I don’t get out and hike near as much as I want to – but who really does? August provided me one perfect weekend to use Great Falls as my basecamp and head out to explore North, West & East – three days, three different landscapes to view – all while relaxing with good food and modern amenities at night. I loved it and want to share a little bit of my experience with you.
Day 1 | North Shore of the River’s Edge Trail
The River’s Edge Trail is 53 total miles and offers a variety of options for hiking, walking, and biking. This day, I tackled a roughly 6-mile portion of the North Shore Trail. The ups and downs on this trail equate to around 27 flights of stairs and you get vistas of the Missouri River, Highwood Mountains, and Little Belt Mountains along the way. Quick access to the trailhead means you aren’t too far away from civilization, but far enough away to reconnect with nature. The trail provides a natural turning around point, which I used, to head back, and test my photography skills.
This short hike got me warmed up for the adventures that lay ahead over the next two days.
Day 2 | Trail No. 201 at Gibson Reservoir
I wasn’t quite sure where I was headed, other than I knew I wanted to hike along the banks of Gibson Reservoir and I wanted to take a drive into Sun River Canyon (one of my favorite scenic drives in the State). Although Trail No. 201 wasn’t my original pick for the day – each step got me more and more giddy to see where it was going to lead. This trail didn’t have the ups and downs of the day before, it was along a rock ledge and had gradual inclines and declines. The trail winds through a meadow and a few different clusters of trees for shade at all the right times.
I knew my legs only had so many hours in them, so I turned around at my legs’ halfway point, which made this just about 7 miles. I saw a squirrel and a bald eagle along the trail and was ready for bears, as they are known in the area, but didn’t see a one.
This hike was the perfect level of intensity to make the burger and beer in Augusta hit the spot.
Day 3 | Sluice Boxes State Park
Just minutes from Great Falls, off of HWY 89, I arrived at the Main Entrance to do the North Section of the park. When you arrive at the park, the trail has options – left or right. Left will take you a little closer along Belt Creek and through dense brush. Right is very open and more road like with great views of the canyon you are in. I took the left route – ending up in the same location as the right route, at creek crossing 1. The north section of the park has 4 crossing of Belt Creek. I’m 5’ 8” and the deepest portion of the creek hit me at my upper thigh as I crossed, and the water was the right kind of refreshing.
After the 4th crossing, I elected to change my perspective and take the overlook portion of the trail. This trail takes you across the top of the canyon rims, is a bit narrower and has dramatic ledges. With plenty of stops to take amazing photos, reflect on the tenacity of the miners from days gone past, and lingering in Belt Creek, it took less than 4 hours and was just under 5 miles.
It was the perfect cool down hike from the past two days.