Just beyond Bozeman, Montana, past the trendy restaurants, countless coffee shops, and hip breweries, is Bridger Canyon. The Bridger Mountains erupt to the west and the Bangtails roll up on the east. Between the two ranges, Bridger Creek sashays toward town amidst million dollar homes and ranches.
Bridger Canyon, along with other places, countless dogs, and children, was named for the famous mountain man and trapper Jim Bridger. Bridger was best known for telling tall tales about glass mountains, “peetrified” birds singing “peetrified” songs, and the days when Pikes Peak was just a hole in the ground.
Originally, the canyon was claimed by the Blackfeet. As with the rest of the country, the native people were pushed out by European explorers. According to an article by the Swan Land Company, by the 1880s, Bridger Canyon was “discovered” by homesteaders drawn to the beauty and the fertile land. Many of the creeks in the area bear the names of these early settlers. The article states, “Howard Stone, the Canyon’s fourth settler, set up a water-powered mill along the creek that now bears his name, Stone Creek. He had the help of his brother-in-law, William L. Perkins who settled along Perkins Creek, better known today as Pine Creek.”
After passing the entrance to Bridger Bowl Ski Area, the wild begins. Mountains of Douglas firs and meadows filled with powdery snow take over. Trails for snowsports enthusiasts wind into the mountains on both sides of the road.
For a real out-there experience, rent the Battle Ridge Cabin from the U.S. Forest Service. The road is plowed to within .25 miles of the cabin and you get to snowshoe in that last bit. There is a wood stove (and wood) for cooking and heating, but no electricity or water. Bring a lantern and plan on melting snow. Get all the details about renting Montana Forest Service cabins here.
If a Forest Service cabin is too rustic for your taste, check out VRBO rentals in Bridger Canyon or any number of hotels, motels, and houses in Bozeman – about 20 miles away.
There are plenty of options for snowshoeing in the canyon, from Forest Service trails to a groomed Nordic Center.
Stone Creek Trail
This mellow tour follows a logging road and parallels Stone Creek as it heads up a drainage in the Bangtail Range.
Getting There: From Bozeman, drive north on Bridger Canyon Road. Stone Creek Road is on the right, 12 miles from Main Street. Turn right and either park just over the cattle guards, or continue 1.2 miles to the trailhead parking at the Forest Service gate.
Snowshoeing: Walk past the gate (or 1.2 miles up the road to the gate if you parked at the turn-off from Bridger Canyon Road) and along the vehicle restricted logging road. After two miles, the road turns sharply to the right. Turn around here or continue on as the road divides several times. It is possible to get in a full day of snowshoeing by exploring the various forks in the road.
Another option is to explore the popular mountain bike trail that leaves from the same parking area as the road tour. Look for the trail to the right, just before the gate. The trail switchbacks up the mountain for about 2,000 feet over five miles. Be avalanche-savvy!
Brackett Creek Road
This is a popular snowshoe and cross-country ski trail for Bozeman residents. It’s scenic, snowmobile-free and loaded with options.
Getting There: At the intersection of Bridger Canyon Road and Brackett Creek Road turn east onto Brackett Creek Rd., cross a bridge and park in the parking lot on the right.
Snowshoeing: Exit the parking area, turn left on Brackett Creek Road and walk back to Bridger Canyon Road. The tour starts on the other side of Bridger Canyon Road, directly across from its intersection with Brackett Creek Road.
Walk around the gate and head up the road. Starting out flat, the road quickly climbs a small hill and moves into the trees and away from Bridger Canyon Road. Continue following the road as it consistently climbs to a small drainage at 1.7 miles. Turn around here or explore the many skier-made trails or the fresh powder.
Snowshoers may also enjoy the Grassy Mountain Trail that leaves from the south end of the parking area. This trail switchbacks up the hillside then traverses along a ridge.
Fairy Lake Road
The Fairy Lake Road is often used by snowmobilers—many of whom are backcountry skiers looking for quick access to the east side of the Bridger Range. However, if a nice, long walk on a road is what you are looking for, this may be the tour for you. Go on weekdays to avoid many of the snowmobiles.
Getting There: About 4.5 miles north of Bohart Ranch and just past the Battle Ridge Campground look for Fairy Lake Road on the left. Park just beyond the turn-off on the right.
Snowshoeing: Walk past the gate and head up the road as it ungulates and winds through meadows and treed areas. At 1.4 miles a spur road leads off to the left—ignore it. Just beyond the spur road, the main road cross the creek. At 1.8 miles bear left (a spur road goes right, but is often not visible in the winter).
The road crosses the creek again at 3.2 miles. At 5.7 miles you’ll see the trail to Frazier Lake Continue on the main road to the Fairy Lake Campground and the Fairy Lake and Sacagawea Peak trailheads at 6.1 miles from the trailhead. It’s another .25 miles to the lovely Fairy Lake.
Bohart Ranch Ski Center
While most people head to Bohart for their 30 miles of scenic ski trails on private and Forest Service lands, Bohart also has a few miles of snowshoe trails. If you like to cross-country ski, you’ll love the impeccably groomed trails, big hills, biathlon training, and wildlife sightings. Located 16 miles northeast of Bozeman.