Nordic skiing in Hyalite Canyon
Hyalite Canyon offers an incredible variety of Nordic skiing experiences for all ability levels. Don’t expect immaculately groomed trails for classic and skate skiing like you might see in town or at Sourdough Canyon. Hyalite is a bit more untamed, and all the more special for it! The 30+ miles of ski trails range from relatively narrow single-track trails used by hikers and bikers in the summer to old logging roads that wind gently through the forest, occasionally emerging into a clearing for a stunning view of the high peaks of the Gallatin Range.
The Forest Service grooms the Hyalite trails when time and resources allow with occasional help from the Bridger Ski Foundation. However, many of the trails will be in nice shape even if they haven’t been groomed due to skier compaction. The trails aren’t wide enough to be groomed for skate skiing and aren’t really set up for it anyway since some of the popular trails are shared with snowshoers and walkers, many of whom have dogs. Hyalite is one of the few places where our canine friends can accompany us on skis, so expect to see dogs on the trails. And dog owners, if Fido does his business in the middle of the trail, please remove the evidence - other skiers will surely appreciate the gesture!
Most Hyalite skiers utilize waxless touring skis that are probably the most versatile for the changing snow conditions and terrain found in the canyon. Touring poles with larger baskets can also be more useful in deep or variable snow than the small baskets found on typical classic ski poles. It’s easy to find yourself on a trail where you won’t see many other people, and also easy to underestimate the time it takes to complete your chosen route. It’s a good idea to always bring a daypack containing snacks, water, hand warmers, sunscreen, first aid kit, Friends of Hyalite winter recreation map, and extra layers. A few inches of duct tape wrapped around a ski pole can be a life saver in the event of a broken binding or other mishap!
Hyalite area trails vary greatly in difficulty, snow quality, and scenic possibilities. The west side of the canyon receives a bit less sun and therefore often has deeper, higher quality snow. However, the downcanyon views from the east side are hard to beat, so pick your poison – you can’t go wrong either way! Here are just a handful of suggestions on where to go based on available time and ability
The Westshore Trail starts from the day use parking area near the pavilion. This popular and relatively flat trail was recently improved and widened by the Forest Service and offers a beautiful view of Hyalite Reservoir. If you haven’t been on this trail in awhile be prepared to be surprised – the former steep “whoopies” have been replaced by lovely meanders through the forest. It’s an easy 1.2-mile ski to the junction of the Crescent Lake trail. Turn around there for an easy out-and-back, or for a bit more adventure return on the Crescent Lake trail. It’s narrower and has a few more hills but it does make for a fun loop.
Langohr Road 1046 is a nice option for a short out and back or for beginning skiers. Park at one of several pullouts near the gated FS road just south of the Langohr Campground. For a mellow, easy ski stay on the main road and turn around whenever you feel like it. A more challenging excursion can be had on any of the trail junctions. This trail doesn’t offer the tremendous views of the reservoir or high peaks featured by some of the other trails but it is a low-key option with easy access.
Lower Wildhorse can be accessed by parking in the pullout at the far end of the dam (just don’t park in front of the gate!) Ski up the road and you’ll work up a nice sweat by the time you get to the Lower Wildhorse 4-way junction just past the cattle guard. Take the trail on the right which stays high on the east side of the reservoir, offering outstanding views of Hyalite Canyon and the Gallatin Range. It’s approximately 3 miles from your car to the Palisades parking lot, which makes a good turnaround spot.
Lick Creek/Wildhorse is a popular trail network offering many options for all ability levels. Park at the Lick Creek trailhead and cross the road to access the trail, but be prepared to share the first part of the trail with backcountry skiers. One nice route is to turn right at the 4-way and ski all the way to the Upper Wildhorse 4-way. From there you can take a left on Trail 455 and head up toward the ridge between the Hyalite and Bozeman Creek drainages. This can be a bit wild and you may have to break trail on this narrow track, but it’s a fun adventure rewarded by great scenery and a LONG glide back down the road to your car. If you’re not up for such a challenge, turn around at the 4-way for a nice out-and-back.
History Rock/Crescent Lake is a beautiful outing featuring a diversity of terrain and relative solitude, especially on a weekday. Don’t be deterred by the number of cars in the parking lot – this is Hyalite’s most popular backcountry ski access. Follow the main trail for a few hundred yards and turn left at the junction in the big meadow. From there stay generally to the right at the intersections in the Blackmore area, then cross Blackmore Creek and the main trail to Blackmore peak. At the intersection with the Crescent Lake trail bear right and continue all the way to the junction with the Westshore trail. Make a loop back to your car or continue south past the lake if you have time. You won’t regret it! You’ll eventually pop out into the meadow at Window Rock cabin – one of the most stunning vistas in the Bozeman area. This is an ideal spot to enjoy a snack and take in the view before you head back (or keep going if you want – the full loop around the reservoir is described below.)
Reservoir loop. For the ambitious skier, a loop around the reservoir is the highlight of the winter season. Although several options are available for parking, a good choice is the Blackmore lot which always has plenty of parking. By starting/ending here you can avoid the day use area altogether, returning to your car by following the trail below the dam. Plan on at least three hours to complete the approximately 10.5-mile route if using waxless skis. Better yet, carve out time to take a leisurely lunch break and treat yourself to a day spent in the incomparable beauty of Hyalite Canyon.