Planning your day in Hyalite
Hyalite Canyon is a top ice climbing destination in the Rocky Mountains with over 150 routes with varying difficulties. Routes range from the moderate ice climbs such as the historic Mummy Cooler I & II (WI 2 & WI 3+) (first climbed in 1971 by Pat Callis) to some of the hardest climbs in the U.S. such as the canyon’s test piece, Winter Dance WI 7, 5.9, A1 135m (first climbed by the late great Alex Lowe and Jim Earl). There is easy access to the Main Drainage at the Grotto Falls Trailhead because the road is now plowed from December 1–March 31.
Ice Climbing Resources:
Because the road is now plowed during the winter, Hyalite Canyon provides quick easy access to some of Southwest Montana’s best backcountry skiing. There are parking areas at Lick Creek, History Rock, Blackmore Trailhead, Emerald Lake Road Cut-off and The Grotto Falls Trailhead. You can find steep ski-mountaineering to long low-angle ski tours. Please be aware of current avalanche conditions before you plan your trip.
If you don’t know the area, find out where to backcountry ski with The Bozeman And Big Sky Backcountry Ski Guide. This book includes 25 routes, including 4 in Hyalite. In fact, you can read about 2 of the areas in Hyalite for free at the author’s website.
Hyalite Canyon provides a scenic backdrop to over 30 km of groomed cross-country ski trails, plus endless ungroomed terrain to explore. This network of ski trails are on old logging roads, summer hiking trails and connector trails built for Nordic skiers. The majority of the ski trails are marked with blue diamonds. Detailed trail maps are posted on the parking area bulletin boards. The Bridger Ski Foundation has donated thousands of dollars and volunteer hours to building and maintaining these trails; the U.S. Forest Service does all the grooming.
The Hyalite winter recreation map (downloadable from the top of this page) designates trails as easiest, moderate or difficult. Note that only some sections of these trails are groomed and grooming is done by the Forest Service only intermittently.
Cross Country Skiing Resources:
Start a new family tradition! Hyalite canyon provides public access to some of Gallatin National Forest’s perfect Christmas trees. Permits are only $5 per tree and limited to three permits per household. Please be aware that trees should not be cut in campgrounds, trailheads, wilderness areas, and planted areas. For questions concerning these regulations, please contact the Gallatin National Forest.
Christmas tree permits are sold during November and December at:
If your dog accompanies you on hikes or ski trips, it may be prudent to carry wire cutters and to know how to open a trap, just in case. Watch this video from Footloose Montana on how to release a dog from a connibear, leghold or snare trap or read this brochure from Footloose Oregon. Some traps have been spotted in Hyalite in the past and reported so that others can avoid them; consult this map for known trap locations. FWP sometimes holds pet trap-release workshops in the fall. Trapping season runs from November through mid-April, and longer for some species.
If you’re surprised to see a bike toodling down Hyalite Canyon Road in the winter, chances are it is one of the new fat tire bikes, which float on the surface of the snow. If you’re the lucky person riding the fat bike, please keep in mind IMBA’s hints on fat biking best practices.
The 2006 Travel Plan did not anticipate fat tire bikes, so they are currently prohibited from marked or groomed ski or snowmobile trails. That might change in the future, but for now the Forest Service has identified places where fat bikes are legal and where the snow gets compacted enough to be desirable for bikers. In Hyalite, they recommend the Main Hyalite Trail #42.
Permit season for firewood cutting runs from April 1–March 31. The price is $6.25/cord with a 4-cord minimum and 12-cord maximum. You can gather dead down trees and logs as well as standing dead trees unless the trees are flagged as reserved from cutting. There is also a 6 foot maximum length. Please contact the Gallatin National Forest for questions regarding regulations.
Firewood cutting permits are sold at:
The Hyalite Reservoir provides an excellent location for ice fishing through the winter months. You may find a variety of fish species including brook trout, yellow cutthroat, and arctic grayling. The Montana State Fishing Regulations can be found by contacting Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks Region 3 in Bozeman (406) 994-4042.
Fortunately, trout are more active in the middle of the day in winter, so ice fishermen can lazily arrive after 10 a.m. when the sun has had a chance to warm things up instead of arriving at dawn. Another winter tip: catch and release below the surface so the frigid winter air doesn’t freeze the fish’s gills. A net makes this easier.
Since the reservoir provides most of the drinking water for the Gallatin Valley, motorized vehicle use is prohibited on the reservoir. This includes vehicles, snowmobiles, ATV’s, motorcycles, etc. Power augers are allowed for drilling holes.
Oftentimes, small kids will sled down the hills on the west side of the Hyalite Reservoir Day Use Area (the big parking lot just before the dam). But if you’re looking for a big longer run, continue on to the pullout parking area on the dam. Judging by the squeals of delight emanating from the hill on the north (downstream) side of the road just before the spillway, it’s a pretty satisfying slope to sled.
Snowmobiling opportunities can be accessed from the Moser trailhead in the northeast corner of the canyon. You can find a map of the Gallatin National Forest Over-Snow Vehicle use at any Gallatin National Forest District office. The snowmobiling area is also denoted on the Hyalite winter recreation map, found at the top of this page. Snowmobiling is prohibited south of Moser road junction.
Parking is provided at the Moser trailhead. Snowmobiles must take the first left turn, one half mile up Moser Road.
It may look tempting to take a snowmobile out for a spin on the reservoir, but because the reservoir is Gallatin Valley’s primary water source, all motorized use is prohibited on the reservoir in winter.
There are infinite possibilities for exploring this area of the Gallatin National Forest on snowshoes. You can follow the marked trail system or simply explore the wintery backcountry off trail.
When following the marked cross country ski trails, please be aware of trail etiquette and avoid walking on the ski tracks set by the groomer or by other skiers.
Montana Wilderness Association leaded guided snowshoe hikes each winter, and even provides snowshoes for those who don’t have them. Pre-registration is required for these Wilderness Walks.
In November 2012, the Forest Service prohibited shooting within 1/2 mile of Hyalite Canyon Road, East Fork Hyalite Road and South Fork Hyalite Road. Consult the Forest Service map to understand if your favorite shooting range is inside or outside of the restricted area. And wherever you go, please bring a bag and pack out your shell casing, waddings, and other trash.
Of course, carry bear spray and know how to use it. This video with Craig Boddington demonstrates how. Or attend one of the monthly bear spray classes at REI, where you’ll get a chance to practice by firing a can of inert spray.
Hyalite is home to moose, bears, mountain goats, weasels, martens, cottontails, snowshoe hares, pikas, wolverines, the occasional grizzly bear and probably fishers.