Gallatin Canyon and the Big Sky / Greater Yellowstone region offer an overwhelming amount of hiking options to choose from. The variety is astounding, with routes reaching beautiful lake basins, rugged canyons, summits with soaring views, and dense stands of endless forests. Choosing your hike with all of these options can be a bit overwhelming, but if you’re looking for a standout that features some of the best features of the region, consider this challenging route to Beehive Basin, an alpine lake basin nestled into the base of the Spanish Peaks.
Generally, hikes that reach alpine environments like this require a tremendous amount of effort to even reach the trailhead. If you’re staying near or in Big Sky, the amount of effort required to reach the trailhead is nominal. The ability to poke your head above treeline is reward enough, but if you come during early summer, you’ll also travel through stunningly green canyons carpeted with brilliant wildflowers. A small lake awaits you at the end of the trail, and the views down canyon across Big Sky are excellent.
A few cautions apply to hiking this trail. First, the trail reaches elevations above 9,000′, which may induce symptoms of altitude sickness in some people. If you experience altitude sickness, turn back and begin descending immediately. Symptoms usually improve if you return to lower elevations. Second, this is bear country, and black and grizzly bears may be present. Don’t leave your food unattended. Carry bear spray, which is your best deterrent against an aggressive bear. Also consider hiking in groups, as the noise a group makes alerts a bear to the presence of hikers and gives its a chance to escape.
From the trailhead, head north along the trail as it passes along an easement through private property that soon reaches the boundary of Gallatin National Forest at 0.9 mile. The creek that drains Beehive Basin rumbles along below you on the left, and you will pass in and out of forest cover comprised mainly of fir, spruce, and whitebark pines that have suffered greatly under the onslaught of pine beetles.
At the 0.9 mark, you also begin a series of switchbacks that will bring you up and over the first of several moraines that you will encounter along the route. These moraines give the impression of a staircase where you gain some elevation and then flatten out for a bit before repeating the steps.
When the switchbacks end at the 1.4 mile mark, you’ll enjoy a prolonged section of easy, mostly flat walking that passes through copses of trees that break up grassy, sloping meadows descending down to the creek. The trail approaches the creek and follows it closely before resuming another lengthy climb that tops out at 2.4 mile for another flat stretch. Be sure to turn back from time to time to admire the view of Lone Mountain, a solitary peak whose flanks are striped with ski runs.
After wrapping around Peak 9081, the trail begins its final ascent into Beehive Basin. At 2.9 miles, the trail flattens out at the mouth of the basin, and from here it’s a lovely walk through expansive meadows dominated by the barren, heavily glaciated Spanish Peaks. You will reach the southern tip of a small, unnamed lake at 3.1 miles. At this point, seek out the most comfortable spot you can find to relax and enjoy your surroundings. This will be your turnaround point unless you wish to follow the trail a bit further north past the lake until it peters out at the base of the mountains.
The trail is well-traveled and easy to follow with few obstructions. Early season hikers are likely to encounter snow.
The closest campground is Red Cliff Campground south of Big Sky within Gallatin Canyon on US-191
From Bozeman, head south on US-191 for 33.9 miles (reckoned from Four Corners and the junctions with SR-85 and SR-84) to Lone Mountain Trail, and turn right toward the town of Big Sky. After 8.9 miles, turn right onto Summit View Drive. Continue for another 1.6 miles to Beehive Basin Road, and turn right. After 0.5 mile, keep left to stay on Beehive Basin Road. Soon after, you will reach the Beehive Basin Trailhead.