Public camping sites along the Continental Divide should be open for fun this weekend as the U.S. Forest Service readies for summer recreation.
Most facilities in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge and Helena-Lewis and Clark national forests have been inspected and prepared for visitor use by the Memorial Day holiday. However, the usual Montana spring-weather warnings apply, with high possibilities for lingering snow, fresh snow, muddy roads and other challenging conditions, according to the Forest Service, which provided the following information.
Travelers should avoid soft and muddy roads, as this is unsafe and can damage the roadbed, leading to expensive repairs. Driving around snow drifts is not permissible because of the damage it causes to vegetation and soil. If you get stuck, help may not be available due to limited cellphone coverage. When driving in the outdoors, visitors are encouraged to notify the Forest Service of any flooding conditions, plugged culverts, downed trees or road damage so that repairs can be made or trees removed.
Numerous roads on the forest have seasonal closures for wildlife such as elk calving areas. Please respect closures and wait until it is legal to use those roads. Respect private property, easements through private lands need to be respected to ensure access to adjacent public lands. Forest maps are a great tool to get acquainted with legal routes and roads for motorized travel.
Bears are out and sightings at lower elevations are common. In particular “Be Aware” — grizzly bears are very active this time of year. Make sure you store attractants appropriately.
Be careful with fire and to never to leave a campfire unattended, and make sure your coals are cool to the touch before you leave. Fireworks on National Forest system lands are not permissible.
Many trails may not be open at higher elevations due to mud, snow, or downed trees. Stay on the trail and do not create new trails to get around hazards. Expect many trails to be impassable from fallen trees.
The Toll Mountain Campground southeast of Butte in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest is closed because an earthen dam on a stream above the site has been damaged by high spring runoff and is at risk of failure. Forest Service crews are attempting to drain some of the reservoir behind the dam to reduce the pressure.
Elsewhere in the Butte-Whitehall area, Beaverdam, Lowland, Delmoe Lake, Whitehouse and Pigeon Creek Campgrounds will be open. Water will be available at Beaverdam, Delmoe Lake and Whitehouse. Homestake and Elkhorn picnic areas will be open as well, with water available at Homestake.
Thompson Park is open daily from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. There are three picnic areas and two trailheads that access 25 miles of non-motorized trails, including the Milwaukee Road. The park is co-managed with Butte-Silver Bow through October. The Thompson Park Eagles Nest disc golf course is the only authorized course open to the public for use on the National Forest.
Sheepshead Recreation Area, north of Butte, offers fishing and picnicking for groups and will open June 8. The pavilions at Sheepshead and Freedom Point can be reserved for weddings, picnics, and other types of day-use activities. Call the Butte Ranger District for reservations.
Most trailheads are open; however trail access may be minimal at higher elevations due to high snow levels. Trail crews and volunteers have cleared Thompson Park, portions of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail and Rawhide Trail in the Elkhorns; however, trail users should expect to find blocked trails due to the high number of downed trees. Contact the Butte Ranger District to find out trail conditions or to report blocked trails.
Forest Service crews will continue clearing the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail in June. A variety of maps including Whitetail-Pipestone, Thompson Park, CDNST, and forest visitor maps are available at the Butte Ranger District as well as downloadable maps from Avenza for Android and iPhones.
For updates on access to recreation sites and trails, contact the Forest Service office in Butte at 406-494-2147, or visit 1820 Meadowlark Lane.
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For the Georgetown Lake, Philipsburg and Deer Lodge Valley: Philipsburg Bay, Piney, Cable, and Lodgepole Campgrounds managed by Big Sky Recreation will be open and fees charged. Spring Hill will open by Memorial Day. Racetrack, East Fork, Copper, and Spillway Campgrounds are open. Echo Lake, Moose Lake and East Fork picnic areas are open. Orofino should be open by early June. Flint Creek Campground will be closed for the 2019 season for reconstruction of the road and camp spurs. The work is being completed through funding from Tri-County Resource Advisory Committee and Anaconda Job Corps. Grassy Point and Red Bridge will be available for use by Memorial Day along with the day use sites around Georgetown Lake. Day Use fees will be charged at Grassy, Red Bridge, Piney and Philipsburg Bay beginning Memorial Day weekend.
