The Gallatin Range stretches all the way from Western Montana in a southerly direction towards Wyoming. More than half the range lies in Gallatin National Forest, and its southern regions are encompassed by the north-western quarter of Yellowstone National Park.
The Gallatin Range has a striking effect on the landscape with its combination of sharply rising peaks and craggy ridges. Surrounded by expansive alpine plateaus and steep, dividing canyons, the range is clothed with forests and abundant with creeks and waterfalls.
It contains over ten mountains with elevations past the 10,000 feet mark, and the highest peak is in Northwest Yellowstone. The entire length of the range extends 75 miles north to south with an average breadth of 20 miles.
The Gallatin Range equals 500,000 acres of unbroken natural mountain environment flanked to the east by the Yellowstone River. It has featured historically in the region in that Native Americans used the mountains for hunting long before the arrival of Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery just to the north.
Certainly, fur trappers would also have explored most corners of the range during their heyday, and the mountain range’s moniker was awarded by Lewis and Clark after a long-serving treasury secretary named Albert Gallatin.
A unique feature of the Gallatin Range lies in the fact that it helps make up the north-western part of the Absaroka-Gallatin volcanic field, which contains various features of volcanic-related origin. The volcanic activity left behind the Petrified Forest, complete with petrified trees that occurred due to the flow of lava and ash somewhere in the region of 50 million years ago.
The southern section of the Gallatin’s lies inside Yellowstone National Park, and as such is protected as a kind of wilderness area, although never formally designated as such. There are three large areas devoid of roads within this region, namely the Gallatin Divide Roadless Area, the Gallatin Fringe Roadless Area, and the Hyalite Roadless Area.
These three together make up the core of the 200,000 acres-plus of potential wilderness. More than 150,000 acres of that have been under the protection of the Hyalite-Porcupine-Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area since 1977.
Gallatin Range Mountains Stats
- Approximately 525,000 acres
- Highest Peak—10,969 feet (Electric Peak)
- Accessible year-round
Recreation in the Gallatin Range
As you would imagine the recreation in and around the range is outstanding in terms of hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, camping, and mountaineering. All the streams are really good spots for some decent native trout fishing, and the Yellowstone and Gallatin Rivers are top-destination fly-fisheries and notable white-water locations.
On top of that this entire region is almost synonymous with elk, so if you are interested in hunting you will find high success rates. The closer you are to Yellowstone the more weather-dependent the hunting becomes, as winter storms drive the elk out of Yellowstone Park the hunting in these areas goes up a notch or two.
The Gallatin River originates in the Gallatin Range and finds its way to Yellowstone National Park, then Big Sky and Bozeman. This is one of the most picturesque rivers in Montana and offers ease of access all along. Anglers in the Gallatin are consistently presented with opportunities for different trout varieties from early spring through late fall.
If you fancy some lake fishing head on up to the Hyalite Canyon Road to fish Bozeman’s Hyalite Reservoir. It is only a short drive from town, but nevertheless, the man-made lake is still tucked away nicely in the high Gallatin Mountains.
Great fly fishing opportunities exist for those both wading and float angling on the lake. The lake has a continuous presence of trout and grayling. The fish come out of the lake in decent sizes, and this lake is also a year-round option.
Hiking and Fishing–Golden Trout Lakes Trail
The Gallatin Range is an ideal spot for real men who believe hiking to the lake of their choice before taking up their rod is the way to salvation. Quite a few trails to lakes are favored in this region by anglers who make the best of both worlds.
This trail is a 5-mile out and back hike that leads up to a stunning alpine lake. The Golden Trout Lakes Trail (Trail #89) is located up Portal Creek in the Gallatin Canyon, and it features a few small ponds as it weaves through spruce and pine. You’ll pass the Hidden Lakes Trail Cut-off Trail along this route.
If you take this trail for 1.8 miles you can connect to the Hidden Lakes Trail. You keep left for Golden Trout Lakes Trail, climbing steadily uphill for another 1.6 miles before passing a large meadow. You’ll come to another steep stretch before it levels off for the final approach to the lake.
The trail ends at Golden Trout Lakes on the northern slopes of Eaglehead Mountain, which is close to 10,000 feet in elevation. The Golden Trout Lake is actually just one of 3 lakes in the area. A couple of several well-established campgrounds exist along the shores of the lakes, and from here it is a relatively short adventure to get to the other lakes.
The Gallatin National Forest regions contain plenty of campgrounds with unique and scenic surroundings. Some of the campgrounds, like Colter and Eagle Creek, are located near Yellowstone Park. You’ll find a lot of camping closer to Bozeman, Big Sky, and Gallatin canyon like the two examples:
Battle Ridge Campground is on the east side of the Bridger Mountains near Bozeman and has 13 sites. There are no real amenities here by way of water or toilets but the site is free.
Fairy Lake Campground is also in the Bridger Mountains of Bozeman and has 9 sites on a first-come, first-served basis. Again there are no amenities to speak of but these campgrounds fill up quickly during weekends and other peak times. This site does have a toilet and available water between July and September.
The Gallatin Range is a grizzly bear stomping ground, so keep an eye out for them along with a few other forms of native wildlife like mountain goats, mountain lions, mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep, and a few wolves here and there. You could spot bison, moose, antelope, and black bears around so always be on the lookout.
Grizzly bears also feature at the north end of the range with Casey Anderson’s Montana Grizzly Encounter.
Hiking Trails in the Gallatin Range
The Gallatin Crest Trail
This trail is also referred to as the Devil’s Backbone and is considered one of the best mountain top trails there is. This is a challenging route from Hyalite Canyon to the Yellowstone border on a route that features impressive views of the Gallatin and Paradise Valleys.
The trail is well marked but may require more than basic navigational skills in some stretches.
Sepulcher Mountain Trail
This is a 10-mile hike or more with various elevations according to the exact route. The region of this trail is the Northern Gallatins, which sees quite a bit of hiking and mountaineering activity as it is close to the major population center of Bozeman.
It is accessible by some good trails, and winter access to the trailheads around here is also possible by snowmobile, though not usually beyond them.
The Hidden Lakes Trail
The 8 mountain lakes called the Hidden Lakes up in the Gallatin Range are located about 6.0 miles up Portal Creek. Portal Creek is located just over 5 miles to the north of the Big Sky turn-off on HWY 191. The Portal Creek Road is FS Road #984 and heads east from the 191 into the Gallatin Range.
Go right at the forks until you see a well-marked fork in the road at 3.8 miles and then veer right for Hidden Lakes. The Hidden Lakes Trailhead is 6.0 miles from 191 and is located at approximately 8185 feet.
The trail starts out with slow but sure gains in elevation over the first mile or so until you come to a fork—the left fork takes you to Golden Trout Lakes and the right takes you to the Hidden Lakes. The route has varied winding terrains and elevation and is generally moderate.
Some hikers might have one or two lakes in mind while others may stubbornly look to get around the entire eight. If you decide to take your time with this trail there are plentiful scatterings of campgrounds near each lake if not throughout the entire region.
The second lake sits at elevations of around 9,000 feet and you’ll find a few more well-established campsites around here. The official “Hidden Lake” is the highest of all of them and is marked on the map. It sits in an alpine cirque and some of the ridges allow for some great views of the Gallatin Range.
This spot is about 3 miles from the trailhead and is a beautiful destination that for many people is the main reason for doing the route. This whole area is great for fishing, swimming, camping, and relaxing in the woods.