According to Outside Magazine, Montana has 1,788 miles of mountain bike trails. The state is very passionate about its trail network and works hard to make mountain biking accessible for locals and tourists alike. In my personal experiences, the trails are well maintained, well-ridden, and generously shared.
The mountain bike community in Montana is thriving with plenty of local race series, local pros, a high school league, and people willing to show you the ropes around every corner. Montana’s trails have always made me pause to appreciate how incredible our landscapes are and how big and endless the opportunities are that are lingering around each corner.
1.Warm Springs Trail Systems – A Little MTB Experience Required
The Warm Springs Trail System offers 47 miles of trails that will best challenge intermediate, advanced and expert riders. Beginner riders might be a little over their heads in this area of the state, but they should let these amazing trails be motivation to improve and hone their skills. The trails are known for singletrack challenges rewarded with beautiful views.
Warm Springs Ridge: Warm Springs Ridge is touted as one of the best trails in the area. It is 15 miles long and has almost 2,000 feet of climbing and over 5,000 feet of descending. It is generally well maintained and cared for but can become overgrown during the quieter seasons. Expect to ride through big meadows and heavily forested areas where you can dodge some trees.
Divide: The Divide trail is a 32 mile backcountry trail with 8,000 feet of climbing and descending. This trail can be accessed from the Warm Springs Trail System but also travels down into the State Line- Divide trail network. It is rare that this entire trail would be ridden in one attempt. Most people will complete an out and back or various loops that extend off of the main trail.
Warm Springs Creek: This 5 mile trail is one of very few blue trails in this area. It would be a great choice for someone who is hesitant about testing their grit. The trail picks up directly from one of the parking areas. The trail is primarily singletrack with a few rocky areas, and as the trail suggests, a couple of creek crossings.
Pro Tip: Even if you have ridden these trails before, always make sure that you can stop within your sight range. Backcountry trails have varying conditions and getting clothes-lined by a downed tree is never worth it.
Where is the Warm Springs Trail System:
Warm Springs Trail System is located in Sula, Montana, which is about 80 miles South of Missoula. There are 3 distinct parking areas that allow for easy access to different sides of the trail system. If you wish to camp, the best camping areas are located by the Warm Springs Creek parking area and just across the highway from the Warm Springs Ridge parking area. Some of the camping areas have toilets and potable water available which is nice if you are planning a multi-day trip to these trails.
Bike Shops Supporting Warm Springs Trail System:
These are backcountry trails and should only be ridden by athletes with experience in the saddle and problem solving on the go. To help prove that point, there are no local bike shops in the area. The closest shop is over 30 minutes away and if they are closed you will likely need to drive to Missoula for your service.
Red Barn Bicycles: Located in Hamilton, Montana and open Tuesday-Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm or 6 pm. Their website is currently down so you might try to give them a call if you are planning to stop by. (406) 363-2662
2. The Rattlesnake Trail System – Fast and Flowy MTB
The Rattlesnake trail system is Missoula’s most popular trail system. Most of the trails are fast, flowy and smooth but can still cater to every skill level looking to spend a fun day on the trails. There are 75 different trails, featuring about 50 miles to explore. The majority of the trails are blue and green with a few black trails to challenge the more daring riders.
Short Fenceline: Short Fenceline is an easier ride in the Rattlesnake trail system. It is a 5 mile loop featuring 1000 feet of elevation gain, mountain and meadow views, as well as smooth and flowy trails. The trail is very close to town and easily accessible for a quick ride after work.
Three Larches: Three Larches is more on the technical side but is still great for an intermediate rider. It is considered one of the best trails at the Rattlesnake Trail System probably because it is fast and flowy up top with some more technical features and even a few drops as you near the bottom. The trail is only about 2 miles with 800 vertical feet of descending.
Snowbowl Overlook: This trail is labeled as a black diamond because it can be a very difficult climbing trail. The trail can be ridden in either direction, however, it is often ridden uphill in order to access Spring Gulch. It is a 2 mile climb with just under 700 feet of climbing. Most of the trail is gradual, but a few steep sections greater than 20% gradient are sure to challenge even the fittest riders.
