“M” Trail

Welcome to our first wildflower hike of spring—the “M” Trail. You can expect to discover a wide variety of early spring flowers starting the last week of April, depending on the year. Snow covered the “M” Trail in April and much of May in 2008 and most flowers were two to three weeks late. Expect to see yellow bells (Fritillaria pudica), Wyoming  kittentails (Besseya wyomingensis), bluebells (Mertensia  spp.), larkspur (Delphinium  bicolor), Western  springbeauties (Claytonia  lanceolata), prairesmoke (Geum  triflorum), and shooting  stars (Dodecatheon  pulchellum). In May you will begin to see arrowleaf  balsamroot (Balsamorhiza  sagittata) covering the hillsides with fields of gold, Oregon  grape (Mahonia  repens), Rocky  Mountain  iris (Iris  missouriensis), field pussytoes (Antennaria  neglecta), field  chickweed (Cerastium  arvense), sticky  geranium (Geranium  viscosissimum), and lupine (Lupinus  spp.), just to name a few. By June, you may still see many of these same flowers in addition to blanketflower (Gaillardia  aristata), Wood’s  rose (Rosa nutkana), and common  yarrow (Achillea   millefolium). There are flowers all summer; however most of the showier displays are in May and June. 

In July, more of the summer flowers are seen including bluebells (Mertensia spp.), bladder  campion (Silene vulgaris), wild  hyacinth  (Brodiaea douglasii), fern-leaved  lovage (Ligusticum filicinum), fuzzytongue  penstemon (Penstemon eriantherus), wallflower (Erysimum asperum), and others.


From downtown Bozeman (Main Street and Rouse Avenue), travel North on Rouse and Bridger Canyon Drive a total of 4.2 miles to the signed Trailhead on the left, across from the Fish Technology Center. Rouse curves right (NE) at Griffen Drive and becomes Bridger Canyon Drive (Highway #86). Park at the base of the hill; there is room for about 20 cars; however on busy weekends, there may be as many as 50 cars parked along the road and lot. Drinking Horse Mountain Trail was completed in 2008 and includes more parking across the highway.

Trail Description:

The “M” Trail is one of the most popular day hikes for Montana State University students, area residents, and their dogs from April through December. The “M” was established in 1915 by a large group of men who climbed Mount Baldy north of Bozeman and constructed the block letter. The 250-foot whitewashed rock "M" has two access routes. The right fork follows the ridge for a short and steep hike. The left fork switchbacks through a fir and juniper forest, making a more gradual ascent. The left fork is the beginning of the Bridger Mountains National Recreation Trail (Trail #534), a 21-mile ridge route following the contours of the Bridger Range to Fairy Lake. Since the trail is mostly in the open with a southern exposure, it dries quickly in the spring and early wildflowers can typically be seen in mid April to early May. The trail is moderate to steep with three benches along the trail and three at the base of the "M." The trail affords an excellent view of the Tobacco Root Mountains west, the Gallatin Range and the Spanish Peaks in the south. Looking east, hikers can look over the Story Hills to some of the peaks in the Absoraka Range.

The "M" trail is Trail #534 for
¾ mi and then changes to #512.

Trail Notes:

The "M" Trail is icy and often snow covered from December through April. Hikers still climb to the "M" on sunny weekend days all winter. Grippers are recommended.

Dogs: Dogs are permitted off-leash on the trail, but must be under control. Waste bags are available at the trail head. Bikes are not recommended due to the heavy foot traffic and steepness of the trail.

GPS  Coordinates: Trailhead: N 45°42’35”, W110°58’38” [N45.709722, W 110.977222],


Rating: Moderate to strenuous due to the rapid elevation gain. Many runners take the more direct route up the mountain; however casual hikers tend to stay on the easier route.


Trail Length: 1.6 miles roundtrip


Location: Bridger Range North of Bozeman


Elevation: Elevation 4965 feet at trail head; 5745 feet at base of "M."

Elevation Gain:  780 feet

Bloom Season:  May through September

Peak Bloom: May to mid August

Maps: U.S.G.S. Bozeman and Kelly Creek, U.S.F.S. Gallatin National Forest: West Half or East Half

Photos on this page (Top to Bottom): Arrowleaf Balsamroot, Few-Flowered Shooting Stars, Oregon Grape, Lupine Spp..
Click to enlarge.

Photos by Carolyn K. Hopper

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