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Chestnut Mountain Trail
The trailhead is one of the easiest to find that you will ever visit. Exit Interstate 90 at Exit 316 (Trail Creek) which is about 8 miles East of Bozeman and 17 miles West of Livingston. At this exit you want to go south of the Interstate on Trail Creek Road. This means that if you are traveling from Bozeman you will turn right at the off ramp and if you are coming from Livingston you will turn left and drive under the Interstate. The Trail head for Chestnut Mountain and Frog Rock is located right on Trail Creek Road less than ¼ mile from the Interstate. The trailhead is obvious with and information sign and parking area. Although only a few cars will fit in the official parking lot there is plenty of room for vehicles along the roadside.
It’s a good thing there’s plenty of parking as this is a popular trail. It’s likely that a lot of hikers are visiting because it is a new trail but the fact that it is close to both Livingston and Bozeman insures that it will remain popular. The trail is open to all types of non-motorized use and you will find both hikers and mountain bikers happily sharing the trail. There is no water along this trail so be sure to take plenty with you. Before you go be sure to download and print the Chestnut Mountain Trail Map.
The trailhead and first section of the trail are officially the Chestnut Mountain Trail (forest trail #458). The trail starts on private land with an easement for the trail. Please respect the landowners who are allowing public access and stay on the trail for this section. This is newly constricted trail that climbs steadily in a generally westerly direction. At about .8 mile the trail intersects with an abandoned logging road and enters public land. The trail through this section is broad and not too steep. After about another .4 mile (1.2 miles total) the trail forks and the Frog Rock Trail (forest trail 463) branches off toward the west while the main trail turns south.
The Frog Rock Trail is a mile long spur trail that takes rock climbers to the Frog Rock area which is popular with climbers. It is a one way spur trail and most hikers will prefer to continue on the Chestnut Mountain Trail instead of taking this branch.
After the Frog Rock intersection the Chestnut Mountain Trail continues to climb toward the south. As you gain altitude you are treated to views of mountain ranges in all directions. The Bridger Mountains dominate the skyline to the north with the Crazy Mountains to the far northeast - but only visible once you climb high enough. Views of the Absaroka Mountains are seen to the east and southeast and the Tobacco Root Mountains are visible in the far distance across the Gallatin Valley to the west. When the views are right you can see most of Bozeman in the valley to the west. The Montana State University Dome is very obvious on the southern side of town.
The trail beyond the intersection continues on the old road bed for another ¾ mile or so until it becomes a newly constructed single track trail. The trail climbs steadily through both forest and meadow in a series of long switchbacks. Some of the meadows near the ridge are spectacular fields of wildflowers. The trail reaches the Chestnut Mountain ridge line at about 4.6 miles, having climbed 2,200 feet from the parking area. From here the trail continues on and eventually connects to trails from Goose Creek and from Bear Canyon. However, most people choose to turn around and return after reaching the ridge and enjoying the views.
The Chestnut Mountain Trail is a great new hike that offers easy access to hiking, biking and climbing opportunities. The trail is in great shape and takes you to some fantastic views. As with many trails in the mountains, this one climbs steadily and unrelentingly from the trailhead. As a passing biker commented on his way back down to the trailhead “I sure didn’t expect it to be this steep.” However, it is all on excellent trail and most hikers should find this to be a great trail to explore.