Introducing the Montana Trail 406 

What do Colorado, Arizona, and Florida all have in common? Their own namesake trail. It’s about time Montana got its own.

A retired Air Force veteran, thru-hiker, and Great Falls resident named Marty “Race” Bannon is piloting the effort to establish one.

The Montana Trail 406 is a multi-sport route that connects myriad existing trails to weave a path through the Big Sky State. It begins at the northern terminus in Goat Haunt within Glacier National Park before winding south on the Continental Divide Trail toward Butte and the southwestern portion of the state. Turning northward, then east through Fort Benton, and finally Fort Union—the trail unites the disciplines of hiking, biking, paddling, and horsepacking while utilizing a network of preexisting trails, easements, and roads. 

The trail is 1,668 miles long, can be completed in sections or as one push over the course of a summer, and is broken down into 24 sections. One goal, according to Bannon, is to shorten that distance to 1,500 miles by finding land owners who may be willing to open up their property. The Conservation Reservation Program (CRP) is just one avenue in which Bannon hopes to pitch landowners on allowing minimal impact use of their property while opening up a path for travelers. By expediting the route, it opens up the possibilities for teachers, nurses, students, and others who could make one continuous push over one summer.

Montana Trail 406

You Can Only Get There From Here

When the Montana Trail 406 organization was looking for a mapping partner, they knew they needed an organization that could tackle the magnitude of this project. They didn’t have to look farther than onX. “They understand Montana,” says Bannon. With roots that run deep in this state, the project of building this route from soup to nuts was a job for the kind of knowledge only onX holds. With that in mind, the partnership began organically when Bannon’s right-hand man and resident Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) Manager “Glacier” Rob Ahl got in contact with fellow GIS aficionado and onX staffer, Phillip Davis. The Montana Trail 406 crew met with onX monthly over the course of one year. 

What took place was a process of transcribing handwritten notes while on the trail and files from GPS units. Bannon would go out and navigate a section of the route piece by piece to take notes for onX Backcountry’s Content Curator Andra Thaden. From there, she’d upload the files into a GIS program known as ArcGIS, allowing her to accurately portray distances, intersections, and landmarks. We are now the exclusive map provider of the Montana Trail 406. All 24 sections now live in the App with rich descriptions. What’s missing? Photos. If you’re looking to explore this astounding route through Montana, and help a few others do the same, the best thing you can do is email photos to montanatrail406@yahoo.com and trails@onxmaps.com. 

There’s More to Montana Than Glacier and Yellowstone

A key factor in the trail’s direction is to, yes, get folks to see the prettiest places, like the Continental Divide Trail, but also provide a route that shows them “the real Montana,” as Bannon puts it. Places like Great Falls are “the center of the state—blue collar. We want people to see those prairie communities,” Bannon comments. Towns like Geyser, Highwood, and Wolf Point continue to search for viable revenue streams, and the Montana Trail 406 can provide another tool in the toolbox. A hiker resupplying in town, grabbing dinner at a pub, and lodging at a hotel or campsite could contribute $100 per night to a municipality. 

Montana
Photo Credit: Michael Bourgault

For that reason, and more, Bannon and the Montana Trail 406 Association are hitting the road in the fall to bring the good word to the people of Montana. With the aim of educating the public on its existence, potential benefits, and some landowner diplomacy, they’ll be visiting many of these trail towns in the coming year. 

Get Out There

Montana Trail 406 Map
Photo Credit: Gracie Ryan

So you want to experience the Montana Trail 406 yourself? Look no further than onX Backcountry. All 24 sections are in the App just waiting to be discovered. Simply search MT Trail 406 followed by the section you’re looking for.

Your Gateway to the Montana Trail
Plan your resupplies, lodging, and destinations using onX Backcountry.
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Mitch Breton

Mitch Breton was raised on the shores of Maine's coastline chasing fresh snow, trout, grouse, and the best darn mosquito repellent money can buy. Covering topics from fly fishing, car camping, and beyond, he thrives on a story well-told.