Take a look at a map of Helena. It’s a small city surrounded by green. That green means public land, and public land means hiking. The mountains around Helena are absolutely full of extraordinary hiking opportunities. In fact, there’s something like 70+ miles of hiking options within walking distance of downtown. There are a whole host of online resources, including trail descriptions and maps, to help plan your hike (check out the Prickly Pear Land Trust’s site, Arcgis, or download the Avenza app). Below are just two of our favorite areas.
The Scratchgravel Hills consist of over 5,800 acres of BLM land on the western outskirts of Helena. It is dotted with old mining claims and criss-crossed with Jeep roads. The area was demotorized in 2009, so hikers, bikers, and horse riders have the roads to themselves these days. The BLM is working on developing the trail network in the area–there are some dead-end roads and inconvenient user-made trails–but there are already some really good hikes, including Scratchgravel Peak, with its excellent views. The IR has some useful directions to the Peak.
South Helena Trails
The South Helena Trails are the gem in the sprawling Helena trail system. These alone account for the “70+ miles of hiking” stat, and the South Helena trail system receives nearly 60,000 visitors a year. The system includes both Mount Helena and Mount Ascension, which are both city parks, as well as land owned by the Forest Service and Prickly Pear Land Trust. The forests, streams, and mountains of the South Helena Trails offer a haven, not just for humans, but for all sorts of Montana wildlife.