Helena Outdoor Club
The Helena Outdoor Club, a club for nonmotorized recreation since 1972, is for everyone, regardless of age. Summer outdoor activities include hiking, backpacking, canoeing, kayaking and bicycling. Most of the club’s activities are free, and members organize and lead trips for the casual recreationist. Grants to programs providing outdoor equipment or activities to youth groups are available. Free public program meetings include presentations on adventure travel in Montana and around the world. More information on the Outdoor Club and upcoming events can be found at www.helenaoutdoorclub.org.
Historic Last Chance Gulch
Gold was discovered in Last Chance Gulch on July 14, 1864, and Helena, along with many millionaires, was born. Now the Gulch is Helena’s main street — part of which is the state’s only downtown, outdoor walking mall. Starting at the 400 block, the Gulch features a wide variety of merchants. There are custom art galleries, one-of-a-kind apparel stores, unique gift shops, sporting good stores and entertainment venues. All businesses in this area are locally owned and strive to provide excellent customer service. As you stroll down to the Downtown Walking Mall, embrace the fabulous architectural masterpieces dating back to the 19th Century. Be sure to keep an eye out for the gargoyles!
Popular Trails Near Town
The Helena area is abundant with over 2,000 acres of open public space with scenic trails for walking, running or biking. Water-resistant pocket-sized Helena area trail maps are available for sale at local sporting goods and outdoor shops around Helena.
Mount Helena offers several trails where hikers can enjoy varied scenery and different levels of physical intensity. To get to the Mount Helena trailheads, drive south on Park Avenue, turn right at Reeder’s Village Drive, turn right on Village Drive and continue until the road intersects with a blacktop road. Take a left onto the blacktop to reach the parking lot. All of trails are displayed on a map at the kiosk at the trailheads. Mount Helena City Park is the largest and most obvious in town, and also the steepest at 5,468 feet above sea level.
Mount Ascension offers a fun but challenging single-track mountain bike trail in the South Hills. If you can make it to the top of the first summit of Ascension without stopping you are pretty good! Drive south on Beattie Street until it dead-ends in a dirt parking lot to reach the Mount Ascension trail head.
Davis Street/Dry Gulch can be reached by driving south on Davis Street. There are several trails along the way beginning just after Davis Street turns to a dirt road.
The Ridge Trail is a scenic ridge-top trail with access from the Mount Helena City Park. The length of the trail is 5.7 miles. It begins at Park City, just south of town. Walk or bike this trail. Catch a free ride (rain or shine) every Saturday and Sunday on the Trail Rider to Mount Helena’s Ridge Trails! The shuttle is provided by Downtown Helena Business Improvement District (BID). Service begins in June and will run through the September with the exception of Governor’s Cup Saturday on June 8. Pick up is at Women’s Mural on Broadway and walking mall, with departures at 8, 8:40 and 9:20 a.m. A bike rack is available on the trolley. Sorry, no dogs allowed. For more information call 447-1535 or visit www.downtownhelena.com.
The Great Northern Town Center to Spring Meadow Lake trail begins at the Great Northern Town Center and continues under Hwy. 12 to Centennial Park. From the park, head northwest toward the Helena Transfer Station. Cross Benton and Henderson, then walk south on Joslyn. Turn right onto Country Club Avenue and continue until you reach Spring Meadow Lake.
Hiking and Biking Further Afield
HIKING TRAILS crisscross the greater Helena area. Some lead to high mountain lakes, while others follow small streams to alpine meadows. When hiking in Montana, no matter how short the trip, always carry water, food, rain gear, warm clothing and maps. The following are a just a couple examples of Helena’s scenic routes.
One of the most popular hiking trails in the Helena area is Trout Creek Canyon Trail 270, which heads into the Big Belt Mountains. The three-mile trail follows a segment of an old road that was washed out during a spring flood in 1981. This trail, closed to motorized vehicles, provides spectacular views of steep-walled limestone formations within the canyon. The hike is rated as easy, with only a minor elevation gain of 800 feet. To get there from Helena, proceed northeast on Highway 280 (also called York Road) to town of York. Continue driving northeast past York to the end of road and Vigilante Campground.
