Chronicle Outdoors

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A dog’s guide to the Bozeman area’s best early season hikes

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Kato hikes along the Middleview Trail at Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park on April 2, 2013. Photo by Ben Pierce.

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By BEN PIERCE Chronicle Outdoors

My dog’s been looking at me funny.

This winter I’ve been consumed by home improvement projects. Instead of reaching for the skis or the fishing rod, I’ve been reaching for the hammer and the saw.

That’s meant less time catching fish and carving turns – and less time frolicking outside for little Kato.

With the onset of spring I decided it was time for a frank discussion with my dog.

“Kato, I know I’ve neglected you,” I said. “I know we haven’t been outside enough. What can I do to make it up to you?”

His longing eyes said it all. This bout of home improvement was going to cost me.

Big time.

So with that we set out on Tuesday morning intent on hitting all of Kato’s favorite hiking trails.

This is his list, but Kato’s a friendly fellow and loves company on the trail.

He hopes to see you out there soon.


Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park

Set in a rugged valley overlooking the Jefferson River, Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park is a great place for a spring hike.

The park features more than 10 miles of well-maintained trails that loop through a remarkable variety of terrain. From riparian habitat along the Jefferson to limestone hillsides dotted with curled-leaf mountain mahogany and juniper, the park offers a little something for whatever your dog desires.

The best part is the park clears of snow early.

“We are in a really dry, windy spot,” said park manager Lynette Kemp. “At the lower elevations the trails can be clear throughout the winter.”

The park’s dry conditions attract early season hikers and droves of mountain bikers that make the trip to the park from Butte, Bozeman and Helena.

For a hike with great views of the surrounding country, try the Middleview Trail. Completed in 2010, the park’s newest trail rises quickly from the area’s campground providing panoramic views of the Jefferson River.

Potential playmates: black bears, mountain bikers, bobcats, cougars

That’s a drag: leash required

Quotable Kato: “If it wasn’t for the old ball and chain, I could really shred some gnarr with these bikers.”


Peets Hill

Often there just isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done. But that doesn’t mean it’s OK to forget about your dog.

For an after work hike, check out Peets Hill. Within Bozeman city limits, this quick hike provides great sunset views of Bozeman and the Tobacco Root Mountains.

Kato’s favorite route begins at Lindley Park near the Bozeman Public Library, traverses Peets Hill and backtracks to the Gallagator Trail at the north end of Burke Park.

One thing about Peets, there’s no shortage of friends to play with.

Kato’s advice: “Yo, dude, scoop my poop.”

Social animal: “What up, dawg?”

Quotable Kato: “Double rainbow! Double rainbow!”


Bear Trap Canyon

If your dog digs the water, there may be no better spot to hike than Bear Trap Canyon. The Madison River – which courses through Bear Trap Canyon – features moderate flows and depth in the early spring.

From the Bear Trap Canyon trailhead this well-traveled route follows the Madison River for nine miles – plenty of distance to exercise even the most energetic pooch. Though a 2012 wildfire swept over the canyon, it left much of the landscape inside the Lee Metcalf Wilderness boundary unscathed.

For a longer hike, Kato loves the out-and-back to the Kitchen Sink rapid, a torrent of water in late spring that’s still pretty darn impressive in early April. Bear Trap’s combination of steep canyon walls and cool water means your dog can play hard and then take a quick dip to cool off.

Watch your step: rattlesnakes about

Swimsuits: optional

Quotable Kato: “What’s up with all the old guys wearing bags and waving sticks?”


College ‘M’

An oldie, but a goodie, the classic hike up the College ‘M’ trail just north of Bozeman serves up some of the most impressive views of the Gallatin Valley to be found anywhere.

And it’s a hot hangout for dogs.

Starting at the base of Baldy Mountain at the southern arm of the Bridger Range, the ‘M’ offers a number of routes to the top. Well-marked signs indicate the most strenuous and easiest routes, and the trails can be combined to form a 1.6-mile loop.

The ‘M’ trail rises 850 feet to a spectacular overlook of Bozeman and the Gallatin Valley.

The ‘M’ trail can be wet in spots during the early spring, so be prepared for a muddy dog at the end of your hike.

Hazards: dog poop, aggressive hominids

Midweek social scene: corgis, schnauzers, labradoodles

Quotable Kato: “If you can put up with the poop, it’s the place to see – and be seen.”


Hyalite Canyon

Hyalite sees a lot of use, but from April 1-May 15 Hyalite Canyon Road closes to motorized use for spring snow melt.

The closure offers a chance to enjoy the canyon without traffic on the road. It’s a great time to go for a hike or bike ride with your dog in one of the area’s most stunning canyons.

“The Hyalite Canyon closure is put into effect to protect the roadway, but we promote the opportunity for people to get out and enjoy it,” said Forest Service public affairs officer Patrick Lair.

If you reckon your dog’s itching for one last taste of winter, Hyalite is the place to be. Pack along the snowshoes for a little backcountry adventure.

Beware: the bear

One word: F-R-I-S-B-E-E

Quotable Kato: “On belay!”


By Tuesday evening, Kato and I had put some mileage on the Jeep – and we’d covered some miles on the trail. We didn’t make it up Hyalite, but Kato seemed pleased. He’s got a lot to look forward to.

It’s going to be a great summer.

Ben Pierce can be reached at and 582-2625. Follow him online at and on twitter @BGPierce.

Related posts:

  1. Geared up: Mountain bikers looking for dry trails have early-season options
  2. Bozeman climber Robert Montague first in MT to earn AMGA rock guide certification
  3. East Fork escape: Hyalite trail offers an enjoyable excursion close to Bozeman
  4. From the Andes to Yellowstone: Bozeman adventurers aim to make a difference
  5. Early risers: Mother’s Day caddis hatch arrives ahead of schedule on local rivers

About The Author

Ben Pierce lives, works and plays in Bozeman, Montana. He blogs about the outdoors for Chronicle Outdoors. Catch him on the river, in the mountains or at


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