BUTTE – Although the 2.5-mile hike to the top of Haystack Mountain, northeast of Butte, is a little on the strenuous side, the reward at the summit is well worth the effort.
At least 10 mountain ranges are in view from the apex of the boulder-strewn 8,829-foot mountain that itself appears nondescript from lower elevations.
“You can see a lot of Montana,” said hiker Pat Grantham, surveying the mountainous skylines from Haystack’s highest point recently.
Consider these ranges, all in view on this particular day, although some of them were somewhat obscured by smoke: Highland, Tobacco Root, Madison, Gravelly, Elkhorn, Flint, Bridger, Pioneer, Anaconda – and even the Swan Range in the distant northwest.
The trek, a National Recreation Trail, takes hikers through a variety of zones – from grassy aspen-drenched wetlands to whitebark pine stalwarts at the top.
First-time visitors to this neck of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest are warned that much of the area is scarred by beetle-killed lodgepole pine trees. Still, the forest boasts a lot of healthy trees, inherent beauty – and a nicely maintained trail.
On a recent day, two hikers reached the summit at 7 p.m. under blue skies and, by that time, 65-degree temperatures. En route, they inadvertently flushed out a Franklin’s grouse hen. She flew up toward the hikers – who snapped photos then left the hen in peace – in an attempt to distract them from her chicks. The youngsters scattered under logs and some fluttered up onto tree branches.
On the walk down, fresh elk tracks marked the trail. The usual suspects also made their presence known with their unique calls – golden-crowned kinglets, brown creepers, mountain chickadees, Clark’s nutcrackers and downy woodpeckers. Even in late July, wildflowers like Indian paintbrush, miner’s tea and kinnikinick bloomed.
Although GPS info logged by the hikers showed the trail averaged a 12 percent grade, much of the walk into this wild place is shaded.
Location: 12 miles northeast of Butte. To get there, take the Elk Park exit off Interstate 15. If you’re driving from Butte, turn right off the interchange, then left onto the frontage road. Proceed about 3 miles to an intersection of Elk Park Road and Haystack Road. Turn left onto Haystack Road, and continue past the “Dead End” sign. You’ll soon see the Haystack Mountain sign. A higher-clearance vehicle is best to proceed the remaining mile to the trailhead.
Distance/duration: Aside from a couple of saddles, this National Recreation Trail seems to climb the entire way. The trailhead starts at about 6,700 feet elevation and gains 2,100 feet over 2.5 miles, for an average grade of 12 percent.
Difficulty: Strenuous. It took two middle-aged hikers in relatively good shape 1 hour, 40 minutes to reach the top.