I grew up in the best place. I know I’ve probably said that before, and I’m probably a little biased. But it’s true. Because just 15 minutes from my house is the entry to Hyalite Canyon. The canyon is named for hyalite, an opal-like mineral that is fairly abundant in the rocks found in the canyon.
Since it’s basically in my back yard, I sometimes forget just how cool Hyalite is. I mean, I’m always aware of the fact that there are opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, fishing, rock climbing, ice climbing, skiing, boating, camping, and any other similar activity. But what took me a long time to realize was that this isn’t a normal thing for most people. Most people don’t have mountain views out their back window. Most people can’t get way up into the mountains in just 30 minutes. My sister’s friend came to visit 4 years ago and when we took her up Hyalite Canyon, it was the first time she’d ever seen a waterfall. And when Pat visited Montana with me last summer, he was blown away by how huge and beautiful the mountains of Hyalite Canyon are.
Long story short: Hyalite Canyon is great for both recreation and scenery.
Hyalite Canyon can be accessed by car on the 15-mile (24 km) long Hyalite Canyon Road south of Bozeman. Almost immediately, the canyon starts to narrow as the road winds along Hyalite Creek and begins to climb. Pullouts are numerous and they actually recently added in some large informative signs at the first one. Beyond the end of the road, explorations can continue on foot for many miles.
A few miles up the road is Langohr Campground and the Moser Creek trailhead. I’ve never actually hiked up Moser Creek, but I have stayed at Langohr Campground. During the summer, it’s almost always full, probably because it’s so close to town. Yet it feels so far from civilization. One of the many reasons Hyalite Canyon is so popular.
Further up the road is to the History Rock Trailhead. Word of advice: don’t waste your time here. It’s a rock that someone famous (I forget who) carved his initials into a long time ago, but a plethora of idiots over the years have decided to carve their names into the rock as well, effectively destroying it.
Why are there always a few people who have to ruin it for all the rest of us?
Anyway, probably the main attraction of Hyalite Canyon is Hyalite Reservoir, which lies about 12 miles (19 km) up the road. The reservoir is open for swimming, paddleboarding, and boating (non-motorized boats only, as it’s the source of Bozeman’s drinking water). Trails to Crescent Lake and Mount Blackmore depart from here, and there’s a leisurely trail that hugs the shore of the reservoir as well.
I’ve hiked to Mount Blackmore, which will appear in its own post later on. My mom and I also hiked to Crescent Lake one afternoon, and though the trail along the shore of the reservoir was pretty, the lake itself what somewhat underwhelming. And a little bit stagnant and gross.
Past the reservoir, the road turns to dirt for the remaining few miles. It’s well-taken care of, though. My mom drives a Corolla and we’ve taken it up this road numerous times in all seasons with no issue. Hood Creek Campground is located on the eastern shore of the reservoir, and just past the end of the reservoir is Chisholm Campground.
Just beyond the campgrounds, the road splits. The left fork leads to the Palisade Falls and East Fork Hyalite Creek trailheads while the right fork goes to the Hyalite Creek trailhead. For the rest of this post, we’ll head up the left fork.
Palisade Falls is a 1 mile (1.6 km) round trip hike on a paved trail, though it’s moderately steep. It’s short enough, though, that it’s pretty accessible for most people, which is rather convenient because it’s also a pretty amazing falls. Here, Palisade Creek drops more than 80 feet over a cliff of basalt columns (hence the name).
One thing to watch out for in the summer is stinging nettle, which is a plant that grows in wet areas and manages to take hold even amongst the rocks surrounding the falls. It has yellow flowers and pointy leaves that will “sting” you upon contact and make you want to claw your skin off. Yes, this is experience talking. A few years ago, I slipped while climbing around at the base of the falls and my ankle became a little bit too well-acquainted with a nettle plant.
If you continue up to the end of the road, you’ll come to East Fork Hyalite Creek trailhead. Emerald Lake is 4 miles (6.4 km) and 2100 feet (640 m) up the trail, which, when I was on it, included snow, mud, and crossing a couple of narrow wooden things that I assume were meant as bridges.
About 0.75 mile (1.2 km) beyond Emerald Lake is the equally quaint and beautiful Heather Lake. Both lakes lie in the shadow of Mount Chisholm and are surrounded by wildflowers. Rocks and tree stumps are available along the shores of both lakes for a place to relax, soak in the view, and have a picnic.
Well, that’s it for now. There will be a couple more posts about Hyalite Canyon in the future because there are plenty of hiking opportunities up this way. In the mean time, if you find yourself in the Bozeman area with a few hours to spare, grab a camera and head on up into the mountains of Hyalite Canyon!
The Important Stuff:
- Getting there: from N 19th avenue in Bozeman, MT, head up Hyalite Canyon Road; when the road forks just past the reservoir, keep left
- Fees & passes: none
- Camping: 3 small campgrounds (10-17 sites); $14 per night, reservations accepted
- Hiking: trailhead to Palisade Falls (1 mile/1.6 km RT, moderate) is on the left off Hyalite Canyon Road just past the fork; continue to the end of the road for the Emerald/Heather Lake trail (8 miles/12.9 km RT, moderate)
- Other: Hyalite Canyon is a multipurpose recreation area, so be aware of horses, bikers, motorized vehicles, and hunters