Mt. Ellis Trail is an easy walk up a gentle grade through fields of flowers with lots of spots to rest and view the Gallatin Valley. Only a couple of miles from the SE side of Bozeman, Mount Ellis Trail follows the fence line across state land in an open north-facing slope into the trees. The northern exposure of the meadow means that this hike will usually be cooler than the “M” Trail and you might still find snow in early April. From the trailhead, until you enter the forest, you will be walking in a festive garden that unfolds throughout the season, starting in late April or early May after the snow melts with a profusion of pasqueflower (Anemone nullalliana, Anemone patens, Pulsatilla patens) and sugarbowl (Clematis hirsutissima). You’ll find pasqueflowers in bunches all over the field. When you begin to see cultivated crocus gardens in town, you can be sure that their relatives are also blooming in the hills.
Other flowers begin to appear around the middle of the month and include yellowbell (Fritillaria pudica), few-floweredshootingstar(Dodecatheonpulchellum), Cous (biscuitroot)(Lomatium cous, Lomatium montanum), and Wyomingkittentails(Besseya wyomingensis). Another flower that is a little later but in large numbers is prairiesmoke (Geumtriflorum). You can find ballhead waterleaf(Hydrophyllum capitatum) and mountain bluebell(Mertensiaciliate) under a long row of black hawthorne (Crataegus douglasii) bushes in wetter more protected areas. The hawthornes are a favorite hangout for a number of small bird species, including calliope hummingbirds and yellow warblers. Near the creek above the jeep trail to the left of the main trail we found trilliums (Trillium ovatum) in full bloom (5-31-11). The elevation gain from the entrance of the trail to the woods is about 500 feet and is about one mile of hiking. We have found glacier lilies (Erythronium grandiflorum), calypso orchids/fairy slippers(Calypso bulbosa), Nuttallviolets (Viola nuttallii), and woodlandstars (Lithophragmaparviflora)along the trail on the eroding bank on the right as it follows an old Jeep road to the east and up through the forest and along switchbacks. There are open meadows and the trail becomes harder to follow the higher you get. You will eventually reach an overlook before descending to the New World Gulch Trail. [Note: In 2011-2012, a new forest access road was cut through the field disturbing many wildflowers. Don't be discouraged...there is still a lot to see.]
In May, you will begin to see Rocky Mountain iris (Iris missouriensis), sticky geranium (Geranium viscosissimum), Parry's townsendia (Townsendia parryi), puccoon (western gromwell) (Lithospermum ruderale), andarrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhizasagittata).
In the open field in June and July, green gentian (monument plant)(Frasera speciosa) is prominently visible. Green gentians are unusual in that they have a vegetative phase that may last from fifteen to twenty-five years before flowering. The large flowers are in clusters on a two-to-five foot stem. Native Americans had many uses for these flowers. Also watch for mountain little sunflower (Helianthella uniflora), meadow death camas(Zigadenus venenosus), long-leaf phlox(Phlox longifolia), many-floweredstickseed(Hackeliafloribunda), narrow-leafedcollomia(Collomia linearis), andfield (mouse-ear) chickweed(Cerastium arvense).
Driving Directions: Drive east on I-90 from Bozeman to the Bear Canyon Road exit which is the first exit east of the city. Turn right onto Bozeman Trail Road. Drive for 0.7 miles to Mount Ellis Lane. Turn left and continue 1.75 miles to the end of the public road. Park on the right side of the road just before the private property gates. [If you do not want to take the interstate, turn South on Highland Blvd. (the road to the Hospital) off of East Main and continue to E. Kagy Blvd. Turn left and continue on Kagy. Go east about four miles. It will turn into Bozeman Trail Road at about two miles. Turn right on Mount Ellis Road (by an old barn) and continue 1.75 miles to the end of the public road.] If you are coming from Kagy Boulevard and Sourdough Road in Bozeman, you drive 3.5 miles east on Kagy to Mount Ellis Lane.
Hiking Directions: Access the old jeep road through a gate, making sure to fasten it behind you, and walk up the slope through the pastureland. There are broad views Gallatin Valley, Bridger Mountains, and the Tobacco Root Mountains. When you reach the shade of the forest you can go left and eventually reach a lookout before descending to the New World Gulch Trail.
GPS Coordinates: Trailhead— N 45° 37’ 37.93”W 110° 57’ 37.63”
Rating: Easy to Moderate
Trail Length: 1.0 mile to the woods
Location: Gallatin Range SE of Bozeman, Montana
Elevation: Trailhead: 5282 Ft; Entrance into Woods: 5820 ft [Mt Ellis Peak: 8218 ft]
Elevation Gain: 538 ft to the woods
Bloom Season: April to September
Peak Bloom: Early May to late June
Maps: Gallatin National Forest: West Half or East Half
Photos on this page (Top to Bottom): Pasqueflower, Sugarbowl, Mountain Bluebell, Sticky Geranium, Green Gentian Click to Enlarge
Photos by Carolyn Hopper
May 31, 2011
Many of the early spring flowers are fading including shooting stars, kittentails, Hood’s phlox, and yellowbells. Sugar bowls are just starting as are larkspur and prairiesmoke. We also saw fieldchickweed, Coos, springbeauty, bluebells, yellowviolets, buttercup, glacierlilies (especially near the creek under the hawthorns), and ballheadwaterleaf. A large patch of trilliums are in bloom across the creek that runs along the east side of the field.
Beautiful mostly sunny day, 60° at 11:30 am. Standing at the edge of the field, it is hard to imagine the beauty you will see as you walk across the open field. What stood out immediately was the large numbers of Coos (biscuitroot) near the trail. The veritable garden of flowers did not disappoint us. Bouquets of pasqueflowers across the entire field, patches of shootingstars, and carpets of glacierlilies near the hawthorne shrubs caught our gaze. The buttercups were stunning…flowers over an inch across where they normally are about ½ inch. We hiked the side trail to the trilliums and found them in full bloom. Only a few sugarbowls were blooming…too early for them. Other blooming flowers included: yellowbells, bluebells, prairiesmoke, springbeauty, kittentails, Hoodsphlox, Nuttalsviolet, ballheadwaterleaf, fieldpennycress