There’s something for almost all hikers, amblers, and families on Drinking Horse Mountain Trail—gentle ups and downs with flowers and benches all along the way. The trail first opened in September, 2009…a labor of love by many hiking enthusiasts and organizations in the Bozeman area. The trail is part of the National Trails System that seeks to "connect American families with the wonders of the great outdoors." (Dept. of the Interior) A beautiful, $220,000 memorial bridge, benches manufactured from recycled plastic, and signs have since been added. The trail was built on 40 acres of land donated to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by the White family in 2001. There are two sections of the trail… one way for folks who are looking for a steeper trail and another that is slightly less steep. Bridger Creek is a great spot for your dogs to splash to cool off before and after the hike. Along the trail and at the top there are western vistas of the Gallatin Valley, east viewing up Bridger Canyon, and panoramas of the Story Hills to the south. You can also see some of the peaks of the Absoroka Range that lies to the east of Paradise Valley.
The parking lot off Highway 86 is less than ¼ mile from the “M” trail and provides some overflow parking for that heavily used trail. Beside the parking lot there is a sign explaining the route and telling you what to expect during your hike. From there, the trail heads near the Fish Technology Center and then across a new, beautiful memorial bridge over Bridger Creek. Along the trail you begin to see flowers in the spring. There are lots of chokecherry (Prunus virginiana)shrubs that will be blooming in May and providing delectable berries in late August and early September for jellies and syrup. In June watch for the pink flowers of Dame’s Rocket (Hesperis matronalis), common cow parsnips (Heracleum lanatum) and mountain little sunflowers (Helianthella uniflora). The trail continues across an access road and then to a grand entrance to the trail at about 0.2 of a mile. Continue a short distance farther and there is a second directional sign you where you can choose to go the steeper way to the left or gentler way to the right. Even if you do go to the right trail, you’ll find plenty of ups or downs to keep you in shape. The whole trail system is in a figure 8 to allow you different experiences depending on your desires for the day. Several memorial benches have been added with overlooks of the Gallatin Valley. A picnic table was also placed on the top of the mountain. This is becoming one of the most used and enjoyed trail in the area.
As early as the second week in April begin looking for few-flowered shooting stars (Dodecatheonpulchellum), Rocky Mountain iris (Irismissouriensis), and yellowbells (Fritillaria pudica), Oregon grape (Berberis repens/Mahonia repens), cous/biscuitroot (Lomatium cous, Lomatium montanum) , pasqueflowers (Anemone nullalliana, Anemone patens, Pulsatilla patens), Parry’s townsendia (Townsendia parryi), springbeauty (Claytonia lanceolata), Hood’s phlox (Phlox hoodii), Draba (Draba spp.), sugarbowls (Clematis hirsutissima), Wyomingkittentails (Besseya wyomingensis), and mountainbluebells (Mertensiaciliate) on the hillsides all the way to the top. These are more visible in the open trail route on the south side of the mountain (the right and easier trail route). Be sure to look up and down the hillsides away from the trail, as not all the flowers are right beside the trail. Beginning in late April to mid May, it’s hard to miss the arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhizasagittata) and prairiesmoke (Geumtriflorum) on the open hillsides. That’s about the time you also start to see lupine (Lupinus spp.), lowlarkspur (Delphiniumbicolor), and stickygeraniums (Geranium viscosissimum). A little later we have seen two penstemons—small-flowered penstemon (Penstemon nitidus) and fuzzytonguepenstemon (Penstemon eriantherus) and threadleafphacelia (Phacelia linearis).
This is one of the few trails where we have seen Rocky Mountain douglasia (Douglasia montana). It is a low mounding plant with pink flowers that we found in late April growing about 50 feet off the trail near the summit in a grove of limber pines. There are two “tops” of the mountain…one looking out toward Bridger Canyon on a rocky outcropping and one looking back toward Gallatin Valley.
Directions: From downtown Bozeman (Main Street and Rouse), travel north on Rouse which becomes Bridger Canyon drive (Highway 86). About three miles there is a sigh for the Montana Fish Technology Center. Turn to the right (S) and watch for the parking lot immediately on the left. The trailhead is at the west end of the parking lot.
