Trail Finder: M Trail, Bozeman, Mont.
The College “M” hike is Bozeman’s quintessential “must do” hike, popular with visitors and locals alike. This hike offers incredible 360º views of the Gallatin Valley and surrounding mountain ranges, is accessible year-round, and is off-leash dog friendly… the perfect Bozeman combination!
Trail Name: College “M” Trail
Trailhead: Head north from Bozeman on Rouse Ave, which will turn into Bridger Canyon Drive shortly after the freeway underpass. Follow Bridger Canyon Drive for roughly three miles. The College “M” Trailhead parking area will be on your left, just before you enter the canyon.
Trail type: Short loop/out and back or longer point to point – there is something for everyone!
Distance: 2.4+ miles
Description: From the parking lot there are two directions: “easy” and “steep,” which both bring you to the iconic letter “M” that overlooks the Gallatin Valley. The M is accessible to most hikers who are ok with a little bit of elevation gain – roughly 750 ft.
Both directions climb the hillside through open fields of native wildflowers, and the “easy” side occasionally tucks into a quiet pine forest. The “Easy” side is nicely graded for walking, while the “Steep” side is more scrambly and requires significantly more fitness.
For those wanting more adventure, this trail system has a lot to offer! Scramble up to the top of the ridge for even better views and more hiking opportunities (summit Baldy Peak, or continue down the ridge for an epic 18 mile point to point Ridge Traverse!) or connect over to the Bridger Foothills trails to extend your hike over to Sypes Canyon.
Best Oboz selection for the hike: In the winter I like to wear my Bridger Mids with a burly pair of microspikes, as the packed down snow can get pretty slick. In the warmer months, my go-to pair is the Sawtooth Low, which has excellent traction for gripping the “steep” side but is still light and comfortable in hot weather.
Best time to Go: Being one of the most popular hikes in Bozeman, the “M” can get pretty crowded! Thus, to avoid the crowds, my favorite times to go are weekday mornings. I love to see how the valley changes with the seasons, but if I had to pick one time to visit, it would be an early morning in June.
What to Pack: The “M” is a fairly exposed, south facing trail. Many people underestimate the intensity of the summer sun and become dehydrated. Bring plenty of water!
Level of Difficulty: Moderate. Reaching the M requires an elevation gain of ~750ft. The “easy” side is nicely graded, while the “steep” side is a little more spicy.
Trail Highlights: This trail is short and sweet, so make sure to savor the view on the way up in addition to the top! If you have energy left over when you reach the “M”, make the push to the top of the ridge… it’s worth it!
Refuel: Head out the same way you came in, but go right at the first stoplight and take the next available right to end up at MAP Brewing, which has an excellent selection of craft beer, pub snack appetizers, and Bridger Range views.
Alyssa Hitchcock is an outdoor enthusiast excited about all forms of human powered recreation. She has thru hiked the John Muir Trail, spent two years traveling the American West in a DIY School Bus conversion and recently settled down in Bozeman, Montana where she volunteers with Gallatin County Search and Rescue, and Western Montana Search Dogs.