Hiking Storm Castle Peak Trail in the Gallatin Range of Montana
Location: Gallatin Canyon – Storm Castle Peak
Trailhead: Storm Castle Trailhead (19.0 miles north of Big Sky)
Type: Out and Back
Distance: 4.76 miles round trip (5 miles according to trail sign)
Time: 3 hours round trip
Elevation Storm Castle Trailhead: 5400 ft
Elevation Storm Castle Peak: 7280 ft
Vertical Gain: 1900 ft
The Storm Castle Peak Trail steeply climbs to the top of Storm Castle Peak. The trail takes you through the forests and meadows of the Gallatin Range. This out and back trail covers 5 miles and 1900 vertical feet. At the top, you will reach an elevation of roughly 7280 feet with fantastic 360-degree views in every direction. This day hike can easily be completed in about 3 hours.
Located in the Gallatin Canyon, the Storm Castle Trailhead is a good starting point for many hikes – including the Gallatin Riverside Trail. The trailhead is located 17.2 miles north of Big Sky, just past Beckman Flats. Soon after passing the 35 MPH bridge on 191, Storm Castle appears like an impenetrable limestone fortress on the east side of the Gallatin River – you may recognize it from the final scene of “A River Runs Through It”. Cross a bridge over the Gallatin River, then turn right onto a well maintained dirt road. After 1.8 miles, the Storm Castle Trailhead is located on the left – on the southern flanks of Storm Castle Mountain. There is usually plenty of parking.
From the trailhead, you can hear the water of Squaw Creek and can eye the start of the Gallatin Riverside Trail. The information sign warns of bears and wildlife study areas. Just to the right of the sign, the Storm Castle Peak Trail begins. The Storm Castle Peak trail meanders through peaceful forests, steep, brush covered hillsides, and lovely meadows.
It also immediately starts to gain elevation. During the ascent, the Storm Castle Peak Trail always goes uphill – expect more than a few switchbacks. It can be a real calf-burner. Combine this with the sunny, southerly aspect and you’ll want to make sure you bring enough water. There is nowhere to fill up on the hike and only a few places to escape into the shade. Squaw Creek is a refreshing treat for the dog when you get back to the car.
As you gain elevation, the views constantly improve. The trail is looked after and it’s easy to follow. The final approach to the top of Storm Castle Peak is a series of switchbacks. Be sure to stay on the most obvious trail to avoid causing more erosion to this steep terrain. After the switchbacks, the Storm Castle Peak Trail takes you through a shady, north facing forest and delivers you to the limestone bluffs that are abundantly obvious from far below. The rocky features offer wonderful places to sit and enjoy the views, but be careful as they drop off steeply.
With a bit of simple scrambling, you can explore the rocky terrain. One famous feature is the arch – a hole through the limestone with views overlooking Squaw Creek and the Gallatin Range.
A camera is a must to capture the views looking east into Squaw Creek, west up Hellroaring Basin and the Madison Range, south toward Garnet Mountain and the refreshing waters of Gallatin River, and north toward Bozeman.
After soaking in the sun and enjoying the views, it’s easy to return to your car by following the same trail you hiked up. The warm weather, steep climb, and southerly aspect make the Storm Castle Peak Trail a great option for Spring and Fall. It’s also a nice hike in the early morning during the Summer before the temperature rises. There are rumors of this area being a hotspot for ticks, so check out yourself and your dog. Hit it right and you’ll be in for a treat of wildflowers in the Spring or aspen leaves changing colors in the Fall. The Storm Castle Peak Trail is a fantastic place to get in shape. It offers easy-access, unrelenting vertical gain in a quick out and back package.
Overall the Storm Castle Peak Trail is highly recommended.
Here are some additional photos from the Storm Castle Peak Trail:
One thing to note about the Storm Castle Peak Trail… While researching this day hike, there seems to be some discrepancy over the vertical gain and elevation. Both my Suunto Core Watch and the GAIA GPS measured the vertical as roughly 1900 feet – leaving the trailhead at 5450′ and reaching the top at 7280′. Most topo maps do not officially list the elevation of Storm Castle Peak, but the summit is above the 7240 contour line. One map specifically claims the summit is at 2184 meters or 7165 feet. Many guidebooks say the top is at 7160′ and climbs a total of 2300′. As it seems that exact figures are hard to determine, the numbers in this post are from the day that I hiked the Storm Castle Peak trail.