Ice Caves are one of the most interesting features of the Pryor Mountains in Montana. These rock caves are unique in that they are able to sustain a temperature that is cool enough to keep ice frozen, even in the heat of summer.
Crater Ice Cave is one of the largest and most accessible ice caves in the Pryor Mountains. This large cave offers plenty of opportunities to explore and is a nice place to take a break from the summer heat.
Where is the Crater Ice Cave?
Crater Ice Cave is located in the Pryor Mountains. This mountain range is located within the Custer National Forest. This area straddles Wyoming and Montana, with the Pryor Mountains being one of the more significant mountain ranges in the area.
Specifically, Crater Ice Cave is located on the route to Big Pryor Mountain. This is the most distinct peak in the Pryor Mountains. This peak is also home to numerous ice caves. The Pryor Mountains are unique in this fact; they have most of the ice caves in Montana.
The Pryor Mountains in Montana are closest to the town of Bridger, MT. However, if you are looking for a larger community to set as your home base while in the Pryor Range, Billings is the largest community in the Big Sky region of Montana.
How Do You Get to the Crater Ice Cave Trailhead?
From Bridger, MT you’ll travel south on Highway 310 for approximately 2.5 miles. At this point, you’ll turn east on Pryor Mountain Road. You’ll travel 30 miles on Pryor Mountain Road.
Approximately a half-mile before you reach Crooked Creek Rd., you’ll turn south on Tie Flat Road #2104. This road is a two-track road that will require a vehicle with high clearance. 4WD isn’t necessary during dry parts of the year, but it isn’t a bad idea to travel this road in a 4WD vehicle.
Approximately 0.10 miles from turning onto Road #2104 you’ll come to another two-track trail. This junction is the trailhead to Crater Ice Cave. It isn’t well signed. The only sign indicating the trail to Crater Ice Cave is about 100 yards from the junction point.
Do not leave Road #2104 to park. This area is very quiet, so you’ll be able to park without issue on Road #2104. Do not drive to the trailhead sign.
This is not a motorized vehicle access road and driving to this point is against Forest Service regulations.
The Crater Ice Cave Trail Route
When you leave your car, you’ll walk up the junction with Tie Flat Road #2104. This is the start of the trail. Approximately 100 yards from Road #2104, you’ll come to the sign that indicates Crater Ice Cave Trail # 31. You will follow this trail to Crater Ice Cave.
The first part of the Crater Ice Cave trail is fairly primitive. It is more of a social trail or game trail than an actual maintained trail. This portion of the trail will travel for approximately 40 or 50 feet through a gully before climbing up into the forest. The trail makes a parallel path with the gulley for a short distance before heading into the forest.
From this point, there is an obvious trail bed that can be followed. From the entrance into the forest, the trail begins a steep uphill climb for approximately one and a quarter miles. To measure your hike, there are 14 switchbacks on the trail from the start of the forest to Crater Ice Cave.
The trail forks just before the top of the hill. You’ll take the left for that and continues on to the top of the hill to Crater Ice Cave. From this point, make sure that you follow the large and obvious sign to Crater Ice Cave.
How Difficult Is the Crater Ice Cave Trail?
The trail to the Crater Ice Cave is not terribly long. The out and back distances are just under 4 miles. The difficulty of this trail is in the elevation gain. To the Crater Ice Cave, there are 1,302 feet of elevation gain.
This trail is considered to be moderately difficult. While the hike isn’t terribly long, and once you get away from the old forest service roads, the trial is obvious; the elevation gain makes this trail a bit of a challenge if you are not a practiced hiker.
Is it Safe to Go to The Crater Ice Cave?
Entering Crater Ice Cave is a risk that each visitor takes when exploring the cave. Many visitors safely explore Crater Ice Cave each year. The cave is fairly large and is fairly easy to navigate.
If you are interested in exploring Crater Ice Cave, make sure that you have a good flashlight or headlamp. The cave is expansive and dark, and without a good light source can be disorienting the deeper you travel into the cave.
It is also important to remember that this cave is filled with ice year-round. Walking on ice can be difficult and there is a risk of slipping and falling on the ice.
If you are planning a trip to Crater Ice Cave, we would recommend that you also bring a pair of traction cleats for extra grip when walking on the ice formations.
Final Thoughts on The Crater Ice Cave, Montana
Crater Ice Cave is an easily accessible ice cave in the Pryor Mountains. This ice cave is one of the larger caves in this area and is a popular place for hikers to explore.
The cave is a short drive from Bridger or Billings, MT. Both locations are great spots for a central base while you are exploring all of the amazing sites that southern Montana has to offer.