Dog-Friendly Hikes: Montana

Dog-Friendly Hikes: Montana

Posted by Jen Sotolongo on 3rd October 2019

Montana is a true paradise for dogs, particularly in the northwest region with millions of acres of forestland where you and your pup can explore the various lakes, waterfalls, rivers, and viewpoints. The options are endless.

Much of the trails allow dogs off leash, however, as with anywhere, always practice good trail etiquette and have your leash handy. Also, remember that moose and bear sightings are common, so if your pup does not have good recall, that leash could save their life. Lastly, Montana is well known for its dramatic temperature changes. Layers are essential for outdoor adventures.

The hikes below are only a sample of the beautiful trails to explore with your dog in Montana.


Passage Falls - Custer Gallatin National Forest

Passage Falls is a popular 5-mile jaunt for those living in the Bozeman area, thanks to its ease and impressive waterfalls at the final destination. This path can be used year-round for dog sledding or nordic skiing.

For those wanting to continue on, a large network of trails will take you to the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. Just be sure to bring a map. Horses use the trail with frequency, so keep that in mind if you hike with a curious pup. Plan to go early or on a weekday to avoid crowds.

Ousel Falls Park Trail - Custer Gallatin National Forest

Ousel Falls packs a lot into the one-mile trek to the waterfall. The easy trail follows the Gallatin River and includes three bridge crossings in the alpine gorge. Once at the waterfall, hikers can choose from four different trails to view the waterfall from a different perspective.

Good for all abilities year round, Ousel offers wildflowers in the spring, beautiful colors and fewer tourists in the fall, and snowshoeing opportunities in the winter months.

Holland Lake and Falls - Flathead National Forest

For a year-round hike that includes a lake and waterfall, and is relatively off the radar, Holland Lake is the ideal trail. This popular trail is frequented by dogs, horses, and mountain bikes, so just be aware if you plan the hike on a summer weekend. Thanks to its popularity, the snow is packed down in the winter, making it quite accessible, even in the winter.


Glacier Lake - Beartooth Wilderness

This short, but steep hike attracts large crowds, and for good reason. The trail is very well maintained and leads to the stunning lake at the end. From the lake, you can easily extend the trip to nearby Little Glacier Lake and Emerald Lake, or if you’re feeling more ambitious, continue off-trail to Mountain Sheep and Mountain Goat Lakes. The road to the trailhead requires 4-wheel drive.

Bear Creek Overlook Trail - Bitterroot Mountains

A series of switchbacks take you up the steady climb to the Bear Creek Overlook, climbing some 1100 feet to one of the most spectacular views in the region with wildflowers during the spring. The overlook is quite exposed, so keep a leash on your pup. This is a popular hike, so plan for a weekday excursion.

Tip: Plan to arrive at the lookout for sunset and experience a magical evening. Just don’t forget the headlamp for the hike down.

Blue Lake Trail - Custer Gallatin National Forest

Hikers report an incredibly rewarding hike, despite the rough, rocky, and steep terrain leading to Blue Lake. The hike follows Big Timber Creek, includes a waterfall, and on the right day, you might be lucky to catch a rainbow over the lake. The hike ascends 1890 feet over 9 miles and there are plenty of camping opportunities near the lake.


Hyalite Peak - Custer Gallatin National Forest

Plan your visit during the right time, and you’ll find colorful wildflowers and roaring waterfalls on this 15-mile round trip hike. The Hyalite Basin is quite popular among hikers but pushing past Hyalite Lake will leave the crowds behind. Hyalite Peak is the highest mountain in the Basin and one of the most beautiful as well. Snow sticks around well into the summer months, so go prepared. Backcountry camping is plentiful and does not require a permit.

Beaten Path Trail - Beartooth Wilderness

This dog-friendly backpacking trip takes hikers through one of the most beautiful and unique spots in all of Montana. The Beartooth Plateau contains 25 peaks over 12,000 feet and 300 alpine lakes.

Logistics for hiking the entirety of the 26-mile Beaten Path require some creative car shuttling. Since the trailheads are three hours apart, the ideal set up would involve two different parties hiking in opposite directions that swap cars once finished.

Most choose to start from East Rosebud for the sweeping views of the valley below, despite the more difficult climb. Most can easily do the entire trail in three days, though you may want to plan for longer to enjoy the beauty of the area.

Black Canyon Lake - Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness

For a challenging hike with few people, Black Canyon is for you. Doable as a long day, or an overnighter, this 14-mile hike features a stunning turquoise lake. The first five miles of the trail are relatively easy and straightforward. At that point, you reach a boulder field with no real markings. Once you navigate the rock-hopping, the lake will appear. Plan extra time for the boulder field, as the stretch lasts about 2 miles. Be sure to bring boots for your pup if they have sensitive paws.

montana map

Jen Sotolongo is a writer and photographer and runs Long Haul Trekkers, a blog about independent, responsible travel with a pet. Over the past few years, she and her partner have taken their dogs around the globe including a cycle tour spanning across Europe and South America, proving that adventures can include your dog, no matter where in the world they may be.

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