Pro Tip: These trails can become very busy on the weekends. In order to ensure that everyone has the best experience possible, remember that the rule of thumb is that the uphill rider has the right of way on singletrack trails. Always obey all trail rules and closures.
Where is the Rattlesnake Trail System:
The Rattlesnake Trail System is located in Missoula, Montana. If you have never been to Missoula before then make sure to save some time for before or after to check out the town. I love the little downtown area with a coffee shop on every corner, lots of craft and art fairs, and delicious restaurants to pick from.
When you arrive at the Rattlesnake Trailhead there are multiple parking areas to choose from and a few restrooms to help you get kitted up and ready to tackle the trails!
Bike Shops Supporting the Rattlesnake Trail System:
Since the Rattlesnake Trail System is so close to downtown there are more than a dozen bike shops to choose from. Here are a few samples that are all less than 10 miles from the trails.
- The Bicycle Hanger: Open Monday-Saturday 10 am- 6pm for service, repairs, and rentals. https://www.bicycle-hangar.com/
- Hellgate Cyclery: Open Monday-Friday from 10 am- 6pm and Saturday from 10 am-3 pm. https://www.hellgatecyclery.com/
- Big Sky Bikes: Advertised as Missoula’s premiere bike shop. They are open from 10 am – 6 pm Monday- Saturday. https://www.bigskybike.com/
3. Big Sky Resort – Downhill MTB Playground
The Big Sky Resort is the area’s only lift-accessed mountain bike park. They offer over 40 miles of downhill bike trails fed by three different lifts. Advanced and expert riders can take the Swift Current lift toward the most challenging trails, intermediate riders can board the Thunder Wolf, and beginners can start out on the Explorer lift. The resort also offers youth camps and downhill coaching.
Soul Hole: This 1.4 mile trail with 1,200 feet of descending is a black diamond trail to really test your skills on. The trail features berms, drops, jumps, rock gardens, intermixed with steep and flowy sections. While the trail is extremely challenging, none of the features are mandatory and can be avoided if you find yourself hesitant.
Cairn’s Way: This trail is marked as blue which would indicate an easier rating; however, beginners should be wary. The trail is still very loose, steep with some jumps and drops.
Easy Rider: This 2 mile trail with 665 feet of descending is considered the easiest trail at the resort and is the perfect starting point for any first timers checking out the downhill park. The trail is smooth and wide but has some good berms and mellow gradients so that you can gain speed and have fun!
Pro Tip: If you are a beginner rider then consider using flat pedals. This will allow you to have a better feeling of the trail and to learn how to execute skills with the proper form instead of ‘cheating’ by using clipless pedals.
Where is the Big Sky Resort:
Big Sky Resort is located in Big Sky, Montana. The lifts are open from 9 am- 4:45 pm from June 9th to September 22 if weather permits. Pass prices are to be determined when the season comes so you will need to keep an eye on the website for when they release prices. Once you have purchased your pass you can pick it up at the Mountain Village Plaza.
Bike Shops Support Big Sky Resort:
If you are looking to rent equipment then you can do it on site at the resort at Different Spokes Bike Shop located in the Snowcrest building. A full enduro set up including pads, helmet, bike, and insurance for one day on the mountain runs for $127 during the regular season. If you are looking for bike service or repairs though, then you can visit Grizzly Outfitters.
Grizzly Outfitters: Just a quick 11 minute drive from the resort, Grizzly Outfitters is open from 8 am-6 pm Monday-Saturday during the summer. They offer rentals and repairs with reasonable prices. https://www.grizzlyoutfitters.com/
4. South Hills – Miles of Mountain Bike Trails
The South Hills trail system has 179 different trails with about 80 miles of trails. The massive trail system allows featured routes ranging from 4 to 40 miles or you can make your own route as short or as long as your legs will carry you. The trails are designed to cater to every type of rider in the area from a first timer to a professional athlete.