Racetrack Road should be open by Memorial Day, allowing access to Racetrack Cabin. The road beyond the cabin may have limited access due to snow levels. Most trailheads are accessible; however trail access may be minimal at higher elevations due to high snow levels and a high number of downed trees at low- and mid-elevations. Trail crews will begin work in June.
Restoration and repair of trails and structures from the 2017 fires continue in the Anaconda Pintler Wilderness, however, the burned area remains open. When traveling though the wilderness be aware of hazards such as fallen rock, trees and debris as well as burned puncheons snag trees.
Call the Forest Service office in Philipsburg, 406-859-3211 for more information.
Some of the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness trailheads are accessible at this point, but not all. Visitors will likely encounter snow and downed trees within a couple miles of trailheads, but most lakes are still snow-covered. As a reminder, use of stock within the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness is prohibited on the Pintler District April 1 through July 1. Check with Forest Service offices in Wise River, Philipsburg, or Wisdom, and the Bitterroot National Forests office in Sula for details as you plan your wilderness trip.
In the Big Hole area, May Creek, Steel Creek, Mussigbrod and Pintler campgrounds will be available for use with limited services. Twin Lakes Campground is not yet accessible due to snow. Many roads and trailheads will still be under snow and inaccessible.
The following campgrounds along the northern portion of the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway will be available for use: Little Joe, Willow, Lodgepole, Pettengill, Mono Creek, Fourth of July and Boulder Creek. The Byway remains closed along its southern portion due to snow. Grasshopper and Price Creek campgrounds are not open. The road to the historic Coolidge/Elkhorn mining town is closed at the Mono Creek Campground due to unsafe conditions. Travelers may reach the historic Canyon Creek charcoal kilns west of Melrose, however, Vipond Park is not fully accessible.
Call Forest Service offices either in Wisdom at 406-689-3243, Wise River at 406-832-3178, or Dillon 406-683-3900 for more information before heading out for your trip.
In the Eastern Pioneer Mountains and south of Dillon, other forest roads blocked by snow include the upper end of Thief Creek road, above the Birch Creek Center, and Upper Willow Creek. Travel may not be possible up-drainage to Gorge or Tendoy Lakes until mid-June.
All major access roads into the Lima Peaks, Tendoys, and Bloody Dick Range are open. Access to Reservoir Lake is open; however, travel over the Big Hole Divide is closed due to snow. Lemhi Pass and the Sacajawea Memorial Camp are open. Browns Lake, out of Glen, along Interstate 90, on Rock Creek is open, but access further up the drainage is not possible or is limited. Be aware that creek and river levels can change significantly with warmer temperatures. Caution should be used when playing and hiking around main tributaries. Contact the Dillon Ranger District at 406-683-3900.
In Madison County, Potosi and Mill Creek campgrounds are currently open and water is available. The Branham Lake Campground in upper Mill Creek is not yet accessible. The Ruby River Campgrounds are open, Elk Lake in the Centennial is open; however, water is not available at either of these sites. Campgrounds are anticipated to be open Memorial Day weekend along the Madison River and including West Fork, Riverview, Madison River, Wade Lake, Cliff Point, and Hill Top.
Many roads in the Gravelly Range won’t be open until July 1. This allows roads to dry before they get traffic. For more information, call the Forest Service in Sheridan, at 406-842-5432, or Ennis, at 406-682-4253.
On the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest, the majority of recreation sites have begun operations. The Crystal Lake Campground in the Judith-Mussellshell Ranger District is partially snowblocked but accessible. Kings Hill Campground in the Belt Creek White Sulphur Springs Ranger District is closed until July or early August due to snow. The Skidway Campground in the Townsend Ranger District is closed due to hazard trees, and the Gipsy Campground there is closed by snow although the site’s day-use area is open (but wet).