Trail Description: For a short hiking trail this is one of the best gardens that is easily accessible to Bozeman. We have hiked the trail well after the first snows in October and as early as March. More rugged hikers use grippers and hike or snowshoe all year. This is a great day hike for families and dogs. Expect weekends to be busy with lots of people enjoying the beauty of the trail. Bring your sketch pad and take time to enjoy this wonderful addition to the Gallatin Valley trail system.
Trail Notes: The Drinking Horse Mountain Trail is a great example of a federal, state, local, and private conservation collaboration, joining the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Gallatin Valley Land Trust; Montana Outdoor Science School; Bozeman Fish Technology Center; and Friends of the Bozeman, Montana Fish Technology Center together to preserve more of Montana's Gallatin Valley land for future generations. Sorry, no bikes or horses allowed. Be sure to bring your camera, water, coat, sunscreen, and snacks.
GPS Coordinates: Trailhead— N 45.705487; W 110.971334.
Trail Length: 1.6 mile to the summit (3.2 mile round trip)
Location: Bridger Range North of Bozeman, Montana
Elevation: 4,902 ft to the 5,522 ft Drinking Horse Mountain Summit
Elevation Gain: 620 ft
Bloom Season: April to September
Peak Bloom: May to late June
Maps: U.S.G.S. Miser Creek, U.S.F.S. Gallatin National Forest: West Half or East Half
Photos on this page (Top to Bottom): Entrance sign to Drinking Horse Mountain Trail, Bridger Creek, Pasqueflower, Rocky Mountain douglasis, Wyoming kittentails, Draba spp., Hoods's phlox. Click to enlarge.
Photos by Carolyn K. Hopper
May 18, 2011
Today was a real pasqueflower show with shooting stars and yellowbells also in their full glory. As always, the early flowers were present: Oregon grape, draba, Rocky Mountain douglasii, springbeauty, kittentails, and Coos biscitroot. The first of the bluebells, sugar bowls, Hood’s phlox, arrowleaf balsamroot, fairybells, prairiesmoke, field campion, and Parry’s townsendia were discovered.
April 8, 2012
Flowers are just starting to appear [about 2-weeks early] and are scattered from the trailhead to the top of DHM. Yellow: buttercups, Coosbiscuitroot, draba; white: Hood’sphlox; pink: kittentails, RockyMountaindouglasii, shootingstars; purple: pasqueflower.
April 30, 2012
Today the flowers are really becoming a show with the first of the arrowleaf balsamroot starting to bloom. The pasqueflowers and kittentails are winding down, but there are lots ofshooting stars,yellowbells,Hood’sphlox, Oregon grape, draba, Rocky Mountain douglasii, springbeauty, and Coos biscuitroot. The first of the bluebells, sugarbowls, arrowleaf balsamroot, fairybells, Columbiana clematis, field campion, and Parry’s townsendia were discovered.
April 21, 2014
Beautiful day in the mountains, 60° at 11:00 am. These flowers were in bloom or just starting to bloom: Biscuit root (Cous), Draba spp., Few-flowered Shooting star, Hood’s phlox, Mountain bluebell, Mountain douglasia, Parry’s townsendia, Pasqueflower, Prairiesmoke, Sagebrush Buttercup, Springbeauty, Sugarbowl, Wyoming kittentail, Yellowbell
May 28, 2017
Nice day for a hike...warm and sunny. Early spring flowers are about over, but there was plenty to see. Biscuit root (Cous), brodia spp., Draba spp., false Solomon seal, fern-leaved lovage, few-flowered Shooting star, field chickweed, fuzzy-tongued penstemon, Hood’s phlox, larkspur, lupine, manyflowered stickseed, meadow death camas, mountain bluebell, mountain douglasia, Nuttall’s violet, purple violet, Oregon grape, Parry’s townsendia, pasqueflower, prairiesmoke, sagebrush buttercup, springbeauty, sticky geranium, sugarbowl, woodland star, Wyoming kittentail, yellowbell.