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Montana State Parks

Montana state parks are great places to enjoy the outdoors in Montana.

Giant Springs Heritage State Park

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Along the Missouri river in a sleepy little town lies the world’s shortest river. Within Great Falls, Montana is a quaint and beautiful area known simply as Giant Springs to the locals. It is a photograph waiting to happen at every angle. The shortest river in the world runs into this sparkling, ominous pool of life in motion. It is a youthful moment as you cheer on a beaver, or watch tiny little creatures clamor around this multi colored rock formations reflecting back from the pools. A bridge offers up even a different view between water’s edges and rolling green park hills where families wander with their picnic goodies. Where you stand at this moment you will notice almost any activity is possible here. Fishing on the Missouri river is known to pull in some typical hauls, yet some strange ones too. The Missouri river is known for the hard- to- get sturgeon; as once even Jacques Cousteau tried. If you would rather just feed or watch fish, then the fish hatchery at the side entrance of Giant Springs Park welcomes you. Some of these fish have homed here for a long time, with their size and swiftness to grab a bite all in check. Giant Springs offers up some great history and information on both the park and the hatchery.
Perhaps you wish to bike or hike the area, this is optional use of Giant Springs. You will see many people biking and walking the numerous trails available. Pet owners love to let their dogs run the trails here. If you wish just to walk the ponds and picnic, there are some amazing picnic areas located right above the little ponds. gspark
Probably the most difficult thing about Giant Springs Park and Hatchery is finding it. Although Great Falls Montana isn’t a big town, unless you’re a local you won’t know the easy shortcuts to the park. Great Falls can be a confusing little town to navigate. Both roads leading into this thriving windy city will put you on 10th Ave. South. At the crossroad of 10th Ave. South and 32nd St. you will want to trek on down 32nd St. until you meet River Road. Take a right at this point. There will be a green sign to help you along the riverbank drive. This is the local’s directions. If you happen to go in the opposite direction and cross Smelter Avenue, it will throw you a left leading to a wonderful and fun duck pond called Gibson Park. This is an advisable ending to your time at Giant Springs Park. People love this enduring pond of geese, swans and ducks that walk right up to you for a treat. There is also music, food, sports, and activities happening here. The two parks experienced, make for a great memory of the Great Falls area. Families will talk for a long time after of their day.

Fish Creek State Park

Fish Creek Camping
Fish Creek Camping

From the Williams Peak lookout you can see clearly the amazing crystal clear blue pools of fish creek. This is a 5603 acre state park full of wildlife, picturesque scenery and an unbelievable amount of places to explore. This newer park is now considered to become the second largest State Park in Western Montana with Eastern Montana boasting of Makoshika State Park near Glendive as the biggest. Fish Creek State Park sits on a 41,000 acre parcel received from the U.S Forest Service and Plum Creek Timber Company as part of the Montana Legacy Project.
This mesmerizing area is popular with the fishing anglers and has a small existing campground. There are undesignated camping spots as well for the brave of heart. Located near Alberton, Fish Creek empties into the lower Clark Fork River. This is the native spawning habitat for cutthroat trout and bull trout. Fishing is just one of the many recreational activities here. The Alberton Gorge is famous for white water rafting. These rapids are famously known for its class III/IV white waters. The State park has been gradually opening up more opportunities for different recreational activities year round. In process is a new large, recreational vehicle park and plans of creating a hut-to-hut back country network. New trails have been opened up for motorized and non-motorized use. The park is so large; just about any recreational activity is available.fish2
Hiking in this park will put even the best to the test. Old growth forage and common black bears (even a grizzly) will put you in the center of a true Montana wilderness. Wildlife is in abundance and caution should be used when hiking uncharted areas. Aside from the relaxing moments of picnicking, seasonal gems pop up like huckleberry picking in late July. If the summer is not for you then Fish Creek State Park has plenty of winter activities. Snowshoeing, and cross country skiing just being a couple ideas.
Fish Creek State Park is in the infancy stages of development. Expansion of this pristine wilderness is in the works to include more outdoor recreation opportunities. Until then, come enjoy the existing amenities, and create your own personal adventure.
This park is open year round. A fire is not permitted, nor is smoking unless it is in your vehicle or a specifically designated area. Check the fire hazard signs, as Montana can be unusually dry during the summer seasons. Be sure to obtain the proper permits before questing off to the Fish Creek State Park wilderness.
Fish Creek State Park can be accessed by taking Interstate 90 towards Alberton to exit 66, turn South, then West on Fish Creek Road. The park is located 9 miles West of Alberton.

