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  • Writer's pictureAmy Grisak

Snowshoeing in the Little Belt Mountains

The Little Belt Mountains of Central Montana offer multiple opportunities for those who love to explore the winter landscape on snowshoes.

Island Mountain Ranges

Although the Rocky Mountains receive most of the accolades, Montana boasts well over a dozen island mountain ranges for year-round outdoor activities.

With nearly a million acres of public land, which is nearly the size of Glacier National Park, the Little Belt Mountains are a favorite recreation spot for folks in Central Montana. During the summer, camping, off-road use, hiking and fishing top the list of things to do, but in the winter, it's time for snowmobilers, along with backcountry skiing aficionados and snowshoers of all levels. With all of the trails available, the hardest decision is deciding where to go.

Staying along Hwy 89

The bulk of visitors launch their trips from Hwy 89, which runs north and south from Armington Junction to Hwy 12, where it's just a few minutes to soak at White Sulphur Springs. Today we'll take a look at a handful of snowshoe trails that are easy for just about anyone.

Memorial Falls

When someone asks about an easy hike for kids or those who just aren't avid hikers, Memorial Falls is the answer. Just two and a half miles south of Neihart, it's easy to spot the big parking area and trailhead on the east side of the road. (There's even a vault toilet for those who didn't use the rest area at Armington Junction.) Many winters, snowshoes are not necessarily required, but microspikes or Yaktraks are often useful as the well-worn trail becomes icy.

It's a brief, but beautiful, third of a mile walk to the first waterfalls, which are often frozen from late fall to early spring. For those yearning for a little more distance, cross the stream on the simple bridge and continue up the hill for roughly 800 yards to the next set of falls.

Jefferson Creek

Just beyond the Memorial Falls parking area, on the same side of the road, Jefferson Creek is another popular snowshoeing and cross-country skiing area. Paralleling Jefferson Creek, the trail flows primarily through the trees with a few clearings along the way. Traveling slightly uphill for roughly three and a half miles until it intersects with Chamberlain Road 3328. But the nice aspect of this trail is it can be as difficult or easy as desired, and is a good option for beginners who can turn around at any point. Because cross-country skiers utilize this trail, try to steer clear of set tracks.

Porphyry Lookout

As a short hike, the trail to Porphyry Lookout pays off with beautiful views and a heart-pumping workout in roughly two miles and an 800-feet elevation gain. Although Porphyry is situated near the top of the Showdown Ski Area, park at a plowed pull off on the west side of Hwy 89 just before Showdown. This is a popular snowmobile staging area.

Go up or around the typically high snow bank and snowshoe around the Forest Service gate. Follow the road and skirt along "The Golden Goose," one of the ski runs, and continue up and around to the lookout. Although it is staffed during the summer, the lookout is boarded to protect it against the harsh winter elements.

Just beyond the lookout is the top of "Big Seven" at Showdown. There is a vault toilet there, along with a lovely warming up and small cafe where you can buy hot cocoa and snacks if you wish to take a break before heading back down the road.

Silver Crest Winter Recreation Area

Shortly before reaching the Showdown Ski Area, the Silver Crest Winter Recreation Area, located on the west side of Hwy 12, offers approximately 12 miles of cross-country (traditional and skating) trails and a couple of miles of trails dedicated to snowshoeing. There is a vault toilet at the parking area, and several warming huts along the system. The snowshoe trails are primarily within the trees, but this is an ideal outing for beginners.

Forest Service Roads

This brief list is a glimpse into the easily accessible options for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing off of Hwy 89 in the Little Belt Mountains. In reality, almost any road closed during the winter is a good option. For more detailed trails, pick up the 2020 Trail Use Access Map at the Belt Creek Ranger District Office between Monarch and Neihart (they're outside on the rack on the porch even if they're closed).

Although winter seems like a long time in these parts, it's really not when you consider all of the possibilities. There's no time like the moment to strap on those snowshoes and find your next trail.

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