The Casey Meadows Trail in the Elkhorn Mountains is another local favorite. It’s an easy hike with a gradual elevation gain of about 1,300 feet on three-mile walk to the meadow. The trail meanders through an area of the 1988 Warm Springs Fire and provides panoramic views and a look at post-burn areas. From the meadow, there are views of nearby peaks and the lower part of Casey Peak. Other trails intersect at Casey Meadows for hikers wishing to go further. From Helena, take I-15 south to the the Montana City exit, and go east. Turn right at Montana City School. Then turn right onto McClellan Creek Road (just past the pizza restaurant. Continue on this road approximately 6.5 miles to the Crystal Creek/ McClellan Creek Junction and turn right. Continue another 2 miles to the Casey Meadows/McClellan Creek trailhead.
After spending more than 20 years as a diamond in the rough of a defunct gold-mining operation, Crow Creek Falls, often called the “crown jewel” of Helena National Forest, has been returned to its former luster by Crow Creek Falls Citizens Group and the American Land Conservancy. One of only three waterfalls in Helena National Forest, Crow Creek Falls should be on every local hiker’s list of destinations to visit and re-visit. Access into the falls is non-motorized. The easiest hiking route into Crow Falls is on Trail 109, which can be reached by driving Forest Road 424 (about 15 miles) from Radersburg. The trail follows the creek for about 2 miles, and climbs onto a bench where the “old road” once came down from Eureka Ridge. It’s about 1.5 miles upstream along the old road to the falls from this intersection. Horse users are encouraged to take trails 112 and 134 from Eagle Guard Station (some sections of 109 are unsuitable for stock). Trail 134 intersects Trail 109 very close to Crow Creek Falls. It’s about 5 miles one way on this route. Ambitious mountain bikers can also ride route. Hikers should bring sturdy shoes, sunscreen, a map of area and their own water as there are no potable water sources at the station. Contact Townsend Ranger District at 266-3425 for information about alternate trailheads, to Eagle Guard Station and Crow Creek Falls.
The bike trails in the Helena area are abundant and varied and too numerous to list them all, but you will find that www.BikeHelena.com is your one stop for anything cycling in Helena, Montana. Trail Maps, suggested routes, video, events, bike shops and hotel booking information can all be found on BikeHelena.com.
A few routes worth mentioning:
Birdseye Loop, 30-35 miles: Take Country Club Avenue to Birdseye Road. Ride along Birdseye past Fort Harrison and across the railroad tracks twice. After the second crossing, the road has a series of climbs and dips as it winds for several miles to Silver City. Turn right at the Silver City Bar onto Lincoln Road and ride all way to Interstate 15, taking the freeway back into Helena. Returning via Green Meadow Drive shaves about five miles off the ride.
Clancy Frontage Road, 20-mile road trip: Ride Interstate 15 south from Helena and exit at Montana City. Turn right at the top of the exit and left at the intersection onto Frontage Road. Ride up and down moderate hills to Clancy, where the road passes under the freeway. Return the same route. Ride can be shortened to 12 miles round trip by beginning at Montana City.
Helena Valley Loop, approximately 50 miles: Take Highway 12 to East Helena. Turn north onto Wylie Drive to York Road. Turn right and ride east to Lake Helena Drive. Turn left and ride north to the lake. Turn left onto Lincoln Road East and ride west all the way to Silver City. Turn left onto Birdseye Road and ride back into Helena.
Wolf Creek, 70-mile loop: Travel north from Helena on Interstate 15 to the “recreational access” road, an exit marked with a sign south of Wolf Creek. Unload bikes and ride north into Wolf Creek to Highway 434. Turn left and ride along the Rocky Mountain Front to Highway 200. Turn right and ride north to Bowman’s Corners, to the intersection with Highway 287. Ride back into Wolf Creek, including a one-mile stretch on Interstate 15 and back to vehicle. Roads along this route are barren of traffic and the scenery is outstanding.
Crystal/Creek/Montana City Loop. This loop around Saddle Mountain is a casual ride suitable for families. Begin at Montana City School and ride up the road to Crystal Creek Campground. From there, take the Forest Service Road to the left, which takes riders around Saddle Mountain, where housing developments line the road, and through the Wing Ranch. The trail comes out about two miles east of East Helena on Highway 12 East. Return by riding toward East Montana and taking McClellan Creek turnoff to Montana City.
Wakina Sky Gulch. For intermediate riders. Ride south on Park Avenue and take Grizzly Gulch, which forks to the right off the paved road. Follow the gulch uphill for about a third of a mile. Wakina Sky Gulch forks to the left, and is much narrower and less evident than Grizzly. Ride to the top of this narrow gulch to an open meadow, about 2/3 mile, then return by the same route.
