Top Mud Season Tips and Trail Alternatives

It’s that time of year again—when the weather can change by the hour. Early spring brings “mud season,” when the ground becomes a sloppy, soupy mess, and trail conditions can be described as “variable” at best. 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 a year for trail maintenance,” says GVLT Trails Director Matt Parsons. “Those dollars are used to hire heavy machinery operators to retread the trails, clear drains, and remediate ‘trail creep.’”

Trail creep occurs when users walk or ride outside of the trail tread, widening the surface. Wider trails hold more water, making the problem worse.

Last year, our volunteers clocked over 1,300 hours in trail maintenance alone, and GVLT isn’t the only organization pouring resources into mud season damage. Southwest Montana Mountain Biking Association (SWMMBA) and the U.S. Forest Service, for example, also work to undo damage caused by trail users recreating on wet, muddy trails. Not only is the damage costly, but 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’re 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.”

Remember, if we can take care of the trails now, they will carry us all summer long!

3 Great Reasons to Avoid Muddy Trails

  1. Hiking on muddy trails requires costly and labor-intensive repairs.
  2. “Trail creep” can spread noxious weeds and kill wildflowers.
  3. Hiking on muddy trails can undo all the hard work of Trail Ambassadors and volunteers.

10 Tips to Hike and Ride Kind

  1. Know the trail conditions before you go.
  2. Hike or bike on cool days or early mornings when the snow cover or soil is still firm.
  3. Choose low-elevation trails that are south-facing or in the open because they will likely be drier.
  4. 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 leaving.
  5. Shortcutting switchbacks is even more damaging in the spring when vegetation is just beginning to grow. It also creates new channels for water to drain over steep slopes, creating more erosion. Stay on the trail.
  6. If you encounter long stretches of wet or mud after you have started, turn around and wait to complete that trail on another day.
  7. If you have to use a muddy section of 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 damages sensitive vegetation.
  8. Allow trails to dry out after nourishing spring rains. These are good days for gravel or paved trails.
  9. If your pet poops it, you scoop it! Dog poop left on the ground can run off into our waterways and have a significant impact on water quality.
  10. Ask yourself: What have temperatures been like? Is a hike out and back possible before the ground thaws? How trafficked is this trail?

Mud Season Trail Recommendations

Wondering which trails are best to use during mud season? Check out the following suggestions:

If you want to stay close to home:

Take advantage of the gravel trails and paved pathways within the Main Street to the Mountains network:

  • Paved path to the M and Drinking Horse from Story Mill Community Park
  • Highland Boulevard Pathway – Main Street to Kagy Boulevard, and around Bozeman Health
  • College Street from 11th Avenue to Huffine connecting to Huffine Pathway from College Street to Cottonwood Road
  • Oak Street Pathway from Cottonwood Road to Davis Lane (loop around Flanders Mill subdivision)
  • Oak Street Pathway from 7th Avenue to Wallace Street
  • Valley Center Paved Pathway
  • Jackrabbit Lane Pave Pathway

If you want to venture out:

The trails at Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park, 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. Check conditions before you commit (see resources below).

If you want to take advantage of seasonal road closures:

You have until April 19 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 also set to close on April 1, providing an awesome place to hike or bike until May 15 when the road re-opens.

Trail Conditions Resources