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On the Trail: First Yellow Mule



By Ciara Wolfe BSCO Executive Director

First Yellow Mule is Big Sky’s off-the-beaten-path river walk. If you enjoy the Ousel Falls scenery but are looking for a more secluded hike with a little more difficulty, this is the trail for you. First Yellow Mule is one of the closest access points into the Custer Gallatin National Forest from Big Sky and leads to Buck’s Ridge Trail and Second Yellow Mule, both of which are longer and more difficult.

Starting from the Ousel Falls trailhead, this 4-mile out-and-back trail travels through rolling terrain along the South Fork of the West Fork of the Gallatin River.

From the Ousel Falls trailhead, you’ll walk .5 miles on a wide gravel trail until you hit the well-marked turnoff to First Yellow Mule. Stay to the left and you’ll climb a couple of short switchbacks and then meander along the west side of the river for over a mile.

Along the way, you’ll pass the top of Ousel Falls and travel past beautiful swimming holes. You’ll also pass under the impressive Big EZ vehicle bridge, and cross three smaller bridges. As you start to meander away from the river, you’ll begin a short climb ending at a road crossing.

Once you’ve crossed the road, the remaining .75 miles climbs steadily through switchbacks and straightaways and passes a large boulder field. At the intersection with Bucks Ridge Trail, you can return the same way you came for the shortest and least technical trail. Alternatively, you can continue up the Bucks Ridge Trail for an additional 5 miles to the top of the ridge, or turn your hike into a loop by descending Second Yellow Mule Trail.

Keep your eye out for the Ralph’s Pass Trail extension, which opened last summer. It connects First Yellow Mule to Ralph’s Pass, allowing bikers and runners to stay off the popular and heavily-used Ousel Falls Trail and continue directly onto an additional 3 miles of trail that ultimately tie into Uplands Trail near Town Center.

First Yellow Mule is one of the only trails in the area that allows horses, and it’s also a popular mountain biking trail. Please respect trail etiquette and other users by practicing proper right-of-way. Bikers yield to hikers and both bikers and hikers yield to horseback riders.

Visit for more information about Big Sky’s parks, trails and recreation programs. 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.

A version of this article was first published in the May 12, 2017, edition of EBS.

Trail stats

Distance: 4 miles out and back
Difficulty: difficult
Elevation gain: 575 feet
Surface: dirt
Uses: hike, run, bike and horse

Directions: From Town Center, head south on Ousel Falls Road. Continue for approximately 2 miles and turn left into the Ousel Falls trailhead parking lot.

Joseph T. O'Connor is the previous Editor-in-Chief for EBS newspaper and Mountain Outlaw magazine.

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