Welcome to the Trail Well Traveled!
Each Friday, in partnership with Montana Wilderness Association we will feature a new western Montana trail and then give you some helpful details and tips to get on your way!
This week, we send you on a moderately strenuous hike to the crest of the Big Snowy Mountains and its glorious Ice Caves.
Big Snowies Ice Cave
A unique island range in the central part of the state, the Big Snowy Mountains are an uplift of the Madison Formation featuring limestone formations and canyon walls, which are riddled with water-collecting caves that produce frozen columns on its walls and floors.
Roundtrip: 12.3 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,200 feet
Directions: From Missoula, head East on Interstate 90 to the Bonner exit and then continue east on Highway 200 to Interstate 15. There you’ll take the highway into Great Falls and then, near the airport, depart to the east at Exit 278 onto Highway 87.
About seven miles before you reach Lewistown, you’ll encounter a Forest Service sign. Turn right here, following a gravel road about 22 miles to Crystal Lake. The last 5 miles are paved, but they’re narrow and winding – so drive carefully!
The Ice Caves trailhead will be on the left side of the road near the pit toilet.
What to expect: From the trailhead, take Trail 493. The first three miles are steep, with switchbacks that take you to the crest of the Snowies. The trail levels out as you reach an intersection. Follow Trail 490 west two miles to the Ice Caves. Rock cairns will guide the way as you gaze at a panorama of mountain ranges: The Little Rockies, Bears Paws, Moccasins, Highwoods, Sweet Grass, Crazies, and Absaroka.
To get into the ice cave, hug either the left or right wall. The cave is about 100 feet wide and 75 feet deep. Ice stays year-round.
After exploring the cool Ice Caves, continue west on Trail 490. The next big stop for views is West Peak, then the descent begins as the trails drops off and loops back to Crystal Lake on Trail 403. Grandview Point is another scenic attraction, featuring limestone columns and towering cliffs. The backdrop of Crystal Lake provides priceless photo opportunities. The last mile is a pleasant stroll along the shoreline.
Learn more about this trail, file your own trip report and photos, or check out some other great hikes at hikewildmontana.org. And don’t forget to tune in to the Trail 103.3 each Friday at 9:45 am for the next featured trail and your chance to win!
Big thanks to Rangitsch Bros RV for sponsoring the Trail Well Traveled. Proudly serving Missoula for over 56 years, whatever camper best suits your needs Rangitsch Bros has got it!