The Gibson Reservoir area provides ample opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, and hiking the Sun Canyon Trail is a great way to see some of the beauty of this area of Montana. This easy trail offers pretty views of the mountains and reservoir the whole way as it winds along the water. Whether you’re looking for a day hike or want to backpack further into the Rocky Mountain Front, the Sun Canyon Trail is a hike you shouldn’t miss!
Getting to the Sun Canyon Trailhead
The Sun Canyon trailhead sits on the east end of Gibson Reservoir just inside the Rocky Mountain Front. The nearest town is Augusta just over 25 miles away.
From Augusta, head west towards the Rocky Mountain Front down Sun Canyon Road. A portion of this road is gravel, but it is well-maintained. The way in is quite pretty as you enter the mountains and drive along the river. Follow Sun Canyon Road all the way until you reach a bridge crossing the river below the dam. Head right across the bridge on Mortimer Gulch Road which will lead to a fairly large parking area.
At the parking lot there are restrooms, a boat ramp, dock, and some informational signs. The Sun Canyon Trail begins at the west end of the parking lot (right if you’re facing the lake).
Fees & Regulations
The Sun Canyon Trail is located within Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest. There are no fees to park and hike here. Extra fees may apply for camping at the nearby campgrounds.
Pets are permitted. Note that this is a popular trail for horseback riding. This is also bear country, so proper food storage is required.
Hiking the Sun Canyon Trail
Hike Type: Easy out-and-back trail
Distance: 12.2 mi (19.6 km) roundtrip. At about 6.1 miles (9.8 km), the trail “ends” near a junction with the North Fork Sun Canyon Trail and South Fork Canyon Trail. You can continue down either to lengthen your hike if desired.
Duration: 4-5.5 hours roundtrip
Our morning began not far from the start of the Sun Canyon Trail at our campsite just above the reservoir. We were camping with Lia’s parents for a couple days and welcomed this sunny morning after the rain we had the day prior.
From the very beginning, the views along the trail are beautiful as you look out over the water and at the rugged peaks surrounding the reservoir. Much of the Sun Canyon Trail winds just above the water, only sometimes leading a short distance away from the shore through wooded areas and meadows.
The parking area and our campground and other campsites in the area were busy, so we were surprised that the trail was pretty quiet. We only encountered a tour group on horseback and some backpackers going the opposite direction.
A little ways into the hike we encountered a river crossing. In early June, it was only about ankle deep and there were some rocks and logs placed to serve as a bridge if you don’t have water shoes (like Chacos) on.
We continued down the path, enjoying the views, wildflowers, and wildlife along the way. Towards the end of the trail, we stopped to eat our packed lunch in a pretty meadow overlooking the water. The reservoir narrows as the path nears the mouth of the north and south forks of the Sun River that feed into it.
As mentioned above, the trail eventually ties into the North Fork and South Fork Sun Canyon Trails near where the rivers meet the reservoir if you’d like to continue hiking down either. Both lead a long ways further into the Rocky Mountain Front and away from Gibson Reservoir, connecting with many other trails in the Bob Marshal Wilderness Area.
What to Bring
Sturdy Walking Shoes: There are some rocky sections along the trail in addition to river crossings.
Mini First Aid Kit: An item we always like to have just in case.
Snacks: There are some great spots to hang out and eat some snacks or a packed lunch along the reservoir.
Bear Spray: Bears frequent the area, so bring along your bear spray and know how to use it.
Layers: Even some summer mornings and evenings can be chilly. We recommend bringing light layers and/or a wind breaker. Heavier layers and gloves plus a beanie may be needed during colder parts of the year.
Sun Protection: Much of the trail is not shaded, so bring sunglasses, sunscreen, and/or a hat.
Other Gear: You may want to bring trekking poles, fishing gear, spikes/crampons, etc. – depending on the time of year and plans for your visit.