Enjoying a view of the Missouri River and Coulter Campground.

A Great Father-Daughter Date in Helena’s Back Yard
Warm November weather provided me a chance to show my daughter a challenging, but rewarding day-hike in the Gates of the Mountains Recreation Area 20 miles north of Helena. We left Helena at 7 am, drove 20 miles to Upper Holter Lake (Missouri River), then kayaked 3 miles into the canyon, parking at Hunter’s Point on the west bank. From there we bush-wacked up through a gulch to find a place where we could ascend the spectacular limestone cliffs encountered by the Lewis and Clark Expedition on July 19, 1805 – In fact, Lewis described them as “the most remarkable clifts we have yet seen.” (photo tour)

Let the views begin!
Once on top, it was simply a matter of walking along the cliffs, enjoying the views, and looking ahead to pick our routes across a few drainages – The first one proved to be the most challenging, requiring some scrambling and pushing through a short stretch of small, dead trees. Another was blocked by a 30-foot cliff, which we walked along (away from the river) for about 100 yards in order to reach the north side of the gulch. From there, I wanted to show my daughter a natural bridge, which required descending the steep, mostly grassy slope with some loose rocks – difficult, but not dangerous. After exploring the spectacular bridge (see photo album link below), we hiked up to the final and longest stretch of cliffs, directly across from Meriwether Canyon. There we ate lunch while feasting on great views of Mann Gulch, the Sleeping Giant, and the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness. For the return trip we chose an easier route, walking up a grassy ridge (away from the river), before veering south and returning to the drainage that led back to our kayaks. We paddled back to Upper Holter Lake, loaded up, and were home by 3:30 pm.

For the visual learners
To truly appreciate the hike, check out the links below. The “Photo Tour” link will let you see the views we enjoyed as we explored the cliffs on the west side of the river, including that amazing natural bridge.

My plan for this blog is to add another hike every month or so, promote the site, and eventually seek sponsorship. If you sign up to “follow” this blog (see margin to right), you will get an email notification when each new post is ready. Thanks. -Rod Benson

By the numbers
Kayaking distance (round-trip): 6 miles
Hiking distance (round-trip): 6 miles
Hike difficulty: Difficult (due to some stretches of bush-wacking, a few steep segments, and a couple scrambles)
NOTE: Possible ratings include “easy”, “moderate”, “difficult”, and “extreme” – Hiking to the top of Mt. Helena is what I would consider an “easy” hike.

Click on the links below to learn more.

Below: This map marks hikes that have been featured on bigskywalker.com so far – Select full screen to expand, zoom in for more detail, or click on a marker for a link to the post.