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On the Trail: South Fork Loop

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The author’s dog, Sammy, enjoying early autumn snow on South Fork Loop. PHOTO BY SARA MARINO


An ankle injury has had me seeking out shorter and easier trails, and I’ve found myself going back time and again to the South Fork Loop. My dog Sammy loves this trail in all seasons and is equally happy whether we ski the groomed trail in the winter, or mountain bike or walk in all other seasons.

This 1-mile forested loop provides tranquility and beauty close to Town Center. Don’t let its nearness to town fool you though, as bear, moose and elk sightings have all been reported. And bring your binoculars if birding is a hobby of yours.

Named after the South Fork of the West Fork of the Gallatin River, the trail provides your canine friends a chance to cool off and get a drink, as well as the soothing sounds of moving water to take your mind off the worries of the day.

It starts out as an old logging road with a wide dirt trail that climbs a gradual hill. About 1/4 of a mile in, you will reach a signed loop junction. I prefer to continue uphill, so I follow the trail straight at the junction. A couple hundred yards beyond the sign, the trail turns into a single track with a gradual downhill. This portion of the trail is entertaining and beautiful, with glimpses of the river and wetland meadow in the distance. At the bottom of the hill you’ll parallel the river before climbing a short distance back to the junction.

Visit for more information about Big Sky’s parks, trails and recreation programs. The Big Sky Community Organization engages and leads people to recreational and enrichment opportunities through thoughtful development of partnerships, programs and places.

Sara Marino is the community development manager for the Big Sky Community Organization.


Distance: 1-mile loop
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation gain: 150 feet
Surface: Dirt
Uses: Hike, trail run, bike and cross-country ski
Directions: The portion of Aspen Leaf Drive that bends around the Big Sky Events Arena to lead to the trailhead is currently closed to accommodate infrastructural installations per the Town Center Master Plan. Until it is re-opened, you can either access the trailhead on foot via a pedestrian path at the intersection of Pheasant Tail Lane and Simkins Drive through the sagebrush, or follow the detour from Streamside Way to Gray Drake Road if driving.

Once construction is complete, from Town Center, head east on Aspen Leaf Drive for 3/4 of a mile. You will see a small parking area with a trailhead on the right-hand side of the road immediately after a bridge.

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

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