Located just outside of Bozeman, MT, the Chestnut Mountain Trail and Frog Rock Trail opened to the public in 2010. The trail was developed after more than a decade of hard work by the Gallatin Valley Land Trust, the Trust for Public Lands, the Custer Gallatin National Forest, and many others. This easily accessible trail provides great hiking, mountain biking, and rock climbing opportunities. The acquisition and development of this trail is a testament to the people who worked to make it happen. All of us owe them our appreciation for working so hard to provide new public access.
Finding The Trail
The trailhead is one of the easiest to find that you’ll ever visit. Exit I 90 at Exit 316 (Trail Creek) which is about 8 miles East of Bozeman and 17 miles West of Livingston. You want to go south of the Interstate on Trail Creek Road. 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 an 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. 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’ll find 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 you can 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.
Frog Rock Trail
The Frog Rock Trail is a mile long spur trail that takes rock climbers to the popular Frog Rock climbing area. It is a one way spur trail and most hikers will prefer to continue on the Chestnut Mountain Trail instead of taking this branch.
Those who take the side trail are almost all rock climbers. Frog Rock is a massive limestone feature that provides excellent climbing opportunities. For many years climbers had a tough time gaining access but this new trail solves that problem. Here is an excellent source for information about Frog Rock Climbing.
Hiking To Great Views
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. The Crazy Mountains are 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 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 Bear Canyon. However, most people choose to turn around and return after reaching the ridge and enjoying the views.
The Chestnut Mountain Trail 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.” In all it’s an excellent trail and most hikers should find this to be a great trail to explore.
If you are looking for other hikes in the Bozeman area try Mystic Lake or Lava Lake. There are lots of additional suggestions in the book Day Hikes Around Bozeman, Montana.
You might be interested in visiting these nearby areas.