Kirk Hill Trail

Kirk Hill Trail is a self-guided interpretive trail that is short, steep, and mostly in the shade until it emerges to a ridge with views of the Madison and Gallatin  Ranges. Many species of wildflowers, shrubs, and trees and also points of interest are identified with signs established by Montana State University’s Museum of the Rockies and the Kiwanis of the Bridgers’ club. The trail crosses two bridges and has three benches for resting during the steeper ascent. If you hike after or during a rain, be prepared to slip and slide. Also be prepared to find masses of flowers that love the shade and some that nearly blend in with their surroundings. Depending on the weather, these flowers can be seen for a few weeks. Watch for calliope hummingbirds near the trailhead.


From Main Street in Bozeman and 19th Street, drive south for 6 miles to the signed trail head parking area on the left at a sharp right bend in the road.


NOTE:  En route, 19th Avenue becomes South 19th Road. Turn left and park in the parking area. The parking area is also an easy bike ride from the MSU Campus.

Trail Description:

The trail starts in a marshy meadow heading south and rapidly climbs for ¼ mile into dry hillsides covered with groves of Douglas  fir, aspen, juniper, and sage. Posted trail maps direct the hiker through the two additional interconnected loops of 0.3 and 0.6 miles in length. As early as April, you may find stream  violets (Viola glabella), Canada  violet (Viola canadensis), sagebrush  buttercup (Ranunculus glaberrimus), few-flowered  shooting  star (Dodecatheon pulchellum), yellow  bell (Frittaria pudica), glacier  lily (Erythronium grandiflorum), and pasqueflower (Anemone nullalliana).

In May and June other flowers begin to emerge and include American  bistort (Polygonum bistortoides ), starry  Solomon-plume or starry  false  lily of the valley (Smilacina stellata), ballhead  waterleaf (Hydrophyllum capitatum ), rock  clematis (Clematis columbiana), wartberry  fairy-bells (Disporum trachycarpum), blue dots of mountain  forget-me-nots (Myosotis asiatica), and chocolate  lily or leopard  lily (Fritillaria atropurpurea). Trilliums (also called wake robins) (Trillium ovatum) are abundant on sections of the trail that are shaded and more moist.

Few trails close to town have as many flowers in as small of a space as the three loops of the Kirk Hill trail system. Also more than 70 bird species have been recorded in the area and an occasional mule deer, elk, moose, and bear. Violets may linger in the wetter early section of the trail until mid July. Lupine wands scent the air throughout the trees as you emerge up into the more open pine- and fir-covered hillsides. Arrowleaf  balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) can be found near the top of the rise when they may be past prime on other south facing slopes like the “M Trail” Be sure to look closely for spotted  coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata) and striped  coralroot (Corallorhiza striata) among the seed heads of heartleaf  arnica (Arnica cordifolia) and beneath birchleaf  spirea (Spirea betulifolia), ninebark (Physocarpus malvaceus) and huckleberry (Vaccinium spp.) bushes.

Trail Notes: Kirk Hill is a popular trail with MSU students. While it is a great wildflower trail, many of the students are more interested in the workout you can get by hurrying up the trail. From the top, a trail connects Kirk Hill to Bozeman Creek and the Hyalite Creek divide. Neither bikes nor dogs are permitted on the trail.

Dogs: Not Permitted on This Trail


GPS Coordinates: N 45 35 27.60 N, W 111 0349.46


Rating: Moderate


Trail Length: 1.7 Miles Round Trip (Loop 1); 1.9 Miles (Loop 2)


Location: Northern Foothills of the Gallatin Mountain Range South of Bozeman


Elevation:  5367 Feet at Trail Head


Elevation Gain:  600 Feet (Loop 1); 750 Feet (Loop 2)


Bloom Season:  April through September


Peak Bloom: May through mid-August


Maps:  U.S.G.S. Wheeler Mountain, Kirk Hill Nature Trail Map


5-14-2012 An abundance of flowers are now present, primarily due to the "early spring" and "warm temperatures." Flowers we normally expect in early June are beginning to bloom. We logged: Glacier Lillies, Pasqueflowers, Spring Beauty, Buttercup, Forget-me-not, Bluebells, Cous Biscuitroot, Oregon Grape, Rock Clematis, Ballhead Waterleaf, Trillium, Calypso Orchid, Arrowleaf Balsamroot, Larspur, Alpine Star, False Solomon Seal, Nuttal's violet (yellow), Sugar Bowls, Prairiesmoke, and Canada Violets.

5-21-2012 The trail today was a "blue day." The hillsides were covered with Rock Clematis, Ballhead Waterleaf, Sugar Bowls, and Bluebells. The real surprise was the large number of Trilliums that were blooming in the shaded and moist areas on the east branch of the trail.

Sunny, Temperature 65°
We hiked Loop 3 of the three loops heading up Kirk Hill. The trail remains quite steep and would be quite challenging in the rain. Various groups have committed to making the trail more accommodating to hikers by repairing fencing, cut-throughs, and trail steepness. Watch for changes starting this year. On this day we saw lots of the early flowers and many of the ones we would normally see in early June. The real flower show on this date included starry Solomon-plume, heartleaf arnica, rock clematis, bluebells, Canada violet, ballhead  waterleaf, American  bistort, spring beauty, woodland stars, and sugarbowls.
Others noted include stream violets, sagebrush buttercup, few-flowered shooting  star, glacier  lily, wartberry  fairy-bells, mountain  forget-me-nots, many-flowered stickseed, tall pussytoes, Oregon grape, rue, baneberry, yellow violets, and a few chocolate  lilies. Some arrowleaf balsamroot were blooming in the lower parts of the hike but likely were in full bloom at the top.

Beautiful day for hiking. Most of the spring flowers are blooming including the rarer ones. The special treats were the striped coralroot and the chocolate lily. There were high numbers of arrowleaf balsamroot and Canada violets. This is the only trail we have ever seen a pink clematis. Other flowers today include forget-me-not, false Solomon seal, lupines, arnica, columbine, woodland star, bluebells, field chickweed, ballhead waterleaf, prairiesmoke, larkspur, Nuttals violet, blue clematis (columbiana).


Photos on this page (Top to Bottom): Stream Violet,  Ballhead Waterleaf, Canada Violet,  Glacier Lily, Rock Clematis Click to Enlarge

Photos by Carolyn Hopper

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