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Chestnut Mountain spires

Madison limestone creates the spires along the highway to the Bozeman Pass and just off the Chestnut Mountain Trail.

Buttery bright yellow glacier lilies were in full blown bloom last week on the Chestnut Mountain Trail east of Bozeman.

The hike takes off near Interstate 90’s Exit 316, which accesses Trail Creek Road. A large parking area is about a half mile down the road (after crossing the railroad tracks) on the right. A trail sign at the start notes that the first half mile goes through a conservation easement where no off-trail travel is allowed.

Climbing fairly steadily after crossing Rocky Creek, Trail 458 works its way west toward the spires of Madison limestone the interstate squeezes traffic between. About one mile up there’s a fork for rock climbers called the Frog Rock Trail  (No. 463).

Just past that turnoff hikers, trail runners get their first expansive view of the limestone ridge, as well as a look back north to the Bridger Mountains. After June 16 the trail opens to mountain bikers and horseback riders through March 31. Continue upward and the trail rounds a corner that looks down into Trail Creek and across to the Absaroka Mountains.

It’s about five miles to reach the top of Chestnut Mountain, elevation about 7,600 feet. That’s a climb of about 2,400 feet in elevation from the trailhead. Continue traveling south and the route connects to the Bear Creek Trail (No. 440) into Bear Canyon to the west, or to the closed Goose Creek Road (No. 439) to the east.

The Gallatin Valley Land Trust, Trust for Public Land, the Schmidt family and Custer Gallatin National Forest were key to making the trailhead possible by securing 2,000 acres. The Montana Outdoor Science School inherited the Baker conservation easement which is the first half-mile of property. So the trail is a complement to groups working together.

The only downside is that it takes awhile to hike far enough to get away from the freeway and train noise, but even that can’t lessen the value of a great place to stretch your legs in some cool country.

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