Ice caves are one of the more interesting natural features that can be found in Montana. Many people think ice caves in Montana are caverns that are located in ice or glaciers.
However, this is not the case. Ice caves are actually a cave in a mountain or rock formation that stays cold enough all year that ice is able to form and not melt.
Ice Caves in Montana are some of the more popular tourist stops because they are a unique feature that many people rarely have the opportunity to experience.
3 Ice Caves in Montana You Should Check Out
1. Big Ice Cave Picnic Area and Interpretive Site (Big Ice Cave)
Big Ice Cave is located approximately 50 miles south of Billings, MT. It is one of a number of ice caves in the Custer-Gallatin National Forest and the Pryor Mountains.
The Pryor Mountains are known for their unique rock formations and ice caves. Big Ice Cave is the most popular of the ice caves in the mountain range.
Though it is in a fairly remote location, access to the Big Ice Cave is the easiest and is a great half-day adventure for families.
The area around Big Ice Cave offers some interpretive signs, allowing visitors to learn about ice caves, how they are formed, and the geology of the Pryor Mountains.
The hike to Big Ice Cave is on a very short, yet steep quarter-mile path. The path ends at a wooden platform where you can easily view the floor of the first cavern, which is always covered in ice.
More of the cave was once accessible to the public since it is a fairly flat-bottomed cave with no significant drops. However, the Forest Service installed the viewing platform after numerous incidents of vandalism in the cave.
The interpretive site also has five-day-use picnic areas making this area a great spot to relax and enjoy the views after your hike to Big Ice Cave.
2. Crater Ice Cave
Crater Ice Cave is another popular ice cave in the Pryor Mountains. This cave requires a bit more effort to view, as the trail climbs 1,600 feet from the trailhead to the ice cave.
Crater Ice Cave is located at the top of Big Pryor Mountain. The trailhead starts from Tie Flat off of Crooked Creek Road. The trail is 1.7 miles one way. It wanders through a peaceful Douglas fir forest.
The Crater Ice Cave trail is fairly well marked, though the trail is faint at certain points, simply due to the fact that this area is not as popular with hikers as other places in the Pryor Mountains.
Crater Ice Cave opening is not as large as Big Ice Cave. The entrance to the cave is fairly small and you won’t see much more from the entrance than the floor that stays icy all year round. Adventurous hikers can enter the cave for a better view of the ice formations.
Entering the cave should be done with extreme caution and is at your own risk. Inside the cave, you will notice the unique rock formations, and if you have a good flashlight, you can see icicles hanging from the ceilings.
3. The Ice Cave Loop
While this trail ends at a really interesting ice cave, there is much more to this hike and trail than just the ice cave at the top of the loop.
The Ice Cave Loop trail starts at Crystal Lake near Moore, MT. Many people say that this trail offers some of the most expansive views in Montana.
The 12-mile loop climbs up the Big Snowy Mountains. From many points along the trail, you’ll have views that reach from Wyoming to Canada on a clear day.
The ice cave is located about halfway through the loop. This ice cave is fairly easy to enter, and you’ll find that it has some pretty unique and interesting ice formations that can easily be observed, without having to walk too far into the cave.
The trail is fairly steep and is considered to be moderately difficult. Hikers will want to wear good boots, as some areas of the trail have loose rock and exposed tree roots.
Additionally, there is no water along the 12-mile loop, so make sure that you bring plenty with you.
Crystal Lake where the Ice Cave Loop begins and ends also has a nice Forest Service Campground. There are 28 designated camping sites at Crystal Lake.
The campsites are basic, with minimal amenities. However, some sites are large enough to accommodate up to a 45-foot RV.
Water is available at the campground during the summer months. There are also vault toilets at the trailhead and at the campground.
Crystal Lake is also a popular spot for canoeing and fishing. The lake is stocked annually with a variety of trout species.