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The Gallatin Range

Hyalite Reservior, Gallatin Mountain reflection
Hyalite Canyon is one of the many gems of the Gallatin Mountain Range

The Gallatin Range rises in as a mass of sharp peaks, craggy ridges, and expansive alpine plateaus, split by steep canyons, accented with snowdrifts, draped with verdant evergreen forests, and rich with creeks, and waterfalls. Douglas fir and aspen grace the lower elevations, along with scattered juniper and limber pine. In the higher elevations lodgepole pine, englemann spruce, and subalpine fir mix with rich mountain meadows. Near treelike, whitebark pines dominate the hillsides above 9,500 feet in the subalpine region you find alpine tundra and scattered groves of Subalpine Fir and Engelmann Spruce.

Because of the Gallatin’s embarrassment of riches it is a major playground of Bozeman Montana’s 12,000 students of Montana State University as well as most of the residents there not to mention all who live and play in Paradise Valley, Big Sky, and West Yellowstone. Oh yeah, and the tens of thousands that come to play here from elsewhere. The range itself has outstanding hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, camping and mountaineering. All the streams have stellar native trout fishing, and the Yellowstone and Gallatin Rivers are destination fly-fisheries and whitewater destinations.

The Gallatin Ranges' Electric Peak reflects in Swan Lake in northwest Yellowstone
The Gallatin Ranges' Electric Peak reflects in Swan Lake in northwest Yellowstone

If its hunting you are after this is elk central, success rates areas high as 33% conservatively, there are about 3000 elk taken out of here every fall a whole lot of nice bulls come out of these areas. Generally speaking, the closer you are to Yellowstone and the migration routes to winter range the more weather-dependent the hunting becomes. When winter storms drive the elk out of Yellowstone Park the hunting in these areas can be fabulous, although they contain good numbers of resident elk even prior to the migrations. If I were forced to restrict my elk hunting to one Montana region, this would be it. Many fine Mule Deer trophies have come out of these mountains also.

The Yellowstone River flows north on the eastern flank of the range. The Madison Range parallels the Gallatin Mountains to the west. The northern end of the range is near Livingston; Montana, and Bozeman Pass separate these Mountains from the Bridger Mountains to the north.

The range includes more than ten mountains over 10,000 feet which makes the area popular with mountaineers. The highest peak in the range is Electric Peak at 10,969 feet which towers over Swan Flats in Northwest Yellowstone. It range extends 75 miles north to south and averages 20 miles in width. The southernmost peaks of the range are in the northwestern section of Yellowstone National Park, however, most the range is in Gallatin National Forest. From the towering Hyalite peaks south of Bozeman to the Madison Valley of West Yellowstone, the Gallatin Range forms the spine of an unbroken, 525,000-acre roadless area teeming with native fish and wildlife.

Whitewater Rafting on the Gallatin River outside of Big Sky Montana
Whitewater Rafting on the Gallatin River outside of Big Sky Montana

The Gallatin Crest Trail, also commonly referred to, as the Devil’s Backbone is one of the finest mountaintop trails in the nation, offers a challenging route from Hyalite Canyon to the Yellowstone border. The Devil's Backbone is a gorgeous trail that offers superb views of the Gallatin and Paradise Valleys. The trail is well marked with cairns or obvious tread in most places, but some navigational skills are necessary in other places. Water availability is the most common problem as there is none along the trail except at Crater Lake. During the early summer seasonal snow banks abound, but in mid-July to mid-August water must be obtained from creeks and lakes located in adjacent drainages.

The Gallatin Range is critical habitat for grizzly bears and all Greater Yellowstone species, including mountain goat, mountain lion, mule deer elk, bighorn sheep, and wolves and is a valuable corner of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Speaking of Grizzly Bears the north end of the range is home to Casy Anderson’s Montana Grizzly Encounter and Brutus the Grizzly, stars of many Nat Geo specials on Grizzlies and Yellowstone.

The 25,980-acre Gallatin Petrified Forest is close to and within Yellowstone’s northwestern corner. Thirty million-year-old stumps buried by Eocene lava flows, still anchored and upright atop these wild ridges are a sight to be seen.

The crest of the range gets an average of 300 inches of snow per year. This snowpack feeds clean, cold mountain streams, lakes, wetlands, and lush vegetation the headwaters of some of our regions best rivers. West flowing streams such as Buffalo Horn, Porcupine, and Moose Creeks drain into the Gallatin and Madison River Valleys. East drainage Streams include Tom Miner, Rock, and Big Creek drain into the Yellowstone the Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley. All a part of greater Yellowstone’s world-famous native fisheries.

Human history goes back at least eleven thousand years in the Gallatins. Native Americans hunted bighorn sheep and elk and to harvest obsidian and chert for making stone tools. The Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery traveled just north of the Gallatin Range when Clark led a return party over Bozeman Pass in 1806 on their return from Oregon. Fur trappers explored most corners of the range during the heyday of the mountain men. The Gallatin Range was named after Albert Gallatin, the longest-serving US Secretary of the Treasury and one of the negotiators of the Alaska Boundary Treaty.

Fly-fisherman trying his luck on the Gallatin River

Fly-fisherman enjoying a fall day on the Gibbone River beneth the Gallatin Range

Fly-fisherman trying his luck on the Gallatin River
Fly-fisherman enjoying a fall day on the Gibbone River beneth the Gallatin Range
Silken-Skein Falls in Hyalite Canyon Bozeman Montana
Arch Falls, Hyalite Canyon
Silken-Skein Falls in Hyalite Canyon
A black wolf prowls the Gallatin Range looking for a meal Trail riding and pack trips are popular activities in the Gallatin Range
A black wolf prowls the Gallatin Range looking for a meal
Trail riding and pack trips are popular activities in the Gallatin Range
A Grizzly crossing a road in the east Gallatins in Yellowstone Park Can you hear me now? Both elk and bison are abundant in the gallatin range.
A Grizzly crossing a road in the east Gallatins in Yellowstone Park
Can you hear me now? Both elk and bison are abundant in the range.
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