Opt for Dry Trails

March 19, 2021

Ah, Mud Season. Folks, it’s that special time of year where every walk with your favorite furball results in a bath. Hey, we get it. The weather is warming up, ski season is coming to a close, and everyone is itching to get outside. But visiting muddy trails isn’t just bad for Fido’s freshly groomed coat or mucking up your hiking boots. It’s bad for the trails, too.

Hiking or biking along muddy paths is damaging to the trail’s surrounding resources. Gallatin Valley trails are designed to support drainage and recreating on them when the ground is soft and wet can impair drainage from occurring. This can lead to costly repairs and potentially prohibit the development of new trails in the future. Plus, if trails are deeply damaged in the early spring, they could stay rough and tracked up for the remainder of the year.

Ok, well, I’ll just go around the mud puddles. Problem solved? Not so much. If you’re hiking along a mostly dry trail and come to a mud puddle, your best bet is to go directly through the puddle. Tracking around wet sections of the trail, or creating “social trails,” is harmful to the surrounding wildflowers and grasses, and can aid in spreading noxious weeds.

We understand that it’s early spring, and everything seems to be thawing out, but there are some great paved, gravel, or sandy options in and around the Gallatin Valley. The Path to the M and Drinking Horse, and the paths on Huffine, College and Oak, are great springtime trails. Tuckerman Park Trail is a good gravel option, but don’t forget to pick up after your pet!

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 16 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 a awesome place to hike or bike up until mid-May when the road re-opens.

Here are some more recreation tips for enjoying the trails in early spring:

  • Hike 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 never a good thing, and 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.

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