By Ciara Wolfe BSCO Executive Director

Fall in Big Sky is a delicate balance of getting outside and staying active, while waiting for the snow to fly and ski season to begin. It’s also an important time to remember to respect trail conditions. During this seasonal transition, it’s helpful to know of other trail networks in the region that will allow you to stay active while protecting the trails in Big Sky.

The Copper City Trails comprise one of the newest networks of trails in the region. Located northeast of Three Forks, Montana, off of Highway 287, the area is ideal for fall and spring trail use due to the minimal precipitation at lower elevations. The arid climate makes for a unique environment in comparison to our mountain trails here in Big Sky.

Still a work in progress, the trail network is being built by the Southwest Montana Mountain Biking Association (SWMMBA), which has a plan for 30-plus miles of bike-optimized trails that will also be open to hikers and trail runners—a bonus for those who live in the mountains and desire to extend their trail seasons.

Copper City Trails is a partnership between the Bureau of Land Management and SWMMBA. The BLM is allowing the trail development on their property and SWMMBA, a volunteer-run organization is raising the funds for construction. The first trail opened in September and consists of a 3.5-mile beginner level loop called the Green Eagle. An intermediate level trail named High Ore is currently under construction.

The Green Eagle loop consists of rolling terrain through large limestone outcrops on a dirt and sandy surface. Starting from the trailhead you head east, or counter clockwise, riding over large outcrops and gradual hills. After crossing over a dirt road at approximately 2 miles, you come to an intersection where you can extend your hike or bike ride on the intermediate High Ore trail, or continue another 1.5 miles back to the trailhead.

The last 1.5 miles entail a short climb followed by a fun descent around bermmed corners and over several small jumps. When approaching the trailhead, you will cross back over the dirt road and end up in the large parking area.

The Copper City trail project is only just beginning, with funds secured to build a difficult level downhill mountain bike trail, and an additional 6.5 miles of intermediate multi-use trails. This is an excellent option for hikers and bikers of all abilities and ages, or for the individual that is just looking for dry trails in southwest Montana. Visit coppercitytrails.org for more information.

For more information about Big Sky’s parks, trails and recreation programs, visit bscomt.org. The Big Sky Community Organization is a local nonprofit that connects people to recreational opportunities by acquiring, promoting and preserving sustainable places and programs for all.

Trail stats

Distance: 3.5-mile loop
Difficulty: beginner
Elevation: 4,737 feet at trailhead
Elevation gain: 307 feet
Surface: dirt
Uses: hiking, running and biking
Directions: From Big Sky take Highway 191 north for 34 miles to Interstate 90 in Belgrade. Take Interstate 90 west for 23 miles. Take exit 274 for U.S. Highway 287 north toward Helena. Travel 5 miles and turn right onto Copper City Road. The trailhead and parking area are approximately 1 mile up the dirt road.