HELENA - CENTRAL DIVIDE
The Central Divide regional office of the MCC serves the greatest geographic portion of Montana - from the craggy crest of the Rocky Mountain Front at the edge of the vast Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, to the far reaches of the windswept Northern Great Plains, even reaching into the badlands of North Dakota. Crews serving in this location get a taste of the wild openness of this iconic landscape, and engage in a mix of conservation projects as wide and diverse as the landscape.
A big draw to the area is the proximity to nearly every type of recreation that the state has to offer. Beyond the city’s own city parks are the variety of landscapes found in Helena National Forest. Boasting nearly one hundred thousand acres of ecosystem spanning from rugged mountain Wilderness to arid lowlands and sagebrush, in the national forest you may run into a grizzly on a Wilderness trail, watch a bald eagle scan a winding river for trout, or witness a herd of bighorn sheep scale a sheer mountain face. Just north of the city many residents go to the Great Divide Ski Area in the winter or flyfish in the blue-ribbon stretch of the Missouri River in the summer. If you can’t find the activity you’re looking for in Helena itself, you won’t have to go far.
Public Lands in Our Area
Big Belt Mountains
A section of the Rocky Mountains situated mainly in the Helena National Forest. The mountains are used for logging and recreation for the surrounding residents. The Gates of the Mountains Wilderness is found at the northern tip of the range. The peaks of the Big Belts are quite rounded and even gentle, in stark contrast to some of the nearby mountain ranges such as the Bridger Range and the Crazy Mountains. Most of the use of the Big Belt Mountains comes in the form of off-roading, exploring the mountains forest roads, and mountain biking. Horse packing is also popular due to the open nature of the mountains.
Canyon Ferry Lake
The lake is a popular outdoor destination providing boating, fishing, wildlife habitat, and is nestled against the Big Belt Mountains of the Rockies. Canyon Ferry Lake has also become a leading venue for iceboat racing and iceboat world speed record attempts. The former town of Canton lies beneath the lake, having been submerged following construction of the dam. The reservoir covers 25 miles and there are 24 Bureau of Reclamation maintained recreation sites around the reservoir.
Continental Divide Trail
Access to a section of the trail begins in the Helena National Forest. The 65-mile segment offers vivid glimpses into the past. The forest is sprinkled with history from Native American inhabitants to early explorers to the booming days of gold mining. The natural beauty of the area is complemented by outstanding opportunities for fishing the Blackfoot and Missouri Rivers and viewing magnificent big game in the 129,000-acre Elkhorn Wildlife Management Unit.
This 300,000-acre area is managed cooperatively by private landowners, the BLM, the Forest Service, and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. About 70 percent of the Elkhorns is publicly owned. The management emphasis is on wildlife and dispersed recreation. One of the state’s healthiest elk herds inhabits the Elkhorns. The remnants of trails and wagon roads once used by American Indians, trappers, and gold miners remain and form the core of a primitive transportation system throughout the Elkhorns.
Elkhorn State Park
Backcountry roads settle you into a 19th century mining landscape before you reach historic Fraternity Hall and Gillian Hall nestled within the privately owned town of Elkhorn. Bring your camera to record these two picturesque structures from the early-day silver-mining ghost town, preserved as outstanding examples of frontier architecture. Each has been recorded in the Historic American Buildings Survey.
First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park
An archaeological site with possibly the largest bison cliff jump in North America. Native peoples used this site for at least a thousand years before Lewis and Clark passed through the area. The bison jump site consists of a mile long sandstone cliff; there are remnants of drive lines on top of the cliff and there are up to 18 feet of compacted buffalo remains below the cliff. The park has an interpretive trail, picnic tables, and a protected black-tailed prairie dog town to help visitors better understand the epic history of hunting on the high plains.
Gates of the Mountains Wilderness
Follow in Lewis & Clark’s footsteps on a boat tour or hike the area to discovere the Missouri River and marvel at its natural wonders. Towering limestone cliffs rise up seeming to block each bend in the waterway, only to open like gentle giant gates. Bighorn Sheep and Mountain Goats as well as ospreys, eagles and falcons, and black bears are often seen on the tours. Native American pictographs can also still be seen etched into the sheer rock wall.
Hauser Lake is a 3,200 acre reservoir on the Missouri River created by the Hauser Dam. The lake yields Kokanee Salmon; for which it holds the state record. Rainbow and brown trout, walleye, and perch can also be found. It is an extremely popular take-off point for weekend boating, fishing, and water skiing. There are two scenic public campgrounds on Hauser Lake, White Sandy and a few yards further Black Sandy State Park.
Helena National Forest
Located in west-central Montana, the Helena National Forest surrounds Montana’s capital city and offers close to one million acres of distinctive landscapes. Straddling the Continental Divide, the Helena National Forest is rich with natural and cultural resources. Its diverse topography and geology provides wonderful scenery and many recreational opportunities. The forest's mountain ranges contain a wide diversity of plant and animal life. Native cutthroat trout and other fish species populate clear mountain lakes and streams. Evidence of past human use, ranging from ancient Indian cliff paintings to historic mining ruins, is everywhere.
Holter Lake is located in west central Montana near Helena. There are well maintained campgrounds available which are near the shore of Holter Lake. There is a prairie dog town just down the road and food service within close proximity of these BLM sites.
Lake Helena is open to day-use and walk-in access yearlong. Bird watching and wildlife photography opportunities can be found during any season. The spring and fall migration periods offer opportunities to view an array of species, from swans to eagles. The road from the kiosk to the lake is open for hand-launching of boats from September 1 to the end of waterfowl season (usually the middle of January).
Mount Helena City Park
Mount Helena City Park is Helena’s most noticeable landmark and features numerous trails of various levels of difficulty across the park’s 630 acres. Maps of this area are located at the base of the mountain in a kiosk.
This canyon located northeast of Helena is a fantastic destination on a hot summer day. Temperatures within the small canyon remain cool year round. Take County Road 280, otherwise known as York Road. At the York Bar, turn left onto a gravel road and head north about eight miles to Nelson. At Nelson, turn right heading east toward Hogback Mountain approximately five miles. The trailhead sign is large and easily seen from the road.
Sleeping Giant Wilderness Study Area
A non-motorized recreation area located on the west side of the Missouri River and Holter Lake is about 30 miles north of Helena. Designated as a wilderness study area in 1981, the Sleeping Giant Wilderness contains approximately 6,666 acres of nearly roadless land, about half of which is forested. A portion of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail is contained inside the area. The study area is a critical mountain goat habitat in the state, and also contains significant populations of bald eagles, bighorn sheep, black bear, brook trout, cutthroat trout, elk, golden eagles, mule deer, osprey, and peregrine falcons.
Spring Meadows State Park
Located on the western edge of Helena, this 30-acre spring fed manmade lake is noted for its clarity and depth. This urban, day-use-only park minutes from Helena fed by natural springs, is a popular spot for family afternoons of swimming, sunbathing, scuba diving, fishing, birdwatching, and pure play. The park is home to a variety of birds, turtles and other wildlife and has had trout, bass, and sunfish introduced to its waters.