The Bear Paw Mountains are a prairie island mountain range located in north-central Montana near the town of Havre. This relatively small mountain range is isolated from the rest of the Rocky Mountains and is surrounded by Montana’s vast prairies.
The Bear Paw Mountains are an important landmark to the Blackfoot and Cree Indians that traveled through this area for many years before European settlers began traveling west across the United States.
The mountain range is believed to be named after an Indian tale about a hunter who was pinned to the ground by a bear and asked the Great Spirit for help. The Great Spirit killed the bear with thunder and lightning and severed the bear’s paw to release the hunter.
The Bear Paw Mountains were also the site of one of the most significant battles between Native Peoples and the U.S. Army. The Battle at Bear Paw was the final fight between the U.S. Army and the Nez Perce who were attempting to avoid being placed on reservations.
The battle was one of the bloodiest, and ended with the Nez Perce and their Chief, Chief Joseph, surrendering in October 1877. Today, the site is known as the Nez Perce National Historic Park and includes the Bear Paw Battlefield.
Today, the Bear Paw Mountains are a relatively unknown mountain range to tourists and visitors. With other mountain ranges offering dramatic peaks and closer proximity to major highways.
However, for the visitor that is interested in exploring and wants a more peaceful experience, the Bear Paw Mountains offer plenty of ways to explore, with fewer people.
Bear Paw Mountains Statistics
- Highest Elevation (ft/m) – 6,916 feet (2,108 meters)
- Most Recognizable Peak – Baldy Peak
- Season (when can it be accessed) – All Year
Bear Paw Mountains Recreation Activities
The Bear Paw Mountains are relatively small, but there are some great opportunities for hiking in the area. There are a number of roads that pass through the mountains providing easy access to trailheads.
The most popular area for hiking in the Bear Paw Mountains is along Beaver Creek just south of Havre, MT.
This area has some of the best established hiking trails in the Bear Paw Mountains and from this area, you can also access the trailhead to Baldy Mountain, the highest point in the Bear Paws.
The Rotary Park area is the newest trail area in the Bear Paw Mountains. The Rotary Park Loop is a nice challenging hike that is enjoyed by locals.
The area is currently being established with other trail routes, so as time progresses, there will be even more opportunities for hiking in the Bear Paw Mountains.
Single-track biking in the Bear Paws is a bit limited with not many trails, especially on the east side of the range.
However, riders that don’t mind peddling on country roads, or dirt service roads can spend days exploring the Bear Paw Mountains.
On the west side of the Bear Paws, the established trails at Rotary Park, Baldy Mountain, and others are a great spot to get some good single-track rides.
Most of these trails you’ll be sharing with hikers and horseback riders, so following proper trail etiquette is imperative.
While sparse, there are some nice spots to enjoy camping in and around the Bear Paw Mountains. Much of the camping available in the Bear Paw Mountains are located south of Havre, along highway 234.
Beaver Creek Park is a large county park that straddles Highway 234 and it has a few nice campgrounds that can be accessed all year. Beaver Creek Park Campground and Bearpaw Lake Campground are located along the two largest lakes in the Bear Paws, both man-made lakes along Beaver Creek.
Dispersed camping in the Bear Paw Mountain Range is limited as the area is not under Forest Service management.
Surprisingly, the Bear Paw Mountains have a ski area, and it is one of the most popular recreational attractions in the Bear Paw Mountains during the winter.
The Bear Paw Ski Bowl is a volunteer-managed ski area that is very popular with locals from Havre, MT and the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation.
This small ski hill has less than 20 runs, and only operates a T-lift to the top of the hill. Lift tickets are very affordable, but the area is only open on weekends and only when they have volunteers to operate the facilities.
Trails around the Bear Paw Mountains are also great for cross-country skiing in the winter. The Bear Paws don’t receive a ton of snow, so most trails are accessible for hiking and snowshoeing, but on good snow days, many of the local trails are ideal for skiing.
Bear Paw Mountains Trail Routes
Much of the Bear Paw Mountains are still inaccessible by car or trail, so there are limited trail opportunities within the range.
However, as the area becomes more popular with local recreation enthusiasts, the trail network in the Bear Paw Mountains will expand.
Bear Paw Nature Trail
Bear Paw Nature Trail is one of the most popular hiking trails in the Bear Paw Mountains. This moderate 5.5-mile, out and back trail wanders through open meadows, follows the eastern side of Beaver Creek Canyon, and passes through lush aspen groves and berry patches.
This is a fairly flat trail with only 580 feet of elevation gain over the length of the trail. This is a multi-use trail so expect to encounter plenty of people, dogs, and horses.
This trail is accessible year-round and is also popular for snowshoeing in the winter. The best time to hike this trail is June through December.
Livestock grazes in this area and utilizes the trail as well. In heavily trafficked areas, the trail is a bit rough and should be managed carefully to avoid turning an ankle or knee.
Mt. Otis Trail
The trail to Mount Otis is a great 1.9-mile hike that starts in the Beaver Creek Park area along Highway 234. The trailhead for Mt. Otis is located south of the Rotary Park area and does have decent parking.
This trail is considered to be a more difficult trail in the area due to the steep climbs, and 705 feet of elevation gain over the short distance.
Despite only being 1.9-miles out and back, it takes most visitors around 1.5-hours to complete the hike. Mt. Otis has some great views of the surrounding area and is a popular area for birdwatching and wildflower hikes.
Upper Rotary Canyon Loop
Upper Rotary Canyon Loop is a great, family-friendly trail that starts in Beaver Creek Park near Beaver Creek Lake.
The Upper Loop is a 2.5-mile-long hike that takes approximately 1.5 miles to complete. This trail is quite popular and is a multi-use trail, so expect to encounter not only other hikers but mountain bikers as well.
This loop has a bit of elevation gain, on a few steep sections of the trail. However, the total elevation gain on the loop is only 380 feet.
This trail is popular for hiking, birdwatching and is heavily used in the fall thanks to beautiful views and stunning fall leaves. This loop can be combined with the Lower Rotary Canyon loop for more miles.
Lower Rotary Canyon Loop
This 1-mile loop starts at Beaver Creek Lake and is a nice modest trail if you are looking for a good place to stretch your legs and get a quick bit of exercise.
This trail is considered to be an easy hike, with only 190 feet of elevation gain. The trail is well maintained and easy to follow. The Lower Rotary Canyon loop is a great hike for kids and dogs.
This loop gives great views of Beaver Creek Lake and the hills that surround the canyon. This loop can be combined with the Upper Rotary Canyon Loop for a bit more distance and challenge.
Bear Paw Baldy
Bear Paw Baldy is the highest point in the Bear Paw range, making it a popular hiking route. The easiest way to access the summit of Bear Paw Baldy is from the parking area for the Bear Paw Bowl ski area.
From here you walk the road for approximately 2 miles then turn off the road and climb to Pecora Ridge. You can follow the ridge to the summit of Bear Paw Baldy.
There isn’t a well-defined trail to the top of Bear Paw Baldy, most hikers do a bit of bushwhacking to get there. If you are making this hike, make sure that you are respectful of private property.
Also, Bear Paw Baldy is still used by the Chippewa and Cree Tribes for prayer and fasting ceremonies. Be respectful of their traditions if you are hiking this area in the warmer months.