In the early days when mining was gaining popularity in Montana, the state built railroad tracks that snaked through rough mountainous terrains to reach towns and transport the ore to the market.
In the south of Great Falls, the Little Belt Mountains also served as routes to the mining towns of Monarch, Neihart, Albright, and Hughesville. Today some of these are ghost towns, and the tracks have been overtaken by nature.
One such railroad that ran up Belt Creek and is now abandoned has become the access route for Sluice Boxes State Park. The Park is used for recreational purposes in the Little Belt Mountains of Montana and was established in the 1970s adjacent to the town of Belt.
With large cliffs, you will see ledges that mark the Belt Creek Canyon as it runs past the Little Belt Mountains. You will see remnants of a mining past with historic cabins and railroads when you make your way through the beautiful canyon carved in limestone.
If you’re a history buff, the Sluice Boxes State Park offers a rich history of mining about prospectors searching for precious metals, smelter men, miners, and railroaders building access points and bridges.
There is an unmaintained trail left at the hands of nature that leads you to challenge floats, water bodies for fishing, and an opportunity to view wildlife. The terrain is somewhat tricky. The weather is cold, so tread with caution while you hike or float in the Park.
- Length: 7.5 miles
- Beginning of the Trail: Riceville Bridge
- Trail Ending: The Logging Creek Bridge
Best Trails in Sluice Boxes State Park
Are you visiting Sluice Boxes State Park to enjoy an adventurous hike or go biking on the trails? There are a few things to keep in mind when visiting the Park as the trails range from 27 to 217 meters in elevation gain.
The Sluice Boxes Trail
The Sluice Boxes Trail is around 4.5 kilometers and is a heavily trafficked out and back trail located close to Belt. Fishing enthusiasts mainly use the trail to feature a river and hikers use it from April to October. The trail is clear enough to be dog-friendly if the dog is kept on a leash.
Make sure to carry a bear spray as you’re likely to encounter scat. The trail is relatively straightforward and a great way to spend some time with your kids and loved ones.
- Length: 4.5 km
- Elevation gain: 27 M
The Sluice Boxes Trail to crossing 11
The Sluice Boxes Trail to crossing 11 is a 15.1-kilometer trail that has moderate traffic. The trail overlooks some of the most beautiful scenery you will encounter in the State Park, