Winter Hikes in Yellowstone Country
In the mountain towns of Yellowstone Country, hiking is a year-round activity. How could you possibly hang up your hiking boots when the mountains are calling in every direction? While some areas are best suited to snowshoes, particularly in the higher elevations, many trails are accessible with hiking boots and ice cleats. (If it's a low snow year, some areas may not even require the cleats!) We've listed a few of our favorite hikes, but endless options are available depending on the timeframe and your skill level.
Keep in mind, the sun is powerful at high elevations, especially when it is reflecting off the snow. Always wear sunscreen, lip protection, and a hat. Stay hydrated and bring layers of clothing; the weather changes fast around here!
Missouri Headwaters State Park
Three Forks, Montana
The confluence of the Missouri, Jefferson, and Gallatin Rivers join in Three Forks, Montana to create the 2,300-mile Missouri River, or the Mighty Mo, as it's often called. Throughout the park, foot trails are leading to various points of interest, and if you're looking for a longer stroll, there are miles of bike trails surrounding the area.
Madison Buffalo Jump State Park
Three Forks, Montana
For 2,000 years, Native Americans used this semicircular, high limestone cliff to chase vast herds of bison over the edge for food, shelter, clothing, and other provisions. Highly skilled young men called "runners," wore buffalo, wolf, or antelope skins to lure the bison off the edge. This practice was in place until as recently as 200 years ago! The views of the Madison Valley from the top are amazing, and at the base, lovely interpretive signs depict the events.
Greycliff Prairie Dog State Park
This 98-acre park is home to a plethora of cute, playful little prairie dogs. But their significance is even greater. The burrows they create form patches of habitat that provide prey, shelter, and forage for a diverse array of other wildlife including burrowing owls, black-footed ferrets, and mountain plovers, a grassland bird. Bring your binoculars and camera, but please do not feed the prairie dogs; their digestive system is susceptible and cannot tolerate human food.
College "M" Trail
Bozeman has an extensive trail system, maintained by the Gallatin Valley Land Trust. There are miles of trails throughout the town itself, but to gain some elevation and incredible views, it's just a quick drive to the edge of town. There are two routes to get to the "M,"; the path to the west is a longer, more gentle incline, while the east side takes you straight up and straight down. You'll get your heart pumping!
Drinking Horse Trail
Located just across the road from the College M trail is Drinking Horse Trail. The beginning of the trail meanders along but soon gains elevation. There is a steep incline to the north and a more gentle incline to the south. The beauty of this hike is the 360-degree view from the top!
Ousel Falls Trail
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Winter creates some absolutely fascinating ice formations! A lot of the waterfalls and rivers continue to flow beneath the layers of ice. These frigid temperatures freeze layer upon layer until nothing is left exposed. Ousel falls is completely solid here in Montana except this one little spot.. At least for now! @visitmontana #montanamoment
Big Sky, Montana
Just outside of Big Sky, Montana, this great little hike takes you to some beautiful waterfalls. The self-guided interpretive walk is 1.6 miles, but for a more extended excursion, you can take the trail right from Big Sky Town Center to Ousel Falls Park, where the trailhead sits, which turns it into a 5.6-mile round trip journey.
Natural Bridge Falls
Big Timber, Montana
While not necessarily a long hike, this natural feature in Custer National Forest is a great place to walk around the trails and enjoy the fresh air and natural wonder of this underground river. During low water, the Boulder River flows underground through eroded channels carved from thousands of years of pressure. The water emerges below the falls and looks as though it is bursting out of the cliffs. During the spring runoff, the show is especially impressive!
If you're looking for more challenging snowshoeing adventures and gear rentals, check out Snowshoeing in Yellowstone Country.