With the recent bout of arctic weather, the number of accessible hiking trails quickly dwindles, especially in the high country.
That makes low-country trails — such as the Missouri Beaver Creek Trail north of Helena — that much more appealing in the winter. Whether it’s the power of the Missouri River, plenty of waterfowl or a likely hike in solitude, the two- or four-mile hike or snowshoe is more than just a path to a summer fishing hole.
The Missouri Beaver Creek Trail is a point-to-point hike along the river’s tailrace below Hauser Dam. Trailheads are available from the dam, which requires parking and crossing the dam, or at the Beaver Creek fishing access site downriver. Beaver Creek is accessible from York, but road conditions can be less predictable. The dam offers year-round access and a plowed road for workers.
Crossing Hauser is an experience in itself. With temperatures steadily registering below zero recently, a plume of steam rises above the ice-caked concrete edifice and water thunders down the spillway.
Once across the dam, the trail is easy to find with plenty of signage. Travel downriver for half a mile as it stays above the river, offering a winter patch of open water for Canada geese and goldeneyes. The trail is not a difficult one, although some moderate snow drifts do form and require a little extra effort to punch through.
Continuing downstream the river cuts below a mix of limestone walls, ponderosa pine gullies, sagebrush flats and rock slides. While the trail has largely become a year-round favorite of anglers targeting rainbow trout and seasonal runs of brown trout, the scenery alone makes it worth the hike — and wintertime means likely having it to yourself.
With the short distance of the Missouri Beaver Creek Trail, the hike is conducive to both point-to-point hikers and those going out and back. Depending on the weather, it also never hurts to throw in a fishing rod for a few casts.