Hikes in Montana-Public and Private Land

Montana hiking trails

Montana hiking trails go across both public and private land.


There are so many hikes in Montana that are enjoyable on public land. That doesn’t stop the debate over public access through private land. It is a hotly debated topic whether public access should be guaranteed through private land. If you want a guide for public hikes in Montana and that would be 99% of the hikes here is a great Montana hiking guide website. It has interactive maps that show areas all over the state. Some private landowners give access to public lands through their property. In all fairness, it is about the law and if you know private landowners that have given rights through their land many are left to clean up, maintain roads and deal with issues. I know one gentleman that spent time, money and effort each year keeping the trail and road up through his property and would have to pull stuck atvs out and pick up trash and repair gates and fences.




If you want to try and access private hikes it is all about how you go about it and who you know. First thing you can try is politely knocking on ranch doors and just asking. This is the way hunters use to ask and some still do with success. This is a numbers game and you will find someone that says yes it is just about how many doors you have to knock on. Count on 1 out of 10 saying yes which means 9 out of 10 say no! The beauty is once you find the one that says yes if you send them a gift thanking them they will usually say yes again. This isn’t the big city and people are polite in Montana especially ranchers.

Another idea is to ask at the local diner after you have been a couple of times and gotten to know the waiter/waitress. They know everyone and usually there will be ranchers in the diner so many times you will get an introduction right then. Another way is to get to know a real estate agent that specializes in Montana land for sale. Many times you can get an introduction especially if you are talking about purchasing some land yourself!

If you are good with public hikes keep a couple of things in mind to fight the crowds. Go to a location that isn’t close to the bigger cities or national parks. Start early and stay late. Most people don’t get up early and want to be back to where they are staying before dark. Bonus to this is you also see more wildlife. Just carry bear spray. Incredibly small chance you will ever need it but it is nice to have in case of the one in a thousand chance you need it.

Lots of hiking options in Montana and I would go the public route first but after you have hiked a long time it is nice to have a mountain or trial all to yourself. That is where the private hike and contacts are. Enjoy your day!

Winter Hiking in Montana

Thousands of tourists pass through the wilds of Montana each year, but many of them don’t just come in the summer.  Montana is just as much fun in the winter as it is in the summer.  There is some great alpine and cross country skiing in Big Country but that isn’t all, there is some fabulous hiking you can do in the wintertime too.   Locals are used to the cold winters but if you’re not from Montana then you need to know how to dress warmly, use lots of layers.  Bring along some water and snack on your hike, your body uses more energy in the cold.  You don’t have to worry as much about wildlife, they are all hunkered down for the winter but you will want to bring a camera, the scenery here even in winter is beautiful.  Here are some  great places to hike.

Winter Hiking in Montana

Ousel Falls

Ousel Falls is a favorite hiking spot any time of year, it isn’t a long hike only  a mile and a half in total so you can easily handle it in the winter.  You can check out the incredible waterfall on the South Fork of the West Fork of the Gallatin River.  They are even better to see in the winter when everything is frozen.  This is why you bring your camera for these amazing shots.  There is the occasional ice climber that could be there tackling the falls.  If the sun is out and it is a warm day the trail can get pretty icy so you might want to bring along tracks for your boots.  There is plenty of parking and the trail is easy to get to any time of year.  Here is a closer look at the trail in the winter.

Beehive Basin Trail

If you don’t have experience hiking in the winter or snowshoeing then you might want to try with an easier trail first.  Beehive Basin Trail has been rated as one of the World’s Greatest Hikes but it isn’t for the faint of heart. It is nearly a 7 mile trek and you may want to do it with snow shoes.  You can see some of the ski runs along the way as you come around Lone Peak.  Be careful to stay out of the avalanche terrain or you can find yourself in trouble.

Winter hiking in Montana is a great adventure but remember the terrain can be harsh and prepare for it accordingly.  Put on lots of layers and bring food and drink with you.

Hit The Beaten Path

Montana is renowned for its great outdoors, it is ideal for those that are into camping, hiking and fishing.  If hiking is one of your passions then you really need to grab your boots and hit The Beaten Path.  The 26 mile trail that goes from Cooke City to East Rosebud is a 4-6 day trip with scenic views and trout fishing.  Here are some of the highlights you can expect.

Starting Out

If you have an SUV there is a trail from Broadwater Lake and across the Broadwater River and then you can start your hike at the trail.  If don’t have an all-terrain vehicle don’t worry you can start the trail at the Chief Joseph campground.   From here you will go around Kersey Lake until you find yourself in a lush meadow.  Once you reach the meadow you need to stay on the trail, the meadow is privately owned.  Eventually you will reach Russell Lake where you can camp out.  Keep your camp clean there is wildlife here that are looking for a meal.

The Second Day

This will probably be the most strenuous with a fair amount of uphill hiking.  This will also be the hardest part of your journey to find a decent camping spot the area is pretty rock and there aren’t many trees for shelter.

The Third Day

You have reached the halfway point and there is some stunning scenery.  There are more than 35 waterfalls that you check out along the route.  Stop by Dewey Lake and you can campout, there are plenty of great spots.  You can catch some big fish here but there are no campfires allowed, so fishing for supper is out.

The Fourth Day

You can choose to camp either at Rainbow Lake or Lake at the Falls, but take the first campsite that you come across the area can be steep and rocky, also it is going to be a challenge to set your camp up at more than 200 feet from a lake.  On the weekends there are plenty of tourists around so you may find yourself with company as you set up for the night.

The End of Your Journey

You can now tell friends and family that you have hiked The Beaten Path and survived.  While you can spend another night on the trail if you choose at Rimrock, the terrain can be rugged and it is hard to find a decent camping spot the choice is yours.  Hikers from all over the world come to Montana to hike this trail and appreciate the beauty of one of the last wild places in America.  Hopefully you took the time to look around and just enjoy what nature has created.