This past Thursday (7/5/18), several friends and I hiked to the summit of Table Mountain (10,233 feet), the high point in the Highland Mountains south of Butte, Montana. We left Helena at 6 am, drove 85 miles, started hiking at 8:15 am, and completed the 8-mile (round-trip) walk at 1:30 pm. It was a warm, sunny, breezy day shared with a fit group of fun people. A great time was had by all!
Not your average bear.
Table Mountain in the Highlands south of Butte is a great choice for those who are looking for a hiking experience that is a little out of the ordinary. For one, the hike STARTS at 9,000 feet – So the moment we stepped out of the car we were greeted by great views of much of southwestern Montana. The hike began with a short walk along a road to the abandoned Highland Lookout (14 switch-backs). From there we followed a social trail that took us up onto Red Mountain where we looked down at the lookout tower, and down at the Continental Divide as well – Two things you usually don’t see below you! (Photo Tour)
Never a dull moment.
Red Mountain also gave us our first good look at Table Mountain and the scenic, rugged ridge that hikers must follow to reach it. That “ridge walk” is another unusual aspect of the hike – There is a mostly discernable rocky social trail with a little bit of route-finding, several ups and downs, and a short stretch of scrambling (see photo tour). Once past the ridge, the next phase was a pleasant walk down a gentle grassy slope to the broad pass below Table Mountain, followed by the final half-mile push from the pass to the top.
Above: Table Mountain is the high point in the Highlands south of Butte, but Red Mountain looks higher because it it closer.
To top things off.
Another unique quality of Table Mountain is the strange shape of its summit. Unlike most mountains, its top is very flat and broad, much like a plateau. However, the views rival those you’ll see from any “peak” in southwestern Montana. Although the lookout and the ridge provided us with great views of the city of Butte, the Pioneer Mountains, the Flint Creek Range, and the Pintlers, views from the summit of Table were even better. From there we could identify the Bridgers, the Tobacco Roots, the Elkhorns, Beaverhhead Rock near Dillon, the Jefferson River Valley, and several other interesting places – If you go, be sure to brush up on your geography of the area before you leave (or take a map)!
If you go.
The driving mileage from the airport in Butte to the unofficial trailhead at a gate beneath the Highland Lookout is 20 miles, including 9 miles of gravel. IMPORTANT: You’ll need a high-clearance vehicle for the last two VERY rough miles. To get there from Butte, we followed the directions in 100 Classic Hikes: Montana, a new guide book by Douglas Lorain, which I highly recommend. Driving directions can also be found on Summitpost.com (see link below).
- Photo Tour of Our Hike to the summit of Table Mountain.
Eight miles round-trip.
- Map of the area we hiked.
Zoom in or out, scroll around.
- Summitpost.org – Climbing Table Mountain
Includes driving directions
- More about the Highland Lookout.
Built in 1939 by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Below: This map marks hikes that have been featured on bigskywalker.com so far, including several in Glacier Park – Select full screen to expand, zoom in for more detail, or click on a marker for a link to the post.
My father, Howard Stratton built the road to the Highland Lookout Tower with a cable lift bulldozer……and a little dynamite! 🙂
My family also helped build the original lookout tower which was located on the higher peak and everything was packed up with mules. It only lasted one season and was blown to pieces by lightning. The concrete footings and pieces of melted glass are still visible.
I have a couple pictures somewhere.
I’d love to see those photos!
Thank you for your detailed and very helpful descriptions. I did this as a solo hike this Sunday 7/19/2020 and found it to be just as described. It was one of my first peak ascents and it was nice to know that a group of people had done it before and to know how long it took them.
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