Forming a picturesque backdrop for Emerald and Heather Lakes in Montana’s Gallatin Range, Overlook Mountain is both an appealing destination of its own and the easiest way to access its higher neighbor, Mount Chisholm. Set near the eastern edge of the range, the mountain’s summit views encompass the breadth of the northern Gallatins, and those views are especially nice in the morning. Views also include the Montana Absorakas (sometimes called the Western Beartooths), the Madison Range, the Bridger Range, and the Gallatins south into Yellowstone National Park. On a very clear day, views can extend 75 miles or more.
Climbing Overlook Mountain is an undertaking of about 6.5 miles, 5.5 of it on a good trail, with Class 2 and 3 terrain, plus the possibility of moderate snow, between the trail’s end and the summit. Total elevation gain is about 3400’, with 2300’ gained via the trail.
From the East Fork Trailhead in Hyalite Canyon, the trail starts at about 6900’ and climbs to Emerald Lake (8900’) in 4.5 miles. The trail then skirts the western end of the lake and climbs another mile (really a little less) to 9200’ Heather Lake, which is just about at timberline. The trail between the lakes is often covered partially or totally by snow, and when the snow is gone, the area is very soggy; try to stay on the trail or on the snow in order to protect the fragile meadows up here. Wildflowers are usually spectacular in this area (as is the persistence of the mosquitoes around all this water and bog).
From Heather Lake, study the mountain and decide on a course that looks good. There is no one way. The easier terrain is to the right of the summit, and going too far to the left will put you beneath cliffs you likely can’t or won’t climb without the protection of a rope. Because snow lingers in the basin and on the slopes well into July most years, it is a good idea to have an ice axe.
The USGS Fridley Peak quad shows the peak and all of the trail.
Mount Chisholm is about half a mile to the east, and climbing it and reclimbing Overlook on your return route adds close to 1000’ of elevation gain to your day. People comfortable with Class 4 terrain can avoid reclimbing one of the peaks by using a steep couloir on Chisholm; please see the Chisholm page for details on that route.
From Main Street in Bozeman, take South 19th for 7 miles to the signed road for Hyalite Canyon. 11.5 miles up the canyon, shortly after the road passes Hyalite Reservoir and becomes unpaved, a signed junction indicates that you go left to access Emerald and Heather Lakes. Follow this road, which is rocky and rutted in places but passable to most cars, for 2 miles to the trailhead.
Be aware that the trail is a mixed-use one. It is open to hikers and horses every day of the week, but, from July 16 through September 4, it is open to mountain bikes Tuesday through Saturday and to motorbikes Wednesday through Saturday. Be alert, and do not assume that everyone heeds the restrictions; most do, but not all. From September 5 through July 15, the trail is open to hikers, horses, mountain bikers, and skiers every day.
There are several developed campgrounds in Hyalite Canyon, and the closest to the trailhead is Chisholm (2 miles away); sites for it and some of the other area campgrounds can be reserved at recreation.gov. If you don't have a reservation, get out here early on Saturdays and holiday weekends. There are also two rustic cabins nearby, Window Rock (closer) and Maxey, that can be rented through recreation.gov. Dispersed camping is widely available. No permit is required for backcountry camping.