Climbing 700 feet from Bridger Creek through to the summit of Drinking Horse Mountain, the figure-eight loop trail offers scenic vistas in the Bozeman area and surrounding mountain ranges.
The dream of building the Drinking Horse Mountain Trail began in 2001 when the White family generously donated a 40-acre parcel of land including the top of the mountain to the USFWS. The Gallatin Valley Land Trust (GVLT), a local non-profit, partnered with the U.S. Forest Service and the USFWS to create the trail.
Over the course of 8 years, GVLT spearheaded efforts to design, permit, fund, and construct the trail, including a unique bridge crossing Bridger Creek below the mountain. The trail was opened to the public in September 2008 and the bridge was completed in 2009, thanks to the tremendous support and generosity of many local businesses, private donors, and volunteers from the Bozeman area who contributed over $220,000 of cash and in-kind donations.
Open to the public for only a little over a year, the trail is quickly becoming one of the most popular trails in the Gallatin Valley thanks to its location within a five minute drive of downtown Bozeman, its easy access and the high quality experience it provides in a conveniently moderate distance. From willows and cottonwoods along Bridger Creek, to rocky outcrops, evergreen forest, and wildflower-decorated hillsides, the Drinking Horse Mountain Trail offers great variety in a 2.2 mile figure-eight loop.
The variety of vegetation provides a great opportunity for wildlife viewing, bird and the study of nature. The figure-eight trail design has a steep route for those who desire more intense aerobic exercise and an easier path for those who seek a leisurely stroll. Dogs often bring their best human friends for some exercise and are pleased to find two dog sanitation stations for their convenience and plenty of cold water to drink in Bridger Creek.
Two information kiosks are located along the trail to provide etiquette information and maps to help orient new users to the trail. Eight memorial benches and one picnic table made from recycled plastic are located along the trail and offer a well deserved respite with spectacular views of the Gallatin Valley, Bridger Canyon, and surrounding mountain ranges.
Visitors enjoy Bridger Creek from the new Kevin Mundy Memorial Bridge, 0.2 miles from the trailhead. All of the design, engineering, abutments, and many of the materials for this unique covered bridge were donated by local businesses. The bridge was built on site by local craftsmen, from Montana timber that was milled in the Gallatin Valley.
Most of the cash funding for the bridge was raised by Mountain Sky Guest Ranch and friends and family of Kevin Mundy, a Bozeman native who died in 2005 at the age of 26. This cash funding was supplemented with many thousands of dollars of in-kind donations from local businesses. The covered bridge is designed with bench seating for visitors to enjoy Bridger Creek’s sights and sounds, and to provide an outdoor classroom for the Montana Outdoor Science School (MOSS).
MOSS programs promote awareness and appreciation of the natural world and serve over 8,000 children and adults every year from their headquarters at the USFWS Bozeman Fish Technology Center. The bridge and an adjacent nature trail loop are accessible for persons with disabilities, and future plans include several parking spaces near the bridge for disabled users.
The Drinking Horse Mountain Trail provides an alternative destination to the popular and often crowded “Foothills” and “M” trails which are administered by the U.S. Forest Service and located directly across Bridger Canyon Road. Parking at the trailhead for these trails often overflows onto the road and one of the goals of creating the Drinking Horse Mountain Trail was to spread out this heavy use.
An effort is now underway to build a paved bike/pedestrian path along Bridger Drive to provide a safe way for bicyclists and pedestrians to reach these two very popular trailheads. Our community’s long term dream is to have a trail that connects Bozeman’s Main Street to the Bridger Mountains to the north and the Gallatin Range to the south.
Known as the “Main Street to the Mountains” trail system, Bozeman’s existing network of urban trails recently exceeded 50 miles and now reaches to within just over a mile of the Drinking Horse Mountain trailhead. Designation of the Drinking Horse Mountain Trail as a National Recreational Trail will help lay the groundwork to achieve the “Main Street to the Mountains” vision.
This new bridge on the Drinking Horse Mountain Trail recently received an Honor Award for design excellence from the Montana Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA Montana), and has also been selected by the Bozeman Beautification Board for a Beautification Award. Locally designed and built by Intrinsik Architecture and Archweld Design and Fabrication, the bridge has become as much of a destination as the summit of Drinking Horse Mountain thanks to a unique design that has achieved the multiple goals of creating a gathering place, a memorial, a classroom for the Montana Outdoor Science School and a beautiful setting for experiencing nature as well as providing a key link on a hugely popular new trail.
“The bridge is a moving memorial to a young person whose life was tragically cut short, and it is more than that,” said Gallatin Valley Land Trust Executive Director Stephen Johnson whose organization envisioned the Drinking Horse Mountain Trail and played the lead role in its creation.
“It is a symbol of a community that aspires to greatness and transcendence, that loves beauty in the built and natural world, and that cares about neighbors and future generations. We can’t help but be inspired by this investment in our community and our quality of life.”
The 11-ton, 50-foot long bridge represents an investment of approximately $140,000 by over 150 donors including friends and family of Kevin Mundy, the Mountain Sky Guest Ranch where Mundy worked for a number of years and 14 local businesses.
The AIA Montana honor award was recently announced at the organization’s annual state conference at Montana State University in Bozeman. 2009 Design Award winners were selected from thirty nine entries were received from Montana architects and anonymously judged by an invited peer group from the Sun Valley region. Three Honor Awards and three Merit Awards were presented.
From Main Street in downtown Bozeman, head north on North Rouse Avenue (State Route 86), 4.1 miles to the signed Bozeman Fish Technology Center access road on the right. The trailhead parking lot is to the left (north) of the access road approximately 200 feet east of the access road junction with Bridger Canyon Road. The trail begins on the south side of the access road directly across from the parking area.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 4050 Bridger Canyon Road, Bozeman, Montana, 59715 Phone number: (406)587-9265 - Fax number: (406) 586-5942 Website address: bozemanfishtech.fws.gov