Grizzly Gulch. Easy terrain for beginner riders. Grizzly Gulch forks to the right off the southbound lane of the paved road to Unionville. It eventually connects with Oro Fino Gulch just above Unionville after a loop of approximately 10 miles.
Mount Helena Ridge Trail. Intermediate to advanced riders. Ride up Grizzly Gulch to Park City, a cluster of houses about 4/5 mile up the road. After cresting a hill, watch for a row of mailboxes to the right and take that road. A sign about ½ mile up alerts riders to a trail on the right. This is the Ridge Trail, a single-track path that climbs, then drops down a series of switchbacks onto the backside of Mount Helena. The trail comes out on Le Grande Cannon Boulevard in Helena.
Outdoors with Horses and Dogs
The Helena Trail Riders is the oldest incorporated saddle club in Montana. The club was organized in 1938 as a pleasure-riding group by cowboy artist Shorty Shope. The club opened its membership to the public in 1940 and in 1944 originated the sport of O-Mok-See. The word comes from the Blackfeet Indian for “riding big.” Members meet on the third Wednesday of each month at 6:15 p.m. at the clubhouse which is located at the Lewis and Clark Fairgrounds (across from the multi-purpose building). To find
O-Mok-See and Trail Riding schedules or for more information on the club, please go to www.helenatrailriders.org.
While Spring Meadow Lake doesn’t allow dogs, most of the other parks in the area do allow dogs. This said, there are limitations to the freedom that your furry friend can enjoy. The Helena city code states: “Animals are not allowed to run at large in the city. All animals not confined within an enclosure or on the owner’s property shall be kept on a leash not more than ten (10’) feet long, securely restrained or held so as to prevent the animal from running at large, with the exception that a leash is not required for any animal on Mount Helena City Park as long as the animal is under the immediate, continuous and effective control of a person.” Notice the word “control.” That your dog may come most of the time will not help you if he or she decides to go chasing after deer. Deer can be dangerous, dogs can be lost and game wardens can be cranky as heck when they discover your pet disturbing the wildlife. (Be warned, there are fines involved here.) Pets are not permitted on swimming beaches, in sanitary facilities or in any other area posted to exclude them. From April 1-September 15, unless otherwise posted, all pets must be on a leash not over 10 feet long. Persons bringing or allowing animals in designated recreation areas shall be responsible for proper removal and disposal of any waste produced by these animals. There are many areas around in the parks and the forests where you and your dog can have fun, but keep in mind that the restrictions were put in place because owners did not take responsibility for their pets. Please be respectful of others, the area and the wildlife; the future of enjoying our canine friends in the outdoors depends on it. Paws Park is located at Centennial Park, it’s free and there are separate fenced areas. There is water available seasonally for your pets.
Helena Skatepark. The expansion is complete! For those of you skateboarders and inline skaters looking for a place to catch some air and practice your carving, kickflips and grinding, check out the Helena Skatepark. The city of Helena has expanded its existing 10,000 square foot skate park to 17,000. The park has proven to be an increasingly popular social and recreational destination for Helena’s youth. It features quarterpipe corners with flat bank hips, two different gaps with ledges, a pyramid with a square tube rail and five benches. One of the benches has a curved edge, one is sloping, another has a step at the top and yet another has a rail that is two feet high The Helena Skate Park, located at 1200 North Last Chance Gulch, is free to everyone and welcomes boarders and inline skaters. Scooters and BMX bikes are prohibited. For more information email
Helena’s city parks offer a number of different options for resting and recreating. The parks feature facilities ranging from simple picnic tables and shelters to playing fields, playground equipment and hiking trails. For information about parks, call 447-8463 or visit www.ci.helena.mt.us.
- • Barney Park: Cleveland and Hudson streets. Features barbecue pits, basketball hoops, a ball field, a picnic shelter, playground equipment and tennis courts.
- • Batch Fields: Benton and Cole avenues. Includes a picnic shelter, covered playground equipment and four softball fields.
- • Beattie Park: Helena Avenue and Roberts Street. Includes historic sites, picnic shelters.
- • Centennial/Bausch Park: Across the street from Memorial Park at 1200 N. Last Chance Gulch. Facilities include the Helena City Skatepark for skateboarding, soccer fields, softball fields, dog park, bike track, horseshoe pits, and trailhead for Rails to Trails walking trail. The skatepark provides dawn to dusk exercise for skateboarders and in-line skaters. Bikes, scooters and motorized vehicles are prohibited. Spectators and food and beverages should stay out of the immediate skate park area.
