the creek, the side trail passes through forest and, after crossing a boulder field, into meadow

APEX FALLS is an easy 3.9 miles south of the Hyalite Lake trailhead in the Gallatin National Forest, Montana, the trail crosses one of the tributaries to Hyalite Creek. At present there is a single log bridge, which enables even those without good balance to cross dry-footed.

There are many more but I included these as they are all on the same trail.

Montana Landscape Collection by Daryl L. Hunter
Montana Landscape Collection
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