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On the Trail: Ralph’s Pass

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Ralph’s Pass, which officially opens to the public June 15, will connect Ousel Falls and Uplands trails. Ten private
landowners donated easements in support of Big Sky’s newest trail. PHOTO BY CIARA WOLFE

By Ciara Wolfe BSCO Executive Director

Big Sky’s newest trail, a 2.7-mile intermediate dirt pathway connecting two of Big Sky’s most popular community trails, opens June 15. Ralph’s Pass, which runs between Ousel Falls and Uplands trails, provides an excellent experience for all users. Quality trail construction and design make for a delightful hike, run or bike ride through exceptional and diverse scenery. 

As the culmination of three years of work securing easements from 10 private landowners and garnering funding from multiple sources, Ralph’s Pass exemplifies Big Sky’s commitment to trails and the collaboration present in our community.

My Ralph’s Pass hike started at the Ousel Falls trailhead. I headed down the Ousel Falls trail for one-third of a mile and then took a left. From there, I followed the South Fork of the West Fork of the Gallatin River through a heavily forested area. Please leash your dog after you pass through the gates here onto private property. After passing through the gates, you’ll travel across some of the longest boardwalks in Big Sky, crossing wetlands and climbing up several switchbacks until you reach a gravel road that serves as a private driveway.

After crossing the road, you’ll climb a little more and continue through a wooded area with excellent views of a meadow below and the steep cliffs carved by the South Fork of the West Fork. After a short descent you’ll come to a road crossing. Cross the road and continue on your journey. In the remaining mile of this trail, you’ll meander through several small meadows and climb approximately 800 feet on three series of switchbacks. The switchbacks are designed to be user-friendly with wide corners and berms. Make sure to stop and enjoy the scenery on the third series of switchbacks; Lone Mountain, Pioneer Mountain and Beehive Basin are all visible from here.

At the end of this climb, you’ll reach a beautiful mountain meadow with abundant wildflowers and lots of wildlife signs. The end of Ralph’s Pass is marked by a gate located at the top of the Uplands Trail. Follow Uplands for a 1-mile descent to the Hummocks and Uplands trailhead.

Start from the Ousel Falls trailhead for a consistent 2.7-mile climb to Uplands followed by a steep 1-mile descent to the Uplands trailhead. I would recommend that trail runners and bikers traveling one-way start at Uplands trailhead for a quick climb and then pleasant gradual descent on Ralph’s Pass. You can also connect the two trailheads on Aspen Leaf Drive using the Ousel Falls Road trail to create a 7-mile loop on the community trail system from Town Center.

With abundant moose and elk tracks on the trail, and reports of bear sightings in this area, please be bear aware. Also note that the trail is only open from June 15- Oct. 14 each year to protect this sensitive environment during moose and elk calving season.

Please join our community Thursday, June 15, at 4 p.m. to celebrate this new trail with a grand opening at Ousel Falls trailhead. Later this summer, stay on the lookout for another extension to this trail system—Ralph’s Pass will expand by another third of a mile to connect straight into First Yellow Mule Trail.

For more information about Big Sky’s Parks, Trails and Recreation Programs visit The Big Sky Community Organization is a local non-profit that connects people to recreational opportunities by acquiring, promoting and preserving sustainable places and programs for all.

Trails Stats:

Distance: 4 miles one-way from Ousel Falls Trailhead to Uplands Trailhead.

Difficulty: Moderate

Elevation: 6,540 ft at Ousel Falls Trailhead and 6,285 at Uplands Trailhead

Surface: Dirt

Uses: Hike, Bike Run

Restrictions: Dogs must be on leash; open seasonally from June 15 – Oct. 14.

Directions: The Ousel Falls Trailhead is located2 miles south of Lone Mountain Trail off of Ousel Falls Road.  The Uplands trailhead is located near Town Center. Head east on Aspen Leaf Drive, cross a bridge over the river and continue up the road until you see the parking area and trailhead on the east side of the road.

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