Montana’s Best Spring Hikes
Five great adventures for exploring Montana's lower elevations
Exploring Montana, Featured
Winter hasn't been in a big hurry to wrap up this year, but spring finally feels like it's here for good. With sunshine and warmer weather comes the desire to get out on the trails. Now, we know we're jumping the gun a little bit - it's been a snowy winter and it's only April, after all - but sometimes planning a hike is the best way to get into the swing of spring. These trails are generally best in May and June, when the greenery is popping and the wildflowers are bursting into color, but that doesn't mean you can't start daydreaming and putting some trips on the calendar.
If you want to explore more hikes all across Montana, head to our online hiking guide at hikewildmontana.org.
1. Alice Creek near Lincoln, 3 miles
For vast views, spring wildflowers, and easy access to the Continental Divide, the 3-mile roundtrip Alice Creek trail can’t be beat. Just a short, beautiful drive off of Highway 200 east of Lincoln, you’ll be following a centuries-old trail to the buffalo and walking in the footsteps where Merriwether Lewis crossed the Continental Divide on his return trip east in 1806.
2. Stillwater River Trail near Red Lodge, 6.4 miles
Snowy Beartooth Highway may just be opening for the season, but this Beartooth trail is accessible nearly all year long via a paved road. The trail almost immediately enters a gorge with high canyon walls and rushing spring waters, and then climbs up to the Stillwater River and a wide area of the river known as Sioux Charley Lake.
3. Upper Layout Creek near Lovell, WY, 4.5 miles
At the southern end of the incredible Pryor Mountains, Upper Layout Creek is full of surprises. The trail starts at an old, working homestead and passes through one of the driest places in Montana, then magically arrives at what must be Montana’s closest approximation of Bilbo Baggins’ Hobbit home. At the head of the canyon, a gin-clear perennial spring flows from side of the canyon and is mounded over with deep green mosses.
4. Munson Creek near Plains, 4-6 miles
This shady trail to a series of cascading pools and waterfalls would be lovely mid-summer, but you’d miss out on all the wildflowers. In late May and June you’ll be treated to calypso orchids, glacier lilies, and other colorful additions to the understory. The trailhead is barely off of Highway 200, so there’s no need to worry about navigating a long gravel road.
5. Sweetgrass Hills near Chester, 5 miles
Montana’s high plains are at their finest in spring, showing off their rolling green hills and views to snow-topped island ranges. When you walk the Sweetgrass Hills Area of Critical Environmental Concern, almost on the Canadian border, you’ll be treated to prairie wildflowers and 360* views of a spectacular prairie wonderland. (And the scenic drive to the trailhead is half the fun, too.)
- Kassia Randzio, MWA marketing and grants manager