Day Trip: Hike the Big Snowies South of Lewistown
Explore an island range ice cave at the crest of the Big Snowy Mountains
Summer is just beginning to heat up, which means better weather for exploring Montana’s wild places.
For those seeking to enjoy a day away from heavily-trafficked trails, the Ice Cave Loop Trail in the Big Snowy Mountains offers a unique opportunity to explore one of Montana’s lesser-known island ranges and a 100-foot-wide cave that features ice year-round.
Lying in the heart of the Treasure State, the Big Snowy Mountains are located just south of Lewistown. They’re hard to miss — like other island ranges across the state, they rise far above the central plains around them.
The Snowies are a part of the Madison Group, featuring breathtaking limestone formations peppered with caves. The Ice Cave Loop, which runs just over 12 miles long, offers expansive views of the valley below and beyond. To the north, look for the Sweet Grass Hills that lie along the Canadian border, and to the south, the Absaroka-Beartooth ranges that stretch to the Wyoming border. From here, you can also spot many of the other island ranges across the state, such as the Crazies, Castles, Big and Little Belts, Highwoods, and Bear Paws. Other scenic spots along the trail to look out for are Grandview Point that features towering limestone cliffs and Crystal Lake, which is as picturesque as it sounds.
While this trail could be rated moderate to difficult (depending on your activity level) the views — and the ice cave that awaits you — are well worth the work to get there. Recent trail reports indicate that there may still be a significant amount of snow at higher elevations and as such, you may not be able to make it all the way up to the ice cave until later this summer. So plan ahead and keep an eye on reports before you head out.
The 12-mile hike could take up to half the day to complete, so I recommend stopping in Lewistown on the way to or from the trailhead for a meal and to explore local shops.
Ice Cave Loop
Big Snowy Mountains Wilderness Study Area
Distance: 12.3 miles
Elevation gain: 2,200 ft.
Difficulty: Moderate to difficult
More trail details ↠
Nearby campground: Crystal Lake Campground
Nearest town: Lewistown, MT - About 1-hour north of the trailhead.
Explore nearby businesses
Rising Trout Cafe
This cute little cafe is located on Main Street and is impossible to miss while driving through town as its right next to the historic Judith Theatre. Stop by in the morning on the way to the trailhead for fresh-baked pastries, coffee, and a warm, inviting atmosphere.
Big Springs Brewery
This local brewery is located in the historic Central Feed Mercantile building in downtown Lewistown. The old charm of the building is matched by the friendliness of the staff, you’re sure to have a pleasant experience if you stop in for a beer after your day on the trail.
To find more trails less traveled, visit hikewildmontana.org to explore more than 350 trails across the state.
Keely provides communications support for our chapters, programs, and campaigns and manages our social media channels. In her free time, she enjoys fly fishing on Montana's scenic rivers, hiking, camping, and exploring public lands in her home state.