Yet another adventure we enjoyed during our visit to Montana a few years back was the climb to the “Big M”. A large letter “M” was created on a mountain side in Bozeman, MT in 1915 by Montana State University students. The “M” is 250 feet in size and is created entirely of white rock.
It is located just outside of the city of Bozeman, on the south side of Baldy Mountain overlooking the Gallatin Valley. The “M” stands rather obviously for Montana State University and is quite visible from the nearby highway. In fact, that’s how we happened upon it.
Spending much of our time exploring the Montana countryside, we found ourselves driving by the M numerous times. In our travels, we could see tiny people on what seemed to be a trail near the large letter. Our curiosity finally got the better of us and we were determined to locate the trailhead. We finally found it at Route 86 in Bridger Canyon, near Bozeman. Being a beautiful spring day, we decided that we, too, had to make the climb.
There are two routes up to the “M”. Luckily we happened on the easier of the two routes as our children were quite inexperienced in climbing at the time. In fact, I believe this was actually the first climb they made with us. The right fork leading to the M is steep and follows the ridge of the mountain, while the left fork is a kinder, gentler mile and a half ascent, via numerous switch backs. Both lead up to the M and the beautiful views and lovely picnic area on the top. The M sits about 6,000 feet high from the trailhead, which is at about 5,000 feet. Benches are also located periodically on the leisurely left hand trail for hikers to rest and enjoy the view.
While summer and fall are the most popular times to make the climb, winter can making the hiking more difficult, but also more interesting, as long as climbers take proper winter hiking precautions. And our spring climb, in sunny 60-70 degree temperatures, was absolutely delightful and just what the doctor ordered after driving many miles in the car and a long winter indoors. Summer climbers are advised to being water, a hat and sturdy shoes.
For us, accidentally happening upon the “Big M” was a wonderful surprise adventure. It was a climb and a view that were certainly worth the effort and was a wonderful respite on a delightful day!
Read more about Montana camping and things to do in Montana.