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!
The smoke continues to haunt most of western Montana, but the air seems to be a little more clear east of the divide. So this week, Craig sends us hiking in the Lewis and Clark National Forest east of Helena and southeast of Great Falls.
Daisy Peak Loop
A long day hike sampling the Little Belt Mountains, in which you summit Daisy Peak (7,782 ft.) and see a rock arch.
Total Elevation Gain: 1,932 feet
Directions: From Missoula, head east on I-90, splitting off onto Highway 12 to Helena at Garrison Junction.
When you get to Helena, continue down Highway 12 – it will turn into East Lyndale Avenue, turn south (right) onto North Montana Venue, and then turn left (east) on 11th Avenue.
Follow Highway 12 as it leads you out of town and on to Townsend. There, Highway 12 turns off to the east (left). Continue to follow the highway through Helena National Forest, and then make one final turn (north) at its junction with Highway 89. That will lead you to the town of White Sulphur Springs.
From White Sulphur Springs, drive east on Highway 12 about 33 miles and then turn left onto county road 125. Look for the sign that says “National Forest Access Daisy Dean” before the turn.
When you reach the Y, take the left route and continue driving up the hill. The trailhead is just inside the National Forest boundary. You’ll see a big grassy hill and two large parking areas outlined with big rocks.
What to expect: This hike starts and ends on the same trail, but in between does a loop with a side trip to a summit; this means you’ll maximize the new territory to be explored.
From the parking area, head toward the outhouse and take the road to the left – a sign marks it as J2043. It starts in lodgepole with a few aspen as it heads downhill passing across some open grassy hillsides.
After .9 miles the road intersects with Mud Ridge Trail #648. You’ll see a sign noting that the trail is open to motorcycles, but it may be hard to see the trail in the meadow behind this sign.
Head towards the trees across the meadow and you should see another sign posted on a tree; at this point the trail is easy to distinguish.
You’ll hike through Douglas fir forest and across West Fork Mud Creek twice. After 1.7 miles, you’ll intersect East Fork Spring Creek Trail #608. Here, turn right.
The trail will continues mostly through forest with occasional open grassy areas.You’ll reach the juncture with Mud Creek Trail #621 after another 3.3 miles. This is the trail you will take to return to the trailhead – but first, a side trek to the summit of Daisy Peak.
Continue on East Fork Spring Creek Trail #608 and just a few hundred feet later you’ll reach yet another signed trail juncture. Again, continue straight on the same trail. You’ll start to climb uphill; you’re a mile from the peak.
Merge onto road J6520 for the last bit of uphill, and you’ve arrived at the summit
Enjoy great views of Daisy Notch (7,976ft.), as well as further into the heart of the Little Belt Mountains. If you look south you can see the Crazy Mountains. It’s a good spot to eat a snack and admire the view all your hard work has earned. When you’re ready to leave you can be glad it’s mostly all downhill now. Retrace your route back to the intersection with Mud Creek Trail #621 (about 1 mile).
Mud Creek Trail #621 begins ATV wide, but soon becomes footpath wide where there’s another sign about trail restrictions. In the forest the trail winds along beside Mud Creek, crossing it several times. Rocky Mountain Maple hug sections of the trail.
When you’re about 2.6 miles down the trail, look to the left and you’ll see a rock arch. Not much further down the trail will become J2043 – signs announce this.
This trail has one small muddy creek crossing. You’ll also pass by an old tractor.
After about .7 miles on J2043 you’ll be back at the intersection with Mud Ridge Trail #648, thus closing the loop. Stay on this trail and retrace your route uphill to the trailhead.
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 9:50 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!