The Little Belt Mountains of Montana are a small section of the larger Belt Mountain Range. The Little Belt Mountains are home to some of Montana’s more interesting mining history.
The mountains are located in the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest so there are ample opportunities for recreation.
The Little Belts were home to many silver mines starting in the 1880s, and sapphires were discovered here in the late 1890s. Many of the silver mines are now gone, but sapphires continue to be mined by hobbyists and rock collectors in Yogo Gulch.
The Little Belts run from Great Falls on the north and White Sulphur Springs to the south. The range is bisected north to south by highway 89. Much of the recreational activities and trails are located or easily accessed from Highway 89.
However, visitors should be aware that certain areas like the Judith Wilderness Study Area are restricted to hiking only
Despite their fairly unremarkable appearance, the Little Belt Mountains are a great place to visit, especially if you enjoy outdoor recreational activities.
The Little Belt Mountains Statistics
- Highest Elevation: 9,177 feet (2,797 meters)
- Most Recognizable Peak: Big Baldy Mountain
- Season: Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall
One of the most appealing things about the Little Belt Mountains for outdoor recreation is that it’s located just a short drive south of Great Falls, MT. Visitors to this area can enjoy ample opportunities for outdoor recreation, as well as the amenities of a larger community including nice hotels, restaurants, and cultural activities.
Hiking and Mountain Biking
Hiking and Mountain biking are probably the most popular recreational activities in the Little Belt Mountains. Many of the Forest Service trails in the Little Belts are open to hikers and bikers, so you’ll find that more popular trails have a mix of those on foot and those on two wheels.
There are ample opportunities for camping within the little belts. The Forest Service has 13 maintained campgrounds that offer a range of services. Some of these campgrounds require reservations, and the more popular forest service campgrounds can be quite busy in the summer. Dispersed camping is allowed in the Forest Lake Camping area and the Haymaker Dispersed Camping area.
If camping isn’t your thing, the Forest Service also has six cabins that can be rented. Like the campgrounds, these cabins have varying amenities and all must be reserved ahead of time. You can find more info on renting cabins here.
Many of the trails in the Little Belt Mountains are used for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter. Not all trails are great for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, so check the Forest Service website for the trails that are designated for cross-country skiing.
Downhill skiing is available at Showdown Ski Area. This small ski area gets some of the most significant snowfall of any area in the United States. Visitors to Showdown will enjoy some of the best skiing in Montana, in a small, relaxed ski area.
Hunting opportunities in the Little Belts are available all year round. The area has big game, small game, and game bird hunting opportunities. Hunting regulations within the Little Belts are set by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks.
Visitors should read up on Montana’s hunting regulations and apply for a hunting license before they get out in the wilderness. Hunting outside of legal seasons is prohibited.
Dirt Biking/ATV Riding
The Forest Service has trails that are specifically designated for dirt bikes and ATVs. Some of these trails also get pretty heavy pedestrian use, so when you’re out on mixed-use trails make sure to use reasonable speeds and watch for others on the trail. Motorized vehicles on non-designated trails can result in substantial fines from the Forest Service.
There are literally hundreds of trail options in the Little Belt Mountains. This small mountain range is incredibly popular for visitors, so many of the trails that you come across or want to use may be quite busy. Our list will highlight some of the more popular trails for both hiking/biking and ATV use.
This easy 1.2-mile out and back trail is one of the more popular trails in the area. A perfect hike for families or for visitors that want to get out of the car and stretch, this trail takes you past 2 waterfalls and is a great trail to enjoy wildlife viewing and bird watching. It’s also a popular trail in the winter for beginners to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Aptly named due to its treeless slopes, Big Baldy is the tallest point in the Little Belt Range. This short 4-mile loop is popular with visitors that want to enjoy amazing views of the Little Belt Range and surrounding areas. The trail is pretty rocky, so it is considered moderately difficult.
The Taylor Hills trail is a popular, yet difficult multi-use trail. The 11-mile out and back starts out moderately, with great views of both the Little and Big Belt mountains. The trail follows a meadow to the Tenderfoot River. From the trailhead to this point, the trail is heavily used by ATVs. Over the 11-miles you’ll enjoy a relatively moderate elevation gain of 2,578 feet.
Kings Hill Pass is a quiet hiking trail that is considered to be fairly difficult. While it is only a 6-mile loop, you’ll find that the trail is difficult to follow at times. Also, this trail has a significant elevation gain at about the midpoint of the loop. This trail isn’t as popular for hikers, however, in the winter Kings Hill Pass is a popular area for snowmobiling.
Located in the northeastern part of the Little Belt Mountains, this trail is best for experienced hikers and those with proper rock-climbing gear. The trail to the base of the butte is relatively easy, but if you want to reach the summit, you’ll have to work for it.
There are no designated trails to the top and there is a substantial climb to get to the summit. If you can make it to the summit of Wolf Butte, you’ll be glad you did. The views here are outstanding.
The Mizpah ski trail is a 7.9 mile out and back trail that is popular with cross-country skiers. The trail starts at the Kings Hill Campground just off Highway 89. From here you’ll be accessing Nordic skiing trails around the Showdown Ski Area. The trail winds around the ski area and finally passes by Mizpah Peak.
The Jefferson Creek trail is designated for motorized vehicles in the summer and is a popular place to snowshoe or cross-country ski in the winter. The trail passes through a pretty forest and follows a creek for a while.
It’s not really a great summer hike due to the heavy ATV and 4WD traffic. The total distance out and back for this trail is 7.8-miles.
6-miles out and back, Benders Creek is a nice moderate hike and a fun single-track ride with gently rolling hills. The trail follows Bender Creek pretty well, and there are nice views to enjoy along the trail. Bender Creek trail is accessible from Ruby-henn and Hoover Ridge trails off of highway 89.
Ruby-henn is one of the most popular day-use trails in the Little Belts. It is a double-track trail that is 10 miles out and back. The trail is referenced as FS Trail # 613. You’ll find that this trail, because it is fairly short, and has a decent amount of climb, is quite popular with dirt bikes and ATVs.
If you are on this trail on foot, be cautious and aware of others using the trail.
Villars Creek is a popular but short trail that is approximately 4-miles out and back. This trail isn’t terribly challenging, and it has a moderate climb, with 830 feet of elevation gain.
You’ll see a wide range of use on this trail, and some of the trail is considered double-track. Because it is so short, this trail is best for hikers that want a quick trail with nice views.
A fairly challenging trail thanks to loose rocks, this trail is a multi-purpose trail within the Little Belts but is especially popular with mountain bikers. This trail is a 13.2-mile out and back with a total elevation gain of 1,931-feet. If using a topo map, this trail is marked as FS trail #736.
A fairly primitive and minimally maintained trail passes through the middle of Sluice Boxes State Park. This is the only trail within the Park, and it is a challenging 7.5-miles long. The trail seems to follow the remains of the railroad bed that once was used to haul ore from the area mines.
The canyon the trail passes through has steep rock walls and the Belt River which is relatively shallow during the summer months. This trail has numerous stream crossings and is closed in the spring months due to high and dangerous water conditions.