The Crazy Mountains are a distinct, stand-alone mountain range in southwestern Montana, close to Livingston and Big Timber. The range is a small section of the northern Rocky Mountains stretching for 30 miles between the Yellowstone and Musselshell Rivers.
The ‘Crazies’ are identifiable from their jagged peaks and steep slopes, with more than 30 of these peaks being in the region of 10,000-11,000 feet in elevation. The range is situated in a highly scenic region of Montana which comprises parts of both the Gallatin National Forest and the Lewis & Clark National Forest.
The whole region of the mountain range is rife with recreation opportunities including hiking, backpacking, mountaineering, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, hunting, and fishing in the alpine lakes.
The major mountain drainages run into Sweet Grass Creek, Big Timber Creek, Shields River, Rock Creek, and Cottonwood Creek, and the area serves as a natural habitat for wildlife such as mountain goats, eagles, elk, deer, black bear, and mountain lion–not to mention the largest population of wolverines in the entire world.
Although the somewhat isolated mountain range is easy to spot from its sharply rising jagged peaks, the region is actually devoid of any roads. It is not classified as a wilderness area though, and to add to that the range is surrounded by private land, which limits access to the area and keeps visitors to a minimum.
Even Crazy Peak the highest point in the mountains–is privately-owned, as are a few of the lakes. The main way to access the mountains is via Cottonwood Road (from the west—FR 198) and also from Big Timber Canyon Road (to the east-FR 197).
Half Moon Campground is located at the end of Big Timber Canyon Road, and it functions as a public access trailhead to the heart of the Crazy Mountains. Parking is also available at the campground, which you can reach by heading north on US 191 from 90’s exit at Big Timber.
Going north on 191 to Big Timber Canyon Road and then taking a left you will be heading west towards the campground and the mountains.
Crazy Mountains Stats
- Approximately 3,486 square miles
- Highest Peak 11,209 feet (Crazy Peak)
- Accessible year-round
Recreation in the Crazy Mountains
Popular recreation opportunities for those who venture into the Crazy Mountains include hiking, backpacking, and mountaineering, as well as horseback riding, cross-country skiing, fishing, camping, and hunting.
The mountains in much of the Crazy Mountains are still snow-bound fairly late into the year. The steep terrain is often visited by backcountry skiers, although it should be noted that these peaks are really only for experienced and well-qualified skiers.
It is close to a 5-mile hike just to get close to the bottom of these mountains, which is why only seasoned outdoor types gravitate towards them for the purpose of skiing. Those who do undertake the adventure find it well worthwhile though.
If you are interested in lake and pond fishing, in this area you will find more than 40 alpine lakes with decent fishing opportunities.
Twin Lakes is a great example of some of the excellent lakes. Both the upper and lower lakes contain ample rainbow trout. Fish stocking does occur and the lakes have received rainbow, cutthroat, and brook trout over the years.
Various angling reports indicate fair-sized fish in the 6″ – 10″ range from this lake, with some even bigger. Anglers also consistently report good catch rates for both lakes, and Twin Lakes in general is a great stop-off point for recreation as it also contains a campground and various trails.
Twin Lakes is a popular location for camping and to the north of the lower lake are flatlands with plenty of other camping opportunities. Twin Lakes provides more of an outdoor wilderness camping experience than that of staying in a campsite with amenities, and there are some great, open views of the night sky and surrounding area to be had from here.
You could choose to camp next to many of the other lakes in the region such as Campfire Lake or Sunlight Lake. Just be aware that some of them like Moose Lake are actually on private property so you can’t camp there without prior permission.
Half Moon Campground which also serves as something of a gateway to the region is on the east side of the mountains in the district of Yellowstone. It contains 6 sites that operate on a first-come, first-served basis which not surprisingly fill quickly in the summer months. The campground is open all year and has toilets.
Hiking Trails in the Crazy Mountains
The Crazy Mountains region contains more than 200 hiking trails, with many of them most-suited to intermediate levels or above, and there are about ten rather more challenging options in terms of terrain and distance. An extensive 66-mile trail system within the Crazy Mountains Montana makes it one of the best hiking and adventure areas in the state.
Big Timber Creek Trail
This is a great valley trail of just under 3 miles, completely surrounded by cliffs. You enter the valley from the parking lot and the trail heads up mostly at railroad grade. The maximum grade is 36% with an average of 9%. You’ll encounter a turn-off for Big Timber Falls Trail after around a third of a mile. You cross the creek on a solid bridge after a mile which is when the walls of the valley start to narrow.
You’ll cross the creek again after another mile and after something of a steep climb the land flattens leading to the end of the trail at the intersection of the Sweet Grass Trail and Blue Lake Trail. You are more than likely to spot a few mountain goats, and dogs can use the trail if kept leashed.
Cottonwood Lake Trail
This is a 10.8-mile round trip along a lightly trafficked out and back trail. The route is rated as difficult due to its steepness, and it features a forest backdrop that starts out from the Cottonwood Creek trailhead. If you follow the creek up into the Crazy Mountains you’ll come to Cottonwood Lake. From the lake, there are seemingly unlimited options for alpine fishing, hunting, and wildlife watching.
You’ll hit the steepest section about halfway along the trail, but aside from this, the hike is fairly moderate. It does include several stream crossings, and during the spring these spots might not be passable without getting at least a bit wet.
If you are looking for something a bit more on the challenging side you might consider this loop trail which is quite a bit longer and is rated as difficult. This is a 23-mile loop trail with an average 11% grade and some as high as 44%. The long loop within this region links together the Trespass Creek Trail, the Sweet Grass Trail, and the Cottonwood Lake.
The loop starts out at the Trespass Creek Trail/Cottonwood Lake trailhead and continues up Trespass Creek. This is a wide-open basin stretch of the Crazy Mountain Range on the far eastern front flank of the Rocky Mountains. From Trespass Creek the trail heads off down to Sweetgrass Creek quite close to Campfire Lake.
Where there are many camping options not to mention fishing opportunities. From here you follow the Sweet Grass Trail a bit further before heading up the South Fork of Sweetgrass Creek, which takes you past many waterfalls flanked by wide-open meadows and towering peaks before completing the loop.
The Crazy Mountains Loop
Considered by many as the best way to see the Crazy Mountains, this is a fairly arduous 24-mile route that generally takes between 2 and 3 days to complete. The trail includes plenty of alpine lakes and two major climbs of several thousand feet each.
The trail is steep with intermittent flat stretches, and the trails are clearly marked trails as well as quite a few dispersed camping locations close to lakes. The best time to attempt the trail is between mid and late summer (July to September).
The trails around the Crazy Mountains are actually lower than many others around Southwest Montana, but they do tend to hold snow for a long time, and it’s not completely unheard of for the weather to bring late-season storms to the region.
Twin Lakes Trail
Twin Lakes is an 8-mile, moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Big Timber. It is rated as difficult, with average grades of 9% which go as high as 56%. This route is great for a day hike or an overnight stop-off and is a popular trail that is easy enough to access.
The lakes are full of trout hence the trail is also popular with those looking to fish or even camp near the lakes. This is certainly one of the most popular trails in the whole area, due in no small part to the scenery. The trailhead starts out in Big Timber Canyon, not too far from Half Moon Campground, and climbs gradually in the direction of the lakes. This is a wide and reasonably flat trail that is nevertheless rocky.
The trail skirts around the perimeter of the water at Upper Twin Lake, continuing into the center of the Crazy Mountains. Backpackers will head to other destinations from this point and many day hikers will decide to turn back from here. The thing to remember in the Crazy Mountains is the importance of staying on the marked trails and maintaining your bearings as much of it is privately owned.