There’s a reason Montana is called the Treasure State!
Deep in the wilderness of the Pioneer Mountains and surrounded by Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, gem enthusiasts have the opportunity to strike luck like the pioneering and indigenous people of the past.
While Montana itself is a treasure trove of wide lakes, soaring rivers, and abundant nature trails, it has a storied past in gold, silver, and other healing mineral components – so it should come as no surprise that it’s also host to numerous quartz crystals.
Crystal Park is its own treasure trove sitting at 7,800 feet in the Pioneer Mountains, which are known for their hiking trails, lakes, and recreation areas. And as a recreation area, Crystal Park is pretty unique – especially if you like digging for quartz crystals.
Maintained and preserved by the Forest Service, this special 220-acre site is scattered with quartz crystals via decomposed granite, perfect for the popular hobby of rockhounding, or the amateur collecting of mineral and rock specimens.
No need to travel to the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show this year, folks – Crystal Park is an amateur geologist’s dream.
Depending on your luck, you may find crystals the size of your finger or up to several inches in diameter – but these minerals are purely for enjoyment and have little collector’s value. Doesn’t that kind of make the expedition more fun?
While many collectors have found clear quartz crystals and limonite, the real excitement may come from the gray smoky quartz and purple amethyst stones – or even better, smoky amethyst! Score!
Crystal Park is one of the only gem sites in the country that you can dig for yourself at $5 a pop per day, and although it’s a day use only site, there are plenty of campgrounds and lakes nearby.
As a bonus, it also has a gorgeous paved trail with benches and a scenic overlook for families and solo adventures. Bring your own lunch?
Crystal Park has 3 dedicated picnic areas with tables and grills – ideal for sharing and comparing your treasures over a BBQ after a long day of digging.
But let’s be honest: everyone’s a winner at Crystal Park. Digging in the dirt for treasures from the earth? Sign us up!
Let’s learn more about this special seasonal spot and its surrounding adventures!
Crystal Park Stats
- Size: 220 acres
- Season: May to September; Variable
- Largest Lake/Forest: Hopkins Lake/ Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest
- Number of Campsites: 0
- Number of Picnic Sites: 3
- Wheelchair Accessible: Yes
Crystal Park may be on the smaller side, but it’s surrounded by beautiful nature, hot springs, famous historical sites, and one of the most epic scenic byways in the country. Let’s get into it!
Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway
If you’re in Montana in the summertime, you’ll want to go for a long drive or two – and lucky for you, Crystal Park is right on the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway.
For 49 miles you can travel the length of the Pioneer Mountains, stopping along the way to read interpretive signs on the history of the area. This1.5 hour long byway is surprisingly well-maintained – a rarity among Montana backroads.
But we can understand why: it’s a stunner. Along the path, look out for Coolidge Ghost Town, two beautiful hot springs (more on that in a moment!), and – of course – Crystal Park.
Just make sure to traverse it from May to November – unless, that is, you’re itching for some great snowmobile opportunities. In that case, come on down!
Elkhorn Hot Springs & Jackson Hot Springs
Yes, it keeps getting better. Off the Pioneer Mountain Scenic Byway and in close proximity to Crystal Park you’ll find two hot springs, Elkhorn Hot Springs and Jackson Hot Springs.
Elkhorn is a year-round delight that offers two mineral pools, a warming sauna, a restaurant, and a bar.
But we love Polaris’s Elkhorn because it’s connected to so many trails for hiking or snowmobiling at Maverick Mountain, depending on the season, and there are ample opportunities to fish in the summertime.
Jackson Hot Springs has a completely different vibe: we love their cozy fireplace and restful accommodations, but their hot springs pool brings it to the next level after a long day on the slopes or a long hike.
If we had to choose, we’d visit Jackson Hot Springs over Elkhorn after a day of gemstone mining, but it really depends on the season. If we’re honest, we’re just lucky to have two hot springs in such close proximity!
Lewis and Clark’s Camp Fortunate
Alright, time for a history lesson! Lewis and Clark’s 1805 expedition through Montana based its camp right near Crystal Park at a pivotal spot now named Camp Fortunate.