Granite Ghost Town State Park

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East from the town of Philipsburg is the road to Granite. This narrow road climbs to 1,280 feet in elevation. The road is steep and winding, opening to the deserted camps. A vehicle with good clearance is recommended as the road can be considered a white knuckle ride. The park is scenic and worthy for the photographing of this historic area. The state park preserves the Granite Mine Superintendent’s house in the Historic American Buildings Survey along with the old miner’s union hall.
The history of this ghost town begins in 1865 with a man by the name of Hector Horton. He was the first prospector to find silver. In the fall of 1872 a man named Eli Holland claimed the mine and relocated it. This mine almost went undiscovered when a telegram from back east was delayed. The telegram ordered the miners to pull out of operations and leave the mine. And as the story goes, it was that final blast in which Granite was deemed the richest silver mine on earth to the eye -opening amount of $40,000,000.
1879 with Charles McLure who found a piece of high grade “ruby” silver ore in the Granite Mind shaft. His ambition and steadfastness made him move quickly to purchase a lease and option on the claim for 30,000 dollars. When Granite was in full bloom, it formed a modern community with a hospital and school as well as 18 saloons, a thriving brothel, churches and the Miner’s Union Hall. The streets were named and several homes existed for the prosperous inhabitants. Remnants of the old miner’s union hall remain, once reported to be the “Northwest’s Finest Dance Floor.” The famous building was a popular community center point for the community of Granite. On the second floor where the dancing began, so did vaudeville and melodramas. The auditorium packed a full house to entertainment. On the first floor the club had a pool parlor along with a library. The spirit of the town remains in the shell of the Old Miner’s Hall which can be seen in Granite Ghost Town. The third and second floors have collapsed, the roof is caved, and the first floor club and café are near the end.HPIM1841
Ranking eleventh in size of Montana Cities, Granite was part of Deer Lodge County until 1893 when Granite County was incorporated. Also in 1893, The Sherman Silver Purchase Act was repealed. Silver prices dropped down and the mine was closed on the morning of August 1, 1893. In a swift move, the majority of people left Granite leaving behind much of their worldly possessions. One year later Granite had a population of only 140 people.
The park is open from May to September. To access the ghost town, enter Philipsburg until a flashing light and stop sign appear (middle of Philipsburg). Take a right, drive past the railroad trestle and then go left. This dirt road will continue for a mile. The sign for the ghost town appears. Take a right. Granite Ghost Town State Park is approximately 4 miles from Philipsburg.

Council Grove State Park

Council Grove State Park

 

Hellgate Treaty - Council Grove State Park
Hellgate Treaty – Council Grove State Park

A tranquil setting describes Council Grove State Park the best. This little park is a well kept secret but worth experiencing. Only 10 minutes out of Missoula on Mullan Road a sign points the way down in. The park opens up to majestic scene of old growth ponderosa pines, grassy fields, and the Clark Fork River. Open aspen groves allow you the delight of watching the blue herons nesting. A walk along the river will navigate you through Cottonwood trees, beavers and sightings of eagles. A seasonal vernal pool exists for the breeding ground of frogs and salamanders. The Clark Fork River collides with the Swan and Flathead rivers making for some great fishing accesses. If fishing does not call to you, there are many hiking trails surrounding the area.

 

This is a great place to explore and feel a part of nature. Wildlife is abundant, perfect for photographers. There is nothing more relaxing as a day picnic here, and nothing more invigorating then spotting a group of white tail deer or the meandering black bear. The Clark Fork River provides an opportunity to either sit quietly at the edge, or wade peacefully in the shallow banks. It is relatively quiet, without a lot of people or noise.

 
Composed of 187 acres of prime land, the Council Grove State Park sits at an elevation of 3, 198 feet. The park history is told by Kiosks revealing the exact spot where the Hellgate Treaty was signed. It was in 1855, Isaac Stevens negotiated this treaty between the U.S. Government and the Kootenai-Salish and Pend d’Orielle native Indians to create the Flathead Reservation in the Mission valley. These tribes reluctantly relinquished their 12 million acres of their ancestral hunting grounds down to 1.25 million which begins in Evaro, Montana and continues past Flathead Lake. The Salish were removed from the Bitterroot Valley as a result of the treaty.

 
This park is available for day use only and vehicle preference is cars (no R.V.’s). Picnic tables are scattered throughout the park, all in a pristine natural environment. Fish, Wildlife, and Parks operates this relaxing site and offer comfortable amenities for day recreation. There are grills and fire rings close to the picnic tables. Vault toilets and drinking water are available. The park also accommodates handicapped accessible facilities. Because Council Grove Park is a designated “Primitive” site there are no fees to enter but requires a pack in/pack out obligation.

 

Other things to consider are fishing permits which can be acquired either at any of the fly shops or outdoor gear stores, some conveniently on Reserve Street. The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks also issues fishing permits. Fire season in Montana can be tough sometimes, so before starting the fire pit, please check the fire hazard signs for the day. On the return ride, check out some of Missoula’s highlights and museums. After a perfect day in Council Grove State Park, you may just find yourself back there again soon.

