Pets allowed
Allowed
Elevation Gain
?
Trail type
Shuttle
Distance
14.40 mi (23.17 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

The Refrigerator Canyon Trail, or Trail 259, passes through a sheer and narrow limestone canyon en route to the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness. During hot summer months, this canyon stays cool thanks to the small stream and wind flowing through the canyon. The trail extends past the canyon and hooks onto other trails, providing numerous opportunities for longer shuttle hikes. The hike here is a 15-mile shuttle hike from Refrigerator Canyon to the Hunter’s Gulch Trailhead by Nelson, Montana.

The canyon itself is a quarter mile from the trailhead. After the canyon, you enter forest and switchback up the side of Sheep Mountain for great views of Hogback Mountain to the south. Trail 259 intersects with Trail 260 4 miles from the trailhead. Continuing on 259 leads up, over, and through wildfire remnants, open mountainside, grassy meadows, and lush forest.

After Bear Prairie the trail becomes frustratingly difficult to follow with numerous trails obscuring the correct path forward. A clear outfitting trail is evident roughly 50 yards below the piped spring in Bear Prairie. This unmarked path winds briefly through Hunters Gulch before crossing over to Keepout Gulch, where you follow the creek down until you meet Trail 252. Big Log Gulch itself approaches quickly and rolls almost endlessly in front of you. Trail 255 takes you out of Big Log Gulch and over to Hunters Gulch, where you can enjoy sights of the rocky Sawtooth Mountains.

The Gates of the Mountains Wilderness earns its namesake from Meriwether Lewis, who, upon leaving the golden plains and seeing its steep cliffs for the first time, commented, “From the singular appearance of this place I called it the gates of rocky mountains.” The Gates of the Mountains is famously known for the 1949 Mann Gulch Fire, chronicled in Norman MacLean’s book “Young Men and Fire." Evidence of recent fire is rampant along the trail, and it is not hard to imagine why. The area is typically clear of snow earlier than its neighboring mountain ranges, and water is scarce along the trail unless you can find its hidden springs along the way.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Spring
Summer
Fall

Congestion

Low

Parking Pass

Not Required

Pros

Scenic and diverse landscapes. Solitude.

Cons

Trail is sometimes hard to follow. Scarce water. Ticks.

Trailhead Elevation

4,514.00 ft (1,375.87 m)

Net Elevation Gain

1,800.00 ft (548.64 m)

Features

Backcountry camping
Mountaineering
Rock climbing
Bird watching
Wildlife
Big vistas
Wildflowers

Suitable for

Biking
Horseback

Location

Field Guide

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