Not a climber?
According to Tom Kotynski, author of Discover the Rocky Mountain Front, the hike to Muddy Creek Falls northwest of Choteau is “one of the most accessible and yet more visually pleasing sites on the Rocky Mountain Front – a must see for those with limited time and energy”.  In other words, if you are looking for a relatively easy hike to a REALLY cool destination in one of the most beautiful parts of Montana, Muddy Creek Falls is an excellent choice (6 miles round-trip with hardly any elevation gain). (Photo Tour)

Got smoke? No problem.
Scenic beauty was just one reason I chose this as my last hike of summer vacation. Another factor was the condition of our skies – For the past few weeks we’ve been inundated by smoke from wildfires near and far, making our “Big Sky” not so pretty. It takes a lot of the fun out of peak-bagging when you can’t see very far from the summit. On the other hand, the trek into Muddy Creek Falls is a “canyon hike”, so the good stuff is right along the trail. I’d been to the falls with my wife in 2014, but my three companions this past Thursday (8/23/18) had never been there. The group included my daughter Amy, my friend Mark, and his 8-year-old grandson Gus, who we were able to entice with the prospect of finding fossils along the way.

Muddy Creek Canyon and Blackleaf Canyon west of Bynum, Montana.

Unexpected fun.
I knew my partners would be amazed by the half-mile long canyon and spectacular falls at the end of our 3-mile hike, but I didn’t anticipate how much fun we would have during the first 2 miles of the hike. We made the 135-mile drive from Helena to the trailhead west of Bynum, and started hiking at 11:30 am. After walking a short distance on the trail, it became apparent that the trail had been adversely impacted by flooding last spring. The Rocky Mountain Front received huge amounts of snow last winter, so extraordinary runoff caused flooding and transported tremendous amounts of rock material down into the trail area this past spring. In places the path was covered by these gravels – We probably could have found and followed it, but we decided to take a different approach. We really wanted to help Gus find some fossils, so we simply walked along the dry stream bed, which we knew would eventually lead to the canyon and the falls. We had a great time! The rocks in the stream bed included cobbles of Madison limestone, and enough of those contained fossils to keep the fun going as we slowly made our way toward the canyon. By the time we reached the canyon, the weight of Grandpa Mark’s day-pack had increased considerably!

The grand finale.
As we were enjoying the excitement of finding fossils, I became concerned that if there was no water in the stream, the falls at the end of the canyon would be dry as well. However, as we got closer to the mouth of the canyon (~2 miles from the trailhead), suddenly there was plenty of water in the channel. After it poured over the falls and flowed out of the canyon, it was simply soaking into the ground, leaving the lower reaches of the stream dry. It seemed strange, but I’ve actually seen quite a few places like this, especially as I’ve hiked in canyons where there is plenty of limestone. As for the canyon and Muddy Creek Falls, they did not disappoint. They were even spectacular enough to draw our attention away from looking for fossils. The 3-mile hike fossil-hunting expedition into the falls took us 2 hours, we spent half an hour, and then hiked back to the trailhead, arriving there at 3:30 pm.

Getting there – It’s a bit tricky.
We depended on Kotynski’s book for driving directions . . . Follow Highway #89 north of Choteau for 13 miles to Bynum, turn west onto Central Avenue, drive through town (a few blocks), take a right onto Blackleaf Canyon Road, drive 13.9 miles to the Blackleaf WMA, turn left, drive 1 mile to the Blackleaf sign, take another left, drive 1.4 miles, turn right, drive .5 miles, turn right (onto a road that had been recently graded when we visited on 8/23/18), drive .2 miles to a gate, open the gate, drive another 2.5 miles to the trailhead. Be sure to take bear spray, and stay “bear aware”.

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.

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