Beaverhead Rock State Park

Beaverhead Rock State Park

Beaverhead Rock - 1871
Beaverhead Rock – 1871 Plank Bridge

Beaverhead Rock State Park is more about commemoration than of activities. Also known as ‘Point of Rocks’ formation, it sits alone at 4,900 above sea level. What you witness is a recognized landmark of a beaver head shaped rock yet the story behind this resemblance of a swimming beaver is legendary. It plays a significant part of the journey done by Lewis and Clark. Sacagawea, their Shoshone guide, recognized the rock from her childhood and knew immediately her people were nearby. Clark and his main party reached the rock on August 10, 1805 with eight dugout canoes. Lewis had passed this rock two days earlier and diverted on a well known Indian trail 60 more miles. The curvy, very twisted Beaverhead River curls like a snake below the rock formation. Clark believed he was still on the Jefferson River; which left the expedition party exhausted and running low on supplies.

The expedition was in desperate need from the tribal people of the area and Sacagawea’s memory gave them much wanted hope. “She assures us that we shall either find her people on this river [the Beaverhead] or on the river immediately west of its source; which from its present size cannot be very distant,” Meriwether Lewis wrote in his journal on August 8, 1805.

Lewis & Clark Expedition - Sacagawea Standing
Lewis & Clark Expedition – Sacagawea Standing

Years later the historical path became a stage stop near the formation. The stop was the hub between Virginia City and Bannack during the gold rush. The trail brought settlers, and prospectors. Ranchers used the area for ritual cattle drives. From 1860 to 1880s, this path was one of the most traveled in Montana. By 1920, everything was gone.
In 1975, Beaverhead Rock became a state park and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The 30 acre park is considered primitive and offers no amenities. The site is somewhat accessible, without a marked turnoff and a pretty rough road; but for the adventurous who love to hike then access is manageable. There are a couple great ways to see the swimming beaver shaped formation. One is from the top of Clark’s Lookout State Park in Dillon and the other is to drive about 14 miles south of Twin Bridges on Montana Highway 41. There is a pullout overlooking the park along with the historical information signs and a cool bird sculpture. The Beaverhead Gateway ranch wetlands now run close to the formation near the base of the bluff.
Near Beaverhead Rock State Park are other attractions such as Bannack State Park, historic Virginia and Nevada cities, and Clark’s Lookout State Park. Montana is home to some of the greatest history of old west times.

Beavertail Hill State Park

Beavertail Hill State Park

Missoula is known for its identification as a ‘river culture’. This is what makes Beavertail Hill State Park a contender for the continuing love of water. One half mile of the park is located on the Clark Fork River. Boating, fishing, and floating are all the favorite activities to take place here.

Beavertail Hill State Park
Beavertail Hill State Park

If you need more water, then head on over to the Beavertail fishing pond which is fully stocked with rainbow trout, perch and whitefish. As far as ponds go, this is a bigger pond which should be classified as a lake. Boating is carry in only. But feel free to jump in and take a swim. This is a grand area for family memories to happen. If you still feel the fishing bug…Rock Creek is only four miles away and brags that there are 700 fish per mile. Rock Creek is a famous Blue Ribbon stream.

The park is over 65 acres and with so much depth to it. If you are into bird watching or wildlife viewing this place is geared to show you a small herd of deer or an occasional moose. There are one hour walking nature trails through the Cottonwood trees which defines the ominous setting. Wild turkeys are a common sighting.
The amenities rate pretty high for this park as well. Bring the R.V., or the tents. There are spacious campsites offered at a ‘first come, first serve’ basis. But then again… there are always the two Sioux style tipis for rent. They are 18 feet in size and sleep 6 to 8 people. The tipis are very well taken care of and offer a camping experience of different kind, one that is reflective of history and earlier times. Other amenities are the picnic tables, fire grills and R.V hook ups. Beavertail Hill State Park also host interpretive programs on Friday summer nights in their Amphitheater. If you need firewood, that can be purchased on spot as well. A comfort station, toilets and drinking water are also included.
Historical reminders of the area lay as remnants to railroad past of the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroads. The railroad known as the “Old Milwaukee” was a unique route in a dozen states. This railroad was abandoned in 1980; leaving behind its legacy in old brick depots, electrical substations, and breathtaking tunnels. The park offers historical information on the Old Milwaukee Road.
Getting to Beavertail Hill State Park is an easy ride. Drive interstate 90 east of Missoula for about 26 miles until the sign prompts you the park is coming up. Take the exit #130, then drive approximately .25 mile south on Bonita Station Road to the park entrance. For those on their way to other destinations, this is a very convenient camping area as it is easily accessed from the freeway (and secretly hidden). The environment is better than any commercial campground. The park is open from May 1 to October 31.