- • Cherry Hill Park: Columbia Street and Cherry Avenue. Picnic facilities, playground equipment, shelter and basketball court.
- • Clinton Park: State and Beattie streets. Features basketball hoops, a picnic area and playground equipment.
- • Constitution Park: Sixth Avenue and Last Chance Gulch. Features historical information and monuments.
- • Cunningham Park: Flowerree Street and Cleveland Court. Features basketball hoop, picnic area and a playground.
- • Fire Tower Park: Surrounds Helena’s Guardian of the Gulch, a wooden fire tower perched over downtown. The tower was built in 1874 to house men watching for fires in the valley. The tower is fenced in and not available to the public, but you can still get a similar view from the park area. To reach the park, walk up the winding path near Lewis and Clark Library at the end of Last Chance Gulch.
- • Heritage/ Pioneer Park: East of the Lewis and Clark Library at 120 S. Last Chance Gulch. It includes historic monuments and playground equipment.
- • Hill and Women’s Parks: Two parks on opposite sides of Fuller Avenue. Hill is on the corner of Neill and Park avenues; Women’s is on Fuller and Neill avenues. Features include historic monuments and picnic facilities.
- • Kay McKenna Park: Neill and Benton Avenues. This park adjoins the city’s Civic Center entertainment facility. It includes historic sites, play equipment, tennis courts and picnic facilities.
- • Kessler Park: Davis and Beattie streets. Features a picnic area.
- • Lockey Park: Lamborn Street and Broadway. Includes basketball, football, tennis, baseball and softball facilities as well as barbecues, shelter and playground equipment.
- • Memorial Park: 1200 N. Last Chance Gulch, the site of an elaborate playground called Frontier Funtown. The playground, with features for park-going kids of all ages, was built by community volunteers. The park also features an outdoor public waterpark, barbecue pits and picnic shelters. During the summer, it is the center for band concerts every Thursday night and adjoins Kindrick Legion Baseball Field.
- • Mount Helena Park: A 1,000+ acre natural city park featuring Douglas fir forests and expansive grassland areas. Two trails leave the parking area and circle the mountain. The park adjoins National Forest land and is a good spot for observing a variety of wildlife, including prairie falcons, meadowlarks and deer.
- • Nature Park: Cole and McHugh. A natural area with wildlife and a paved, accessible trail.
- • Northwest Park: 101 Valley Drive. Features softball, soccer fields and walking trail.
- • Pocha Park: Ewing and Miller streets. Features a picnic area and playground equipment.
- • Ramey Park: Corner of Missoula and Roberts. Offers soccer field, playground equipment, basketball court, and two softball fields.
- • Robinson Park: Livingston and Townsend avenues. Features a football field, soccer field and picnic shelter.
- • Sixth Ward Park: Montana Avenue and Bozeman Street. Picnic area and playground.
- • Waukesha Park: Waukesha Avenue and Garrison Street. Football/soccer field, community garden plots and playground equipment.
- • Wesleyan Park: Helena Avenue and 4th Street. Features a picnic area and playground equipment.
Some 976,000 acres of the Helena National Forest around Helena offer numerous camping opportunities. State-owned land, also near Helena is home to nice camping areas. For information, stop by the Helena Ranger District office at 2001 Poplar or call 449-5490 or visit http://www.fs.fed.us/r1/helena. Fish, Wildlife and Parks also manages several area campsites. Call 444-2535 or visit http://fwp.mt.gov. See chart page 32.
Sleep in A Cabin
Craving a little peace and solitude in the Montana woods? Try reserving your very own cabin and spend a weekend. Reserving a cabin is as easy as going to www.recreation.gov. You can also go to this website to read more about the cabins available and see photographs. There’s also the option of calling a toll-free number (877-444-6777) between the hours of 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The reservation system works for most Federal sites across the nation. Most cabins include beds and basic pots, plates and silverware. Firewood is also provided. However, the cabins don’t have running water or electricity, and typically are heated by wood burning stoves. Call 449-5201.
Watch for Wildlife
Drive around Helena for just a few minutes and you’re bound to run into a deer or two strutting around town. But deer are only one of a variety of wildlife that call the Helena area home. There are numerous opportunities to observe animals in their natural habitat.
A nearby place to start is Mount Helena, the city’s largest park. While hiking along its trails you are practically guaranteed to encounter deer, squirrels and a variety of birds, including meadowlarks and bluebirds.