Why fortunate? This location was a turning point for Meriwether Lewis and William Clark: they met the indigenous Shoshone tribe, where Lewis and Clark’s legendary guide, Sacagawea, was reunited with her home tribe (She had unfortunately been kidnapped by the Hidatsa tribe at 12 years old during a buffalo hunt. Yikes!).
Beyond getting to try new foods (hello, salmon!), Camp Fortunate afforded Lewis and friends the opportunity to stock up on goods before heading onwards to the Rockies and Pacific.
But these days, Clark Reservoir offers plenty of recreational opportunities, from swimming to boating to Lewis and Clark roleplaying (Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it!).
Once you’re done adventuring, we recommend heading into Dillon for a delicious huckleberry pudding at the Atlantic Street Mercantile.
Lodged in the Pioneer Mountains, Crystal Park and its surrounding areas offer immense opportunities to hike, bike, swim – and then fill up on drinks. Let’s explore!
Hiking & Biking
While the paved area at Crystal Park is perfectly accommodating for families, we like to spend time on the Moose Creek Trailhead and Boulder Creek Trailheads just a bit north in the Pioneer Mountains.
All over Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, you’ll find easy hikes to accompany your more treacherous trails – but they always lead somewhere beautiful.
If you’re looking for a more intermediate mountain biking experience, we recommend Dillon Overlook Trailhead. The roads are smooth for hikers, but bikers will have the opportunity to challenge their minds and legs
If two hot springs weren’t enough to persuade you, the area surrounding Crystal Park offers abundant lakes, as well as the man-made Clark Reservoir.
We’re partial to Hopkin, Glacier, and Sawtooth Lakes for their epic views, but a short distance north will get your toes into Tahepia Lake, a body of water so beautiful it could be found on a postcard. And the meadow trails to get there?
Just gorgeous. Your Instagram will never be the same.
While Elkhorn and Jackson Hot Springs have their own lodging accommodations, we usually prefer more primitive camping (It’s Montana, after all!).
Grasshopper Campground and Mono Creek Campground hit near the top of the list for their close proximity to Crystal Park and natural surroundings. But, there are plenty of spots along the Wise River that speak to our inner wild child.
Length: 6.7 miles Let’s start with the big guns! Sawtooth Lake may be moderately challenging, but this nearly 7-mile hike traverses through wooded areas before spilling you out into the gorgeous Sawtooth Lake.
With gradual switchbacks and a steady uphill climb, you’ll want to bring your hiking shoes and some bug spray for this route.
We also recommend lugging your binoculars to view wildlife that frequent the area, especially moose. Absolutely breathtaking views!
Birds Eye View Loop
Length: 3.6 miles Another favorite? Birds Eye View Loop. Get your walking sticks out for this trail at Bannack State Park!
Rolling Montana hills bring you through an old pioneer settlement that will take you back in time, and it’s ideal for horseback riding or a family gathering (There’s a reason they’re called the Pioneer Mountains!).
If you’re looking for even more of a challenge, continue hiking at the trail junction to reach Bannack Peak, a 7,000-foot marvel.
A word from the wise: if you have little ones or furry friends, we recommend that you watch out for rattlesnakes and coyotes.
M Trail to B Trail
Length: 3.8 miles A popular mid-day hike, the M Trail to B Trail has sharp rocks and beautiful panoramic views.
We wouldn’t call it strenuous, but its steep paths may not be best for a beginner hiker. After this nearly 2 hours long trail, we love to head over to Beaverhead Brewing Company in Dillon for a relaxing atmosphere.
Length: 7.9 miles Last but not least, we wanted to share our favorite reason for going to Elkhorn Hot Springs: Elkhorn Lake.
This trail is fairly easy, despite its length – and similar to Birds Eye View Loop, it takes you through something akin to a ghost town. One thing we will say is that the trail isn’t very well marked, but it’s easy to follow.
You’ll gain momentum after the first half mile, but the trail eventually flattens out. Pay attention to wildlife along the way, and enjoy your hike back to the hot springs. You deserve it!