How to Find Your New Favorite Trail
Four easy tips to help you expand your hiking horizons
On the face of it, finding a hiking trail isn’t that hard. We’re in Montana, after all, and there are trails heading up just about every mountain and along every creek. In the rare places where there’s no trail to be found - much of southeastern Montana, for example - we don’t sweat the lack of guidance, we just set off on our own.
What can make finding a great hiking hard, though, is the size of Montana and the sheer number of trails and places that we have to choose from. Even if you stick close to your backyard, the options can be overwhelming. There are often dozens, if not hundreds, of trails within a short drive, and it’s sometimes easier to just keep going back to the places you know.
That’s not a bad thing, but if you’re ever feeling ready to expand your horizons, we’ve got four tips to help you find your new favorite trail, whatever you’re looking for and wherever you are.
Narrow Things Down
When it comes to choosing a favorite trail, we all have different criteria.
Are you the type who likes 30-mile alpine epics, or are you more of a creekside stroller? Do you prefer gently rolling terrain, or do you scoff at anything with less than 7,000 feet of elevation gain? Mountains, prairies, forests, or badlands? Want to stop along the way for some fishing? The options are endless.
The only way to search Montana hikes according to these criteria (and a whole mess more) is HikeWildMontana.org, the state’s only online hiking guide! It features more than 300 of Montana’s best trails from Eureka to Ekalaka, and lets you narrow things down so you only see hikes that fit your favorite criteria. You can search by area, landscape, available campsites, and trail surface. Better yet, you can fine-tune your search to include trails that visit lakes and waterfalls, hit summits, go over mountain passes, have famous views, or visit areas of cultural importance. You can even filter trails by season, so you’ll always hit the trail at the right time.
If research isn’t your thing, you can also find new trails by listening to the Trail of the Week podcast!
Once a week, a new 60-second mini-episode will highlight the scenery, wildlife, and natural features of a new trail somewhere in Montana. The episodes are short, but they’re an easy and fun way to get inspired to go explore a new place. They’ll also cover trails all across Montana, so Trail of the Week is a great resource if you live somewhere that isn’t a traditional hotspot for outdoor recreation.
If you want to receive updates every time a new episode drops, you can sign up for Trail of the Week text message alerts right here.
Trail of the Week will also be broadcast on radio stations across the state, so be sure to keep an ear tuned to your favorite station when you’re in the car. You can find a list of all the stations on the Trail of the Week page.
Stick Your Nose in a Book
Hiking guidebooks have a long and storied history. Some of legendary naturalist John Muir’s early essays in Picturesque California lay out basic gear lists, routes, distances, and campsites for trips into the High Sierra.
Guides have evolved since then, but they’re still an excellent resource for planning a trip to a new place (or just reading for fun). One of our favorites is 100 Classic Hikes: Montana by Doug Lorain, which covers many of Montana’s lesser-known hikes from Glacier National Park to the eastern prairies.
If you’re looking to top out Montana’s best summits, we’d also recommend Peakbagging Montana: A Guide to Montana’s Major Peaks by Helena trail-master (and MWA GIS volunteer-extraordinaire) Cedron Jones. Peakbagging has detailed route descriptions, maps, and photos of 53 of Montana’s most spectacular summits, if standing on windswept peaks and enjoying spectacular views are what you’re looking for.
At the end of the day, don’t forget why we love hiking in the first place. We get to see new places, enjoy fresh experiences, and refresh our souls with solitude, the “hush of the land” as it was called by legendary outfitter and conservationist “Hobnail” Tom Edwards.
If you want to get out on a new trail, just pick one and go! Visit somewhere you’ve never been, explore a new creek, bag a new summit, wander through a new coulee. What’s new to you now might well become a favorite, but there’s only one way to find out for sure - get out there and see for yourself.
- Alex Blackmer, MWA communications coordinator