Baby, It’s Cold Outside, But Snowshoeing Will Keep You Warm
Peace, solitude and warmth await those willing to drive a few miles or up to an hour for some snowshoeing fun. Yes, snowshoeing can be quite warm once participants leave their car and get on the trail for this aerobic exercise.
A beginner snowshoe right in town is the River’s Edge Trail from Rainbow Dam to Crooked Falls and beyond or along the north-shore trail,which starts in Black Eagle. Both hikes hug the river for fantastic wintry scenery and for viewing non-migratory birds. Go a short distance; go a long distance; it’s easy to get home in time for dinner.
Silver Crest Winter Recreation Area
Another place for those just starting is Silver Crest Winter Recreation Area, located 7.5 miles south of Neihart at Mile Marker 30 on Hwy89. This area offers several options from half a mile to almost three.
These routes are mostly flat and well marked with red diamonds posted on trees. The longer trail features a shelter complete with afire barrel for roasting marshmallows or hotdogs while enjoying a thermos of hot chocolate. This area is family friendly and is shared with mushers and cross-country skiers. But please stay off the ski trails, marked with blue diamonds, as snowshoes ruin the grooming.
The area is maintained by volunteers in conjunction with the Forest Service. Donations (boxes at trailhead or via the website) are appreciated. For more information, trail conditions, maps and brochures, contact the Silver Crest Winter Recreation Area.
Jefferson and Crawford Creeks
Those ready to branch out from Silver Crest may want to try Jefferson Creek or Crawford Creek.
Jefferson Creek parking lot is just off Highway 89, three miles south of Neihart near Memorial Falls. It is actually a road to a campground, so the trail is broad and mostly flat with slight uphill and follows the babbling Jefferson Creek, so lovely covered in snow and crystals in the wintertime. Then the road crosses Chamberlain Creek, a nice turn-around point for a two-mile outing.
This hike is an out and back so snowshoers can go one mile or 10 by turning around when they feel tired.
Crawford Creek increases the difficulty level a bit as the uphill is more strenuous than Jefferson Creek. Located behind the Belt Creek Ranger Station, snowshoers can park at the station and then walk around the back to cross a bridge over Belt Creek and then head uphill following Crawford Creek. Hikers can climb to the top of the hill to Belt Park Road with views of Keegan Park and Belt Park Butte.
This out-and-back snowshoe is little traveled, providing solitude in a pristine setting.
Getting Started | Opportunities for Guided Snowshoe Hikes with Gear
Those who might be hesitant to try snowshoeing on their own will find Montana Wilderness Association’s guided Winter Walks program a perfect fit. The association offers walks all over Montana from January to April, snowshoes provided.
Another option is Winter Trails Day, a free event, with beginner and intermediate guided snowshoe hikes and ski tours along with a lunch of chili, hot dogs, cookies and hot cocoa. This year, Winter Trails Day has been postponed from a February date to sometime in March, due to the government shutdown. The event will be held at Silver Crest Winter Recreation Area. Visit getfithikes.com for more information. Snowshoes and cross-country skis are available for loan at the event.
If you need equipment, the Helena-Lewis and Clark Forest Service Great Falls office have snowshoes to lend. For individuals and small groups, the snowshoes are on a first-come/first served basis; they check out for three days. Group leaders need to call ahead for availability and to reserve. Office hours are M-F, 8am-4:30 pm at 406-791-7754. The Belt Creek Ranger Station, open weekdays, also has snowshoes.
Katie Kotynski has worn several hats in public and private education K-12 and higher education: assessment specialist, adjunct instructor, technology coordinator, journalism and at-risk instructor, as well as a librarian. Now retired from K-12, Kotynski still teaches workshops and adjunct classes at the university level as well as coordinating the state educational technology conference. She has more time to spend with her gals hiking group Girls in Glacier. Her passion remains educational technology and writing.