By Ciara Wolfe BSCO Executive Director

As a hiker, spring is the best time of year to explore Porcupine Creek Trail due to the seasonal restrictions put forth by the Custer Gallatin National Forest. Its centrally-located trailhead in Gallatin Canyon and the vast access it opens to national forest make Porcupine Creek Trail a locals’ favorite. It features connecting loops of varying distances open to a variety of uses.

When I first moved to Big Sky, the unclear user restrictions, wilderness study area designation and “Grizzly Loop” moniker kept me from exploring what I now like to think of as the national forest in Big Sky’s backyard. Before sharing a brief description of the trail system’s easiest loop, I would like to first clarify the unknowns about the area that originally kept me from exploring it.

User Restrictions:

April 1-June 15: Trails are open to hikers only

June 16: Trails open to mountain bikers and horseback riders

July 16: Trails open to motorcycle use in addition to the above uses.

Wilderness Study Area (WSA):

The Porcupine Creek Trail is part of the Hyalite-Porcupine-Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area. The Porcupine Creek drainage provides wintering grounds for the northern Yellowstone elk herd and is an ideal environment for elk calving. Wilderness study areas have many of the same characteristics as designated wilderness areas but have not been granted the same determination by Congress. They were a hot topic in the Montana Legislature this year and you will likely hear more about them as the Custer Gallatin National Forest continues with its forest plan revision, a multi-year process. Visit www.fs.usda.gov/main/custergallatin/ for more information on the Custer Gallatin National Forest or to get involved in the forest plan revision.

The Grizzly Loop

This trail got the nickname for a reason, however it shouldn’t deter you from recreating on it with the right equipment and education. Visit bscomt.org/bear-smart to learn more about being bear smart while recreating.

Trail Description:

From the trailhead, cross over a small fork of Porcupine Creek and pass an old cabin on the left side of the trail. Cross Porcupine Creek and travel parallel to the creek for a short distance until you begin to cross a hillside on an old dirt road directly above the creek. Just shy of 1 mile in, you’ll come to a trail intersection, which is the beginning of the loop. I took a right, crossing over Porcupine Creek again, and took a left at the next intersection. Here I climbed a short hill to a ridge that provided excellent views. I then descended down the other side of the ridge into a scenic meadow and crossed a small stream to a junction that has a wooden post marking 1.5 miles. At this point, I chose the shorter loop (3.4 miles) and continued to the left. If you would like to extend your hike, go right at this intersection for a 6.5-mile loop. After taking a left, I looped back around to the original intersection and continued the remaining 0.8 miles back to the trailhead.

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: 5 miles total

Difficulty: easy

Elevation: 6,404 feet

Elevation gain: 465 feet

Surface: natural surface

Uses: hike, run, bike or horse

Directions: Travel 2.7 miles past the stoplight near the Conoco on Highway 191. Immediately after you pass Lone Peak High School, you’ll see a brown trailhead sign, where you’ll turn left onto a dirt road. Cross over the river and continue approximately ½ of a mile to the trailhead.