The Trail Guide Project

The earth never tires;
The earth is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first—Nature is rude and incomprehensible at first;
Be not discouraged—keep on—there are divine things, well envelop'd;
I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell.

Walt Whitman, Song of the Open Road, Leaves of Grass

Jump down to: Introduction | About this Project | Safe and Responsible Hiking

Introduction to the Project

Back to Top

Welcome to the Trail Guide Project! Our hope is that these web pages will encourage you to put on your hiking boots and go out and explore the natural wonders of a variety of trails in the vicinity of Bozeman, Montana. Each of the trail guides provides a photo overview of the sites you will see on the trail, and we also provide more background information about the geologic history of the area (fossils, landforms, rock types, structures) with links and references to help you explore these topics in more detail if you have interest. It is our belief that your time on the trail will be more enjoyable if you know a bit more about the natural history of the area. Trail guides are available for these hikes:

  • Sacagawea Peak in the northern Bridger Range; this trail covers sedimentary rocks (Precambrian Lahood Formation; Cambrian to Mississippian limestones and shales (560-340 milliion years old) that contain abundant fossils, folded and faulted strata, and glacial to active landform processes;
  • Hyalite Lake and Hyalite Peak in the northern Gallatin Range; this trail covers the volcanic rocks of the Eocene (~50 million years old) Absaroka Volcanics, glacial to recent landforms, and a series of spectacular waterfalls; and
  • Bear Basin in the Spanish Peaks Area, northern Madison Range, which crosses the high-angle Spanish Peaks Fault which exposes Archean (older than 2.5 billion years) metamorphic gneisses and schists that originally formed at least 30 km (~18 miles) below the present surface!

About This Project

Back to Top

This project was done in a series of hikes by the "Sunday Hiking Club" in the fall of 2009 with geology majors from the Dept. of Earth Sciences, Montana State University: Thomas Beers, Josh Bent, Tyson Berndt, Travis Corthouts, Nathan Danz, Tom Isaacs, Thomas Rendle, and Professor of Geology, David Mogk. Students participated in all the hikes, and subsequently worked in small groups to produce these web pages. Review of these pages was done by Dept. of Earth Sciences faculty Drs. Steve Custer, Jim Schmitt, David Lageson, Bill Locke, and Todd Feeley; special thanks for the reviews and for permission to use images from their personal collections.

This project was developed as part of the On the Cutting Edge program for professional development of geoscience faculty, with funding from the National Science Foundation, Division of Undergraduate Education Course Curriculum and Laboratory Improvement program (grant EAR XX-XXXXX). These web pages were developed in anticipation of forthcoming Cutting Edge workshops on Teaching Geoscience with Service Learning and Teaching Geoscience in the Field. We hope that these web pages will serve as a national model for other groups to do service learning projects to promote field-based learning by developing similar trail guides in their own region.

This project was also done in cooperation with the Gallatin National Forest. Check out their website for more information about current forest conditions, fire and avalanche danger, maps and brochures, and other educational and recreational resources.

To read other contributions about this project, check out the Earth and Mind blog, with essays on Through a Lens Darkly and Then Face to Face which reflects on the transformative nature of photography, and Helping Parents Help Their Children to Discover Nature. Also, take a look at Robert Louv's Last Child in the Woods, Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder; there is important food for thought in this volume.

Safe and Responsible Hiking

Back to Top

Please remember that these trails will take you to pristine, high Alpine wilderness areas. These environments are very fragile, and potentially hazardous. Get out and enjoy the wonders that these trails reveal, but while you're out there, please remember:


  • Be prepared for changing weather: temperature, wind, precipitation; wear layered clothes and expect the worst.
  • Stay hydrated; make sure you have plenty of fluids, and carry a water pump or filter;
  • Stay fueled; take plenty of high energy food and snacks--you'll burn a lot of calories on these trails!
  • First aid kit; insect repellent; sunscreen (SPF 30 at least for high intensity UV protection); sunglasses
  • Maps (and possibly GPS unit); know your route!
  • Be "BEAR AWARE" and have bear spray at the ready!
  • Be extremely careful with campfires; carry a stove if possible.
  • Let someone know your plans for the day, when you expect to return.
  • Cell-phones: just because you have a cell phone doesn't mean that you'll be safe or able to get immediate help! Search and rescue is serious business--very dangerous and costly. Don't put others at risk!
  • Know your limits! Only you can determine if you'll have a safe and fun day in the field.


  • Don't cut switchbacks; this only increases erosion and doesn't save you time or energy.
  • Obey all trail closures and restrictions;
  • Leave no Trace (Center for Outdoor Ethics); plan ahead and prepare (to avoid high impact); camp on durable surfaces, dispose of waste properly, leave what you find for others to enjoy; minimize use of fire, respect wildlife, be considerate of others.
  • Pack it in, Pack it out (from Bureau of Land Management Environmental Education Homepage)
  • Share the Trail! Many trails have multiple users: hikers, trail runners, horseback riders, Nordic skiers, climbers, mountain bikers, and all terrain vehicles. Be safe and courteous.
  • Help maintain the trails! If you come across a trail obstruction take a few minutes and help clear the path for others to follow. Report hazards to the Forest Service. Plan to volunteer to help repair and maintain trails on National Trails Day. If you pass the trail crew or wilderness ranger on the trail, give them a big "Thank you" for making your trip possible.
  • Spread the word about low impact hiking and camping!
Enjoy your days on the trail, but remember, this is a resource that needs care and protection!

Learn About Invasive Species

As you drive or hike through Montana landscapes, be aware of invasive species that could be transported on cars, boot, boat, pack animals and pets. Learn more about wildness is the preservation of the world.-- Henry David Thoreau, Walking, 1862

      Next Page »