The John Colter Run is a classic Bozeman race!



September 23rd, 2023

Join us at Missouri Headwaters State Park outside of Three Forks, MT for an awesome trail race re-enacting John Colter’s infamous (naked!) escape from Blackfoot Indians.


With a 300 runner cap on the number of participants, don’t miss your chance at participating in this highly coveted 7.5 mile run! You can register on the John Colter RunSignUp site!

Please note, there is no race day registration!


Race day is September 23, 2023, and will start at 9:00 am sharp when the ole 50 caliber Hawkins black powder rifle goes off.  The Race begins and ends at the Missouri Headwaters State Park – one mile south of Trident and about 6 miles northeast of Three Forks, MT. Take Exit 278 off I-90. Follow signs to Headwaters State Park and Trident. Parking is limited. Please carpool.


There is NO RACE PACKET PICKUP.  Pick up your Race Bibs AT the Headwaters State Park Saturday morning.  We’ll have tables set up there.  You will receive your awesome John Colter shirt when you finish the race at the finish line in the Park.


We are over full for the race, so parking might be somewhat limited. We will have spots for the ambulance, supplies, etc reserved in the central park area but there is parking just south of the concrete outhouse, just west of the park, across the road and south of the park just before you go by the big rock bluff.  That area will be served by a sprinter shuttle that can bring you over to the park.


The weather in Montana in mid-September could range from a bake-off to a snowstorm.  Please check the forecast a few days before the run, and come prepared with appropriate running attire for the expected conditions!


The course is approximately 7 miles long, with the first mile and a half on a paved/gravel country road, and the remaining 5.5 miles on mostly rugged trails, just like it was when Lewis and Clark came through here.  The trail portion is relatively rough but suited for cross-country running.  There are two railroad crossings.  Montana Rail Link will stop ALL trains at the first crossing just after the start where we will have a crossing guard. They only do this for two events in Montana!  The second crossing goes UNDER the railroad tracks and by the time you get there, the trains will be running again.

You MUST go under the railroad bridge and through the water and mud or you will be disqualified.  The first railroad crossing is 1.5 miles from the start and the second is about 7 miles into the race.  The trail is marked with rock cairns, flags, stakes, skulls, bones, and beer bottles.

The Water Crossings: The last ¼ mile of the course encompasses two water crossings.  The first water crossing goes under the railroad bridge (as stated above).  Tie your shoes tight because the mud can be knee deep!  The second water crossing is the Gallatin River.  Be prepared for water up to waist deep at each crossing.  A safety rope will be secured across the river.
Bring an extra change of clothes for the awards ceremony and refreshments.

To sweeten the deal, we have some great prizes this year!  We’ll have our own “John Colter” and you will be chasing him down.  The first 50 runners that beat John to the “Beaver Dam” approximately 6.5 miles in) will win a commemorative John Colter water bottle from Nathan Sports.  Finish awards will be presented to overall top male and female; age group winners; youngest and oldest runner; and special awards to those we think need to be recognized!  Raffle prizes awarded at the finish.

Afterward, all are welcome to join us for a post-race party barbeque with beer and great live music!

The course is marked with rock cairns, flags, tipis, a few beer bottles, skulls and bones, and some small green cones.  If it looks like someone put it there, it was probably us. Look for the markers.  You can always see from one marker to the next.

Keep your eyes peeled for snakes.  When we were doing the course work we saw snakes.  So be snake aware!

And one final thing. This is a TRAIL RUN so look around!  When you are on top of the course, even if you are one of the lead runners, be sure to pause and look around and see just what an awesome place this is that we live.  There is some real Montana history here. Just picture in your mind the day John Colter was captured, stripped naked, ran, and escaped from the Indians in hot pursuit, this country looked just like it looks today when you run it!

We look forward to seeing you on Saturday!


Montana Rail Link now holds all train traffic for a short window  to allow for safe runner passage at the railroad crossing at mile 1.5.  Due to this and for logistical purposes the race will start at exactly 9:00 am.  It is the racer’s responsibility to be at the start line and ready to run on time.



John Colter was discharged from the Lewis & Clark expedition in 1806 to pursue trapping opportunities throughout Missouri River country and the greater Yellowstone area. In the fall of 1808, Colter and his partner at the time, John Potts, were trapping beaver in the Three Forks area. This area was inhabited by Blackfeet Indians. Potts and Colter avoided the Blackfeet by trapping at night and concealing themselves during the day.

Potts and Colter were discovered by the Blackfeet one morning. Potts attempted to flee downriver in their canoe and was wounded. Instead of returning to shore, Potts shot and killed one of the Blackfeet and was killed in return. Colter (who had not attempted to escape) was stripped naked, taken 300-400 yards out into a field, and told to save himself if he could. So Colter ran.

After several miles, Colter had outdistanced all but one of the Blackfeet who carried with him a spear.  The Indian had almost caught up to Colter when Colter stopped suddenly, turned around, and spread his arms. This was a surprise, causing his pursuer to fall while attempting to throw the spear. The spear broke in the ground and Colter seized the pointed end, killing the Indian with it. Colter continued running to the Madison River where he hid under a pile of driftwood while the Blackfeet continued their hunt for him. After dark, Colter slipped down river and began his journey toward safety. Exhausted, cold, and naked, Colter limped into Fort Lisa seven days later- 250 miles away on the Big Horn River.

The full account told by John Colter and published in an 1817 travel memoir by John Bradbury can be found here.



The logo is a stylized version of a welded steel sculpture by Montana artist Lyndon Pomeroy. The sculpture is titled “Colter’s Run” and is a part of the permanent collection held by the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman.

Missouri Headwaters State Park – one mile south of Trident and about 6 miles northeast of Three Forks, MT.

Take Exit 278 off I-90. Follow signs to Headwaters State Park and Trident.
Parking is limited. Please carpool.

After the race, all are welcome to stay for a post-race party with a BBQ by Main Street Over Easy and special prizes for the fastest female, fastest male, and the first 50 runners who beat John Colter to the beaver dam!


This race promises to be an amazing time, don’t miss out!