The trailheads for this system are easily accessible and are scattered throughout neighborhoods and the downtown area. This system is spread out across four different ridges that are separated by gulches. Some of those ridges are so spectacular that they are featured separately below (see #7 Mt. Helena Ridge).
With so many trails it is difficult to truly feature just three in this section, but the following trails are designed to give you just a little taste of what is out there.
- Dump Out Trail: Dump Out Trail is the rockiest trail in this system. It is primarily limestone bedrock. The large amount of rock on this trail is not only a great challenge for riders, but it also drains snow quickly and can usually be ridden early in the mountain bike season.
- Eagle Scout Trail: The Eagle Scout Trail can be ridden in both directions, but allows for a mellower climb due to numerous switchbacks. It is a green trail so it can be navigated by a beginner, but at high speeds an expert will have fun as well.
- Entertainment Trail: The Entertainment Trail is primarily ridden in the downhill direction. The trail is steep, fast and straight. There are a couple of off-camber turns that can catch you off guard amongst an otherwise straight shot of a trail.
Pro Tip: Since there are so many options of trails in this area, come to the trail network with a plan ahead of time. You will get the most bang for your buck that way and won’t waste time standing at trail junctions debating what to ride.
Where is the South Hills Trail Network:
The South Hills trail system is located in Helena, Montana. The trails are overly accessible, with multiple parking locations right off of local streets and neighborhoods.
Before riding at the South Hills Trail Network, download the Trailforks App in order to see all of the parking locations. The app for this area in particular is extremely up to date and outlines parking areas, no parking areas, drop off areas, trail signs, bathrooms, technical features, lookout points, and even gates.
A unique feature specific to this system is that Trailforks even features a rental property located in the middle of the trail system. The house sleeps up to 10 people and is available to rent on VRBO.com.
5. Bike Shops Support South Hill Trail Network:
The Garage: Located less than 10 minutes away from the above featured trailhead. This shop is open Monday-Saturday from 10 am – 5 or 6 pm. https://thegarage.bike/
Big Sky Cycling and Fitness: This shop offers repairs and workshops. They are open Monday-Saturday from 10 am – 5 or 6 pm and are also less than 10 minutes away from the featured trailhead. https://bigskybikes.com/
6. Bangtail Divide
The Bangtail Divide is an IMBA Epic Trail located in Bozeman, Montana. It can be ridden as an out and back trail or can be shuttled if you have more than one person and vehicle. It is one of the most famous rides in Bozeman and is best ridden from South to North. It is about 20 miles of riding with over 4000 feet of climbing. The hard work is greatly rewarded with incredible views and fun trails.
Singletracks.com estimates that intermediate riders should be able to conquer this trail in 4.5 hours or less, but beginners may have to walk and take over 6 hours to finish it. Make sure that you start early enough to be able to make it back to your vehicle before dark.
Pro Tip: Since this is such a long trail, you will need to pack food for your journey. If you are unsure of how much food you will need, then start by counting out 200 calories per hour and adjust from there.
7. Beardance Trail
The Beardance Trail is located in Kalispell, Montana. It can a difficult and long ride if you choose to ride from the start. The trail starts out on challenging terrain and will undulate between a 5-20% grade throughout much of the climb.
This ride can also be completed as a shuttle and only feature 6.5 miles with just under 3,000 feet of vertical descent. The descent was rated the 5th best mountain bike trail in Montana, so you don’t want to miss this one if you are looking for the best that Montana has to offer. The trail has a little bit of everything with singletrack, rock obstacles, and man-made features.
8. Mt. Helena Ridge
Mt. Helena Ridge is located in Helena, Montana and is a part of the South Hill Trail Network. This trail demonstrates just how bike friendly Montana tries to be! You can challenge your fitness by riding up a rocky trail to make it to the Mt. Helena Ridge Trail or you can take the free community shuttle. The shuttle picks up at Women’s Mural and runs Wednesday-Sunday from May-September.