To see elk, you’ll need to seek higher elevations where they take up residence for the summer. The Beartooth Wildlife Management Area is a good place to start. A possible bear or mountain goat may also be seen here. To get to there, take I-15 from Helena and head north to Wolf Creek. Exit at Wolf Creek and then go east to the bridge on Missouri River Road. Turn south on Beartooth Road, on the east side of Holter Lake, and keep following the signs.
Avalanche Gulch on the east shore of Canyon Ferry Reservoir is another place to scope out elk herds and mountain goats. While you’re over there, head south to reach Canyon Ferry Wildlife Management Area. This vast wetland area, encompassing 5,000 acres, is a series of ponds
providing a habitat to many nesting birds like Canadian geese, double-crested cormorants, American white pelicans, Caspian terns and ospreys. Keep your eyes open for white-tailed deer, beavers,
raccoons, mink, red foxes, river otters and moose. There are also pheasants and wild turkeys in adjacent grasslands and osprey circling overhead.
Managed by the U.S. Forest Service, the 129,000-acre Elkhorn Wildlife Management Area is home to many indigenous animas, including big game. To get there, take the I-15 south from Helena to Boulder. Take the Boulder exit and travel south until you find the Elkhorn Wildlife Management signs.
Practical Tips for wildlife watching:
- Be prepared. Take along a map of the area, and be prepared to tackle muddy, rugged and precarious terrain. Dress appropriately for the weather and take extra water and snack foods. Take a camera, binoculars and a field guide, if you have them. Also, leave your dog at home to increase your chance of seeing wildlife.
- Go early or go late. Most animals are active at dusk and at dawn, so plan your outing during these times so you’ll be at that prime spot at the prime time. Like people, animals like to take easy during the hottest parts of the day and bask in some shade. Therefore, they’re difficult to spot in the middle of the day.
- Fade into the woodwork. Wear natural colors and unscented lotions so as to not draw so much attention to yourself in the natural surroundings. Remove glasses that glint. Walk softly so as not to snap twigs, as this could alert animals to your presence and scare them off. Crouch behind boulders or vegetation to hide your figure or break up your outline.
- Let animals be themselves. Don’t wave at them, yell and whistle at them, or try get them to move for your “perfect” picture. You’re not at the zoo, you’re in the wilds. Avoid sneaking up on animals as many animals may react negatively if startled, especially bears. In some cases, animals feel less threatened by a vehicle than a person on foot, so consider using your vehicle for viewing. Keep food to yourself. That tuna sandwich may taste great to you, but it can harm the digestive systems of wild animals and convince them to look for handouts from other people.
- Be nice and be careful. Although they may look friendly, resist the urge to get as close as possible to wild animals. Give them the space they need and watch from a distance. A good rule of thumb is that if you are close enough for the animal to react to your presence, you are probably too close. Even mild-mannered wildlife can respond unpredictably when they feel threatened, which puts you in danger.
- Leave baby animals alone. Although they may look like the cute, cuddly animals of Disney movies, their mothers are highly protective and always nearby. Injured animals are also dangerous, and, in the throes of mating season, even birds can be aggressive. It goes without saying: Don’t ever approach a bear.
- Respect the land. Before heading out in search of wildlife, make sure you won’t be treading on private land. If you are, get permission first before accessing the area. Don’t litter and be respectful of your fellow nature lovers around you who are also looking for a little peace and quite in the great outdoors.
Montana Outdoor Discovery Center
A place where children and families can reconnect to nature in Montana’s outdoors. The site of the Montana Outdoor Discovery Center is on the western edge of Helena, within Spring Meadow Lake Park. For more information about the center contact Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Foundation at 444-6759 or mfwpfoundation.org.
Helena Brewers Minor League Baseball season begins June 16 and runs through Sept. 4. Games are held at Kindrick Legion Field adjacent to Memorial Park. Individual and season tickets are available. Call to schedule group outings, picnics, or birthday parties at the ball park: 459-0500.
For 2014 the Helena Brewers are offering a wide variety of promotions including Bark in the Park nighs, Microbrew Mondays and Weenie Wednesdays The Brewers are teaming up with Pacific Source Health Plans for a Bike to the Ballpark promotion once a month, where people who bike to the park can enter to win a bike. A new bike rack section is installed to accommodate the influx of bikers who attend Brewers games. Find more information about Helena Brewers baseball including ticket packages, other promotions and schedule go online to www.helenabrewers.net.