Do you need a (relatively) easy overnight backpacking trip in Montana? Yes; if you didn’t know before that you needed it, now you do. So here’s a recap of our trip last weekend, plus some useful things to know for backpacking Hyalite Creek trail.
Hyalite Creek trail follows Hyalite Creek for 5.5 miles to Hyalite Lake – not the same as Hyalite Reservoir, which you pass on the drive to the trailhead. The trail climbs 2,000 feet; the elevation gain is spread fairly evenly over the length of the trail, with just a few steeper sections. Once you get to the lake, you’ll find several established sites for dispersed camping. The trailhead is about 45 minutes from downtown Bozeman – get directions here.
In addition to your usual summer backpacking gear, make sure to bring:
- A bear canister. Both grizzly and black bears inhabit Gallatin National Forest, and proper food storage is required. You could also hang a bear bag from trees (details here), but the canister is easier.
- Waterproof hiking boots or shoes. The trail crosses several bridge-less streams.
- Bug spray. Creekside trail + lakeside camp = lots of bugs.
- A jacket. As is common with alpine trips, backpacking Hyalite can mean waking up to temperatures in the low 40s.
Other things to know:
- This is a multi-use trail and it can be quite busy, so keep an eye out for mountain bikers, trail runners, and horses.
- Dogs are allowed (and you’ll probably see a lot of them).
- Dirtbikes are allowed on the trail Sunday-Thursday late July through mid-September. They are loud and smelly and you risk getting an unpleasant wake up call from them if you camp on a Saturday night.
- Choose a camp spot further from the lake to avoid the worst of the bugs. We camped about 15 feet from the water and wished we had looked around a bit more for one of the campsites further from the lake.
The first bit of Hyalite Creek trail is also Grotto Falls trail, a short trail leading to a waterfall. Once the trails split, they meander across each other a few times; Grotto Falls is a wide, smooth trail while Hyalite creek is narrower and rocky, but it doesn’t really matter which you take as if you end up at the falls you can easily connect back to Hyalite Creek.
Past Grotto Falls, the trail continues on a mostly easy climb for about 4 miles. There are 11 waterfalls along the trail, only half of them along this first part of the trail. Of those, you’d have to take short side trips to see Grotto Falls and Silken Skein Falls. We skipped the side trips this time. About 4 miles in you pass two waterfalls in quick succession, cross a bridge over a stream near another waterfall, then turn up a switchback that opens up this view:
The remaining mile or so switchbacks up to the lake and past the rest of the waterfalls. There are 3 or 4 shallow stream crossings with no bridge, as well as another bridge. The trail intersects twice here, and when we went the tops of both intersection signs had broken off so it was difficult to tell which way to go. You’ll go left at both intersections; the first sign says Hyalite Peak is to the left, and taking a right at the next intersection takes you to the peak.
Hyalite Lake comes into view almost immediately after the second intersection. We got there around 6 pm, which in the middle of summer leaves more than enough daylight to set up camp, eat dinner, and walk around for a bit. There also would have been time to make a trip up to Hyalite Peak (about 2 miles from the lake). Unfortunately, we realized this as we were hiking down the next day. Next time!
Have you taken any backpacking trips this summer?
What’s your favorite weekend getaway?