After returning from our road trip, we still had one full day before my flight back to Denver. Never ones to waste a day of sunshine, my mom and I decided to squeeze in one more hike. So we headed down Gallatin Canyon to climb Storm Castle, a 7165 foot (2184 m) summit. This is a fairly popular hike, although somewhat less so than other nearby hikes, and when we arrived at the trailhead around 9:30am on a Sunday, we secured one of the last spots in the main parking area. By the time we returned around 1:30pm, the lot was overflowing. Long story short, start early… but not as early as you’d have to start in Colorado.
The trail climbs fairly steadily, gaining about 1800 feet (550 m) in 2.5 miles (4 km). It’s a reasonably steep hike, but we took it slow and it wasn’t so bad. As we ascended, we could see the rocky summit through periodic gaps in the trees. It looked so far above us.
There are two separate things to see on the summit. One is the keyhole. As you approach the summit, take the left fork and climb to this arch in the rock. It’s large enough to stand in and you can get some neat photos from here.
Then, head right to the actual high point for the most panoramic views.
As I was snapping photos from on top of the keyhole, I captured one with two people sitting on the highest point of the summit. Once we made our way over to the summit, I showed them the photo and asked if they wanted a copy. The woman gave me her number so I could text it… and she had a Denver area code! So we started chatting, and it turned out she and her fiancé have done basically the opposite of me… they grew up in Denver and now live in Bozeman. We all agreed it was difficult to decide if Colorado or Montana was more amazing. It was a fun conversation; I always enjoy finding connections with random people on trails.
After chatting for a while and eating a snack, my mom and I made our way back down the trail. It was all downhill so we made good time. And the next morning, I waved goodbye to Montana for the time being and flew back to Denver. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky the entire way and we flew over Yellowstone and Grand Teton. I saw the Tetons, Lower Falls of the Yellowstone, Yellowstone Lake, and erupting geysers from the air. It might just have been the most amazing flight of my life!
The Important Stuff:
- Getting there: Storm Castle trailhead is about 2 miles (3.2 km) up Storm Castle Road off Highway 191 in Gallatin Canyon
- Fees and passes: none
- Hiking: round trip is about 5 miles (8 km) with 1800 feet (550 m) of elevation gain
- Where to stay: this is easily done as a day hike from Bozeman, Big Sky, or anywhere around Gallatin Canyon. For overnight stays, there are dozens of camping and lodging options in all three locations.
- Other: Although this is a relatively low summit, there are no trees on the rocky high points and you are very exposed up there… plan for an early start to avoid being caught in the open during an afternoon thunderstorm