Once you are out on the trail you will see remarkable views of Helena Valley below. This is the center piece of Helena’s trail system and if you are new to the area is the perfect place to see what type of riding Montana’s capital has to offer. Depending on how you decide to experience this trail, it will between 5-11 miles of riding.
Pro Tip: If you decide to take the shuttle consider donating $10 to the Trail Rider Program or just bring a few bucks to tip your driver because we want mountain bikers to be the coolest and nicest people out there. Here is a link to the shuttle website: https://www.bikehelena.com/trail-rider/
9. Line Creek Plateau
Line Creek Plateau is a 16 mile point to point trail located in at the southern boarder of Montana in Red Lodge. You will park at Line Creek Plateau Trailhead off of Beartooth Highway. You will need another car or someone to pick you up on East Side road when you are finished. The trail has 1,415 feet of vertical climbing and 5, 335 feet of vertical descending. The trail begins with some climbing and gradual descending and about halfway across the plateau you will descend about 3500 vertical feet in 4 miles!
Pro Tip: Lightening is very common in this area so be prepared and plan your timing correctly. Download the WeatherBug App. It gives you frequent lightening updates and the distance to the closest lightning strike. If the closest lightning strike is within 10 miles then you should be seeking safety.
10. Chief Joseph Pass Area Trails – MTB on The Continental Divide
The Chief Joseph Pass Area Trails are located in Wisdom, Montana. There are 42 trails, and about 80 miles of trail to ride and explore. The trails range from forest road to beautiful singletrack and the Continental Divide even traces the edge of these trails. There are multiple parking areas along the trails so that you can access different parts of the system with ease.
Pro Tip: This is a great trail network to complete interval workouts on. There are a lot of fireroads connecting the trails so that you can easily complete your intervals on a sustained fireroad surface and then jump into trails for warm up, cool down, or recovery in between.
11. Whitefish Mountain Resort
The Whitefish Mountain Resort is located in Whitefish, Montana. The resort has 40 trails, 23 miles of downhill trails, 9 miles of cross country trails, and about 2,350 vertical feet of descent from the top of the lift. The downhill trails offer 2 easier trails for beginners, 16 difficult trails for intermediate riders, and 4 trails for expert riders. Whitefish Resort is known for its laidback attitude and flowy trails.
Pro Tip: Even when you are riding mostly downhill you are still sweating and expending water and electrolytes. Hydration is key. Carry your bottle with you as you ride up the lift so that you remember to drink throughout the day.
12. Thompson Park
The Thompson Park trail system is a great system for beginner and intermediate riders that still want to see all of what the mountains have the offer. This system is located in Butte, Montana and has 16 trails, many loop or out and back options, difficult climbs, switchbacks, granite, and sand.
Pro Tip: When you are riding through sand be very loose on the bike. Allow the bike to flow where it wants to go. The more you try to fight to keep one specific line the more likely you are to crash or stall out.
13. Marshall Mountain – Collegiate Mountain Bike Championship
Marshall Mountain is located in Missoula, Montana. These are the trails that I have been privileged to ride the most in Montana. Marshall Mountain has been home to the collegiate mountain bike national championship and is currently home to a UCI Pro XCT event and a local race series. It is best to climb up the fireroads and descend the singletrack trails. Some of the singletrack trails have jumps and drops so keep your eye out before sending it off of the drop.
Pro Tip: There is limited cell service so come prepared and know where you are planning to ride. Many of the trails are not marked.
14. Alpine #7 Mountain Biking Trail
Alpine #7 Mountain Bike Trail is located in Columbia Falls, Montana and when ridden start to end is 55 miles long. There are multiple places to access the trail along the route so you can ride the trail in segments as well. Many of the access points will require a good climb up to the trail so come prepared for a hard workout. The trail begins at Junction Columbia Mountain Trail #51 and ends at Inspiration Point. This is classic high alpine riding and the entire trail is a black diamond route.
You can find more about Alpine #7 at the USDA Forest Service Website – https://www.fs.usda.gov/activity/flathead/recreation/bicycling
Where to Find Alpine #7 Mountain Bike Trails
The Alpine #7 MTB trail is located inside the Flathead National Forest. Always contact park staff whenever planning a journey like Alpine #7.
15. Curly Lake Highline Trail – MTB to Over 10K Feet
This is one of the few opportunities to ride up above treeline in Montana. The trail begins at around 5,800 feet and climbs up and over 10,000 feet where the trees disappear. The views are outstanding, but don’t look for too long because the trails are gnarly and unforgiving with the primary feature being large and demanding rock gardens.
This trail is located in Pony, Montana in the Tobacco Roots region. The trail is a point to point mission and is best completed with a shuttle.
Pro Tip: This trail is at extreme altitudes. You may notice that you become fatigued more quickly or have difficulty breathing. Focus on keeping your effort consistent and avoid sprinting or sharp explosive efforts.
16. Emerald Trail
Emerald Lake Trail is an out and back trail with a total distance of 10 miles. Located in Bozeman, Montana the trail begins at Fs 3163 road and climbs up nearly 2,000 feet to Emerald Lake. Many people like to pack a lunch and enjoy a day at the lake before descending that same route on the way back home. The trail is rocky, rooty, and has multiple switchbacks that allow riders to climb at more manageable gradient while navigating challenging tight turns on the descent. This trail system is on a time share plan and riders will need to check schedules online for when mountain bikes are allowed. https://www.outsidebozeman.com/planning/reports-conditions/trail-time-share
17. Madison Range – MTB Bliss
The Madison Range is located in Big Sky, Montana. It has 33 trails that range from intermediate to black diamond difficulty level. This mountain biking is true backcountry bliss. These trails are known as some of the wildest and toughest rides in Montana and can be bumpy and technical. These trails are designed for the rider who wants to get away from the world and be one with nature.
Pro Tip: Grizzly bears are fairly common in this area so consider bringing a small can of bear spray or riding with a bear bell. Check out SABRE Frontiersman (Link to AMAZON for great price)
18. Pipestone Mountain Bike Trail
Pipestone trail area is located east of Butte and west of Whitehall. There are 63 trails and most of them are designed for beginner or intermediate riders. It is the perfect place to get started on a mountain bike and learn the basics. Additionally, these trails are open almost year round and are likely to be some of the only dry trails in late fall or early spring.
Pro Tip: Make sure you are running tubeless tires with fresh sealant because there are quite a few prickly pear cacti surrounding this area.
Clubs and Groups Supporting Mountain Biking in Montana:
Montana is a very large state and therefore requires a lot of hands to keep the land healthy and serving mountain bikers from all over the World. Here are just a few of the groups that we owe a big thank you to:
- Montana Mountain Bike Alliance: The goal of this group is to promote, preserve, and protect the mountain biking opportunities in public lands. They achieve this through education, communication, and unified action. http://www.montanamountainbikealliance.com/
- Montana Bicycle Guild: This non-profit organization is based out of Helena, Montana. They work to build, maintain, and advocate for new and existing trails in the area. In addition, they run the Montana Enduro Series.
- Southwest Montana Mountain Bike Association: This trail group works to help build and maintain both new and surviving trails. They also raise money to support high risk trails and areas.
Bike Parks in Montana:
Sometimes the best way to learn skills on the bike are in areas separate from the trails. Luckily, Montana has a few designated locations to help build confidence on the bike.
Syringa and Bellevue Bike Parks: These parks are located in Missoula, Montana. They offer pump tracks which help mountain bikers perfect their abilities to carry momentum on the bike and corner with speed and confidence. https://www.ci.missoula.mt.us/2274/Bike-Skills-Parks
Vigilante Bike Park: This park is located in Helena, Montana and has a variety of skills features for riders of all skills levels. They also offer a pump track and have sections that can accommodate kids and striders. https://www.bikehelena.com/vigilante-bike-park/
Montana is a very large state with a relatively low population. That means that there is a lot of wide-open land to be explored and developed. The entire state has worked well together to form an area that is a mountain biker’s dream come true. No matter which corner of the state you find yourself in, there are sure to be trails calling your name.