Scratchgravel Hills Recreation Area is a 5,800-acre Bureau of Land Management (BLM) managed area. Located just five miles outside of Helena, this area is highly popular with hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers, equestrians, and disc golfers.
Within the recreation area that was established in 1985, there are approximately 35 miles of trails. The trails range from old mining roads to Jeep trails, and plenty of singletrack for biking and hiking.
Most of the trails in Scratchgravel Hills Recreation Area loop around or lead to the top of Scratchgravel Peak. The trail network at this location is sort of frantic, as there has been minimal trail management by the BLM in the past. IN 2022, the BLM published its management plan for the Recreation Area.
The plan will focus on improving trails, and trail connections making more trails for users to enjoy, while at the same time protecting the natural environment.
Scratchgravel Hills Recreation Area Stats
- Size – 5,800 acres
- Season – Year Round
- Largest Lake/Forest –
- Number of campsites – No overnight camping
Main Attractions at Scratchgravel Hills Recreation Area
While you can just visit the area to take in the great outdoors under Big Sky Country, there are certain main attractions at Scratchgravel Hills Recreation Area that is worth making the trip for.
The trails at Scratchgravel Hills Recreation Area are remnants of a time when the area was open for motorized recreation.
Before the area was closed to 4-wheelers, Jeeps, and motorbikes, it was a great place for motorized recreation and not such a great spot for hiking or biking.
The BLM closed the recreation area in 2009 to motorized vehicles as a way of protecting the habitats in the area.
Today the miles of old Jeep roads and singletrack trails are popular with locals that are looking for a great spot close to Helena to go out on a bike ride or a hike with friends and family.
Disc Golf Course
This is a surprising feature of the Scratchgravel Hills Recreation Area. Use the Tumbleweed Trail, a short single-track trail to access the 9-hole disc golf course.
This part of the valley is well protected and dry, so access to the disc golf course is available almost all year long.
This 5,250-foot peak rises up in the middle of the Recreation Area. Most of the trails that have been developed and are well used either loop around Scratchgravel Peak or head to the top.
From the top of Scratchgravel Peak, you’ll have great views of Helena Valley and the surrounding mountains and plains.
Recreational Activities at Scratchgravel Hills Recreation Area
Within Scratchgravel Hills Recreation Area, recreational opportunities are limited to those that do not require a motor.
The most popular activities in the area are hiking and mountain biking. However, the area is also open to horses, and there is also a disc golf course.
Hiking is not the most popular recreation activity in the Scratchgravel Hills Recreation Area, but it’s a close second. With 35 miles of single and double-track trails, ranging in length from less than a mile to a hefty 7-mile hike, this area is perfect for hikers of all experience levels, including children.
Trails are accessible from 3 parking areas that are located off of area roads and highways. There are 65 total trails that are accessible to hikers in the Scratchgravel Hills Recreation Area.
Mountain biking is the most popular recreation activity in the Scratchgravel Hills Recreation Area. The 65 trails that loop through the area provide easy level rides for beginners, including old Jeep roads that provide wide open spaces to build skills.
For the more experienced riders, there are moderate to expert level rides as well.
The Area provides plenty of great views from the trails, and with three easily accessible trailheads with parking, you’ll not have to add distance to your ride getting from your car to the trailhead.
Horseback riding has become quite popular in the Scratchgravel Hills Recreation Area now that motorized vehicles are prohibited in the area.
All of the trails in the Recreation Area are accessible to equestrians, though riders may want to avoid some of the more popular, high-use single-track trails that are often busy with bikes.
Equestrians using the area can park in the three parking areas. All three trailhead parking lots have space for horse trailer parking.
We won’t cover all 65 trails in this section, however, we’ll give you an overview of some of the more popular trail routes for hiking and biking in the Scratchgravel Hills Recreation Area.
These routes utilize a number of trails in the Recreation Area, all of which can be hiked, ran, or rode individually as well.
Considered to be a moderately difficult loop the Norris Loop is a 13-mile loop that is used mostly for mountain bikers. The loop can be traveled in both directions.
Most of this trail is singletrack with a small portion of doubletrack as well. The Norris Loop utilizes 8-trails and has a total of 1,497 feet of elevation gain.
If you are looking for a quieter, easy ride in the Scratchgravel Hills Recreation Area this is a good choice. The Basic Head Lane Loop is 5 miles long, with only 758 feet of elevation gain.
This loop is not open to hikers or equestrians. The loop utilizes 24 trails within the recreation area, though many of them are fairly short.
This nearly 6-mile loop is one of the most fun in the Recreation Area with plenty of hill work to keep your ride interesting. This loop is designated for mountain bikes only.
The loop can be traveled in either direction and is a mix of double track and singletrack riding.
This is a fairly popular route in the Recreation Area that utilizes several different trails. The Rust Bucket Route is considered to be difficult for hikers, bikers, and trail runners.
The route can only be traveled in one direction, to avoid accidents on the singletrack trail. The trail is a 6-mile loop and has 1,651 feet of elevation gain.
Tres Picos Route
This is another fun route within the Scratchgravel Hills Recreation Area. This route is a 1-mile loop that is moderately difficult.
This trail is used mostly by hikers, particularly families with younger children.