Be Outside Kind this Mud Season

March 17, 2023

While most of us grew up with the four basic seasons – spring, summer, fall, & winter – Montanans know that there is a fifth season. This season is known as “mud season” or “shoulder season,” when the ground becomes a sloppy, soupy mess. Nothing fills the GVLT Trails Team with anxiety quite like mud season, when our beloved local trails are the most vulnerable to costly damage.

“We budget $50,000.00 a year for trail maintenance including staff time,” says GVLT Trails Director Matt Parsons. “Those dollars are used to hire heavy machinery operators to retread the trails, clear drains, and remove ‘social trails’ that form when recreationists step off the trail to go around mud puddles. Last year, our volunteers clocked over 1000 hours in trail maintenance alone.”

GVLT isn’t the only organization pouring resources into mud season damage. Southwest Montana Mountain Biking Association and the US Forest Service, for example, also work to undo damage caused by trail users recreating on wet, muddy trails. Not only is the damage costly, it is also harmful to the native grasses and wildflowers that grow along the trails. The best way to manage trail damage during mud season is through prevention.

“We are really counting on everyone in the community to recreate responsibly and follow Outside Kind trail etiquette principles in early spring,” Matt said. “Being Outside Kind isn’t just about being kind and courteous to fellow trail users, landowners, and wildlife. It’s about being kind to the trails, too.”

You can Hike Kind or Ride Kind this mud season by sticking to paved trails, knowing trail conditions before you go, recreating in the morning before the ground thaws out, and turning around if you encounter a particularly muddy section of trail. If you have to use a muddy trail, commit to wading through the mud. Walk straight through the trail rather than hopping up on the shoulder or side of the path, which erodes the trail and kills sensitive vegetation. Paved trails are a great way to get outside and enjoy the changing season while minimizing your impact. Check out the Hiking Bozeman Forum on Facebook for the latest trail conditions and reports. Some things to consider are: What have temperatures been like? Is a hike out and back possible before the ground thaws? How trafficked is this trail?

The trails at Lewis and Clark Caverns, Buffalo Jump State Park, and Bear Trap Canyon along the Madison River are at a lower elevation and typically dry out earlier in the year. You have until April 21 to take advantage of Yellowstone’s closed roads, so grab your bike and spend a weekend cycling around our first National Park. Hyalite Canyon Road is set to close at the end of March, and that’s an awesome place to hike or bike up until mid-May when the road re-opens.

If you notice muddy trails or excessive dog waste in the springtime, let us know and we can spread the message to the public about stewarding trails and help you notify the trail’s managing organization. We trust the public to make informed decisions about where to play during shoulder season. Remember, take care of the trails now, and they will carry you all summer long.


  • Hiking on muddy trails causes costly and labor-heavy erosion.
  • Creating “Social Trails” can spread noxious weeds and kill wildflowers.
  • Hiking muddy trails can undo all of the hard work of trail ambassadors and volunteers.


  • Here are some more recreation tips for enjoying the trails in early spring:
  • Hike or bike on cool days or early mornings when the snow cover or soil is still firm.
  • Choose low elevation trails that are south facing or in the open because they will likely be drier.
  • Be prepared to change your outing if you encounter wet or muddy conditions at your first choice of trail. Check with other users as they are coming out.
  • Shortcutting switchbacks is even more damaging in the spring when vegetation is just beginning to grow. Stay on the trail.
  • If you encounter long stretches of wet or mud after you have started, turn around and wait to complete that trail on another day.
  • Allow trails to dry out after nourishing spring rains, these are good days for gravel or paved trails.
  • Choose a different trail if the parking lot is crowded. This is a good chance to try something new.
  • If your pet poops it, you scoop it!
  • Be prepared. Some trails have seasonal closures, check with managing agencies before heading out.


  • Path to the M and Drinking Horse from Story Mill Community Park
  • Highland Boulevard Pathway – Main St to Kagy Blvd, and around the hospital
  • College Street from 11thAve to Huffine connecting to Huffine Pathway from College Street to Cottonwood Rd.
  • Oak Street Pathway from Cottonwood Rd to Davis Lane
  • Oak Street Pathway from 7thAve to Wallace St
  • 19thAve from Oak St to East Valley Center
  • East Valley Center
  • Jack Rabbit Lane