Sypes Canyon

June in Montana is still too early for hiking without snow-shoes above a certain elevation, so we settled on a popular Bozeman-area hike for our Saturday family excursion. Like many of the short trails around Bozeman, this four-mile out-and-back through Sypes Canyon is (unfortunately) a dual purpose trail. Mountain bikers abound—none of whom seem aware of their responsibility to give hikers right-of-way—and the trail displays all the erosive indications of “pedalphilia.” And yet the bikers, though irritating, barely register next to the steady stream of trail joggers periodically punctuating our morning saunter with shouts of “Excuse-me-can-I-just-get-by-you-thanks!” or, worse, the oblivious dog owners who permit their slobbering beasts to indulge in gratuitous and extremely non-consensual sniffs at our crotches while feebly muttering “It’s-OK-he’s-just-friendly.” Whatever the virtues of Sypes Canyon, solitude and quiet contemplation are not among them.

As a rule, I usually avoid trails that are either easily accessible from urban centers or that provide scenic rewards for less than four miles of effort. They always attract too many people and Sypes Canyon falls into both categories. From trailhead to overlook, the Sypes Canyon Trail ascends a paltry two miles and so it was, predictably, one of the most crowded trails I have ever hiked, easily rivaling the notorious first mile of New York’s Breakneck Ridge. If Butte is the town of aging opioid-addicted Wobblies and Missoula that of man-bunned gluten-free hippies, Bozeman is populated by the kind of people one suspects take their membership at REI very seriously. At times, the procession of brand new gear on display (by human and canine alike) led me to wonder if we had accidentally stumbled into some kind of immersive photo shoot for outdoor casual wear. Because of its extreme popularity, the trail is heavily worn—compacted 10 feet wide in places!—and frequently pocked with hitchhiking dandelions.

Larkspur is abundant in the Spring.

But enough of my complaining. If you can resign yourself to the crowds, the trail does offer a beautiful array of wildflowers, particularly Low Larkspur (Delphinium bicolor) at this time of year and Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata). The scenic lookout, moreover, provides wonderful views of Bozeman across the Gallatin Valley and out to the Madison, Gallatin, and Tobacco Root ranges beyond. (When we were there, the view was slightly diminished by two young men blaring a radio while practicing their boxing moves and a dog that nearly ran off with my daughter’s lunch.) As the trail connects with the Bridger Foothills National Recreation Trail, there are many options for those interested in a longer outing.

Unfortunately, the origin of the name “Sypes” eludes me. I would suppose that the canyon takes its name from a family that may have lived in the area, but a cursory search produces nothing obvious. A Sypes family seems to have been involved with gold mining in Atlantic City, Wyoming and perhaps some of their relations settled in Montana, but this is just speculation. Moreover, no one by the name Sypes is listed in Bozeman’s White Pages, though there are a number of “Sipes” in Bozeman and throughout the state. As Sipes is itself an anglicization of the German surname Seip, it might simply be a case of the spelling evolving over time.

Sagebrush rebellion.


0.0 miles: Begin at the Sypes Canyon Trailhead, walking past the sign along a grassy fenced corridor.

0.5 miles: Reach the top of a ridge before descending into the canyon.

1.0 miles: Curve right along the edge of the national forest boundary.

2.0 miles: Scenic lookout. Turn-around point.

4.0 miles: Return to the trailhead.

Trailhead GPS: 45°44’42.8″N 111°00’28.6″W
Elevation gain: 1,000 feet
Distance: 4 miles out-and-back
Maps: U.S.G.S. Bozeman, Kelly Creek; U.S.F.S. Custer Gallatin National Forest Forest

Ⓐ Hiked by the author, June 2, 2018

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