We have a fairly large group of physically fit, enthusiastic sophomore boys in our outdoors club at Helena High, so I thought it would be fun to offer a challenging peak-bagging experience for them and other advanced hikers in the group. So, at our weekly meeting I proposed a hike to the summits of Elkhorn Peak and Crow Peak – the two high points in the Elkhorn Mountains. To help students understand what they were getting into, I showed photos from past trips I’d taken to the peaks, and explained that we would gain 3,700 feet during the 9-mile hike, much of it crossing very rocky terrain. Although I don’t think they quite comprehended the 3,700 ft. part, eight students accepted the challenge, including six of those sophomore boys, a junior boy, and a junior girl.
Above: Although Elkhorn Peak looks higher from this vantage point in the Helena Valley (28 miles north), Crow Peak is 33 feet taller.
Getting kids high.
Joined by a dad (Marty), another outdoors club advisor (Madie), and two dogs, we left Helena at 8 am Saturday morning to drive to the trailhead on the outskirts of Elkhorn – a ghost town located 47 miles south of Helena. For the first 3 miles we walked along the Iron Mine Road, before veering off to our right onto a social trail that took us to the pass between Windy Point and the summit of Elkhorn Peak (see map in photo tour). The pass was one of the highlights of the trip. It is comprised of a thick layer of beautiful white marble that can be seen from miles away. From there we scrambled up a steep slope covered with large angular rocks to a bivouac on the summit of Elkhorn Peak (9,381 feet). After lunch at the rocky shelter, we hiked over to Crow Peak (9,414 ft.) 1.8 miles to the southeast. The day was cool, breezy, and mostly cloudy, but recent rains had scrubbed much of the smoke from atmosphere, so we had nice views of distant ranges. But most importantly, the students got to experience the sense of accomplishment that comes with finishing a difficult climb to the highest peak around – exactly the outcome I was hoping for! (Photo Tour)
There are a few different ways to explore this area. I’ve included a map in the photo tour that should help you understand the options described below.
1. Short out and back: The easiest option (7-8 miles round-trip) is to simply hike up and back to Elkhorn Peak , and not go all the way to Crow Peak. By the time you get to the summit of Elkhorn, you’ll know what it’s like hiking on those big, angular rocks, plus you’ll be able to see the type of terrain that must be crossed to reach Crow Peak. This option may give you time to wander around the historic cemetery when you get back to the town of Elkhorn. The cemetery includes many graves of children who perished during a diphtheria epidemic in the winter of 1888-1889. It is also located on the outskirts of town, south of Iron Mine Road.
2. Long out and back: Another option is to hike up to Elkhorn Peak, walk over to Crow Peak, and then make your way back down to the trailhead the same way you went up. This would be 11.5-miles round-trip according to Hiking Montana by Russ Schneider.
3. Medium length loop: This is the route we followed on Saturday (9/15/18). If you have reasonable route-finding skills, and don’t mind some bush-whacking, this is a good nine-mile loop that I’ve done three times. Once you bag Elkhorn and Crow, follow the ridge down (southwestward) from Crow Peak for about a mile, then scramble down (westward) to Elkhorn Creek. We found a very nice social trail along the east side of the stream that took us back to our vehicles. After ascending through the steep patches of scree, walking on the flat soft trail was a very pleasant way to end our hike.
- Photo Tour of the hike to Elkhorn and Crow Peak.
Nine of us did this hike on September 15, 2018.
- Map of the Elkhorn and Crow Peak area.
Zoom in or out, scroll, drag, etc.
- More about the Elkhorn Mountains.
- More about the geologic past of the marble outcropping.
Ancient hot springs?
- Satellite view of the town of Elkhorn.
“H” marks the cemetery, “I” is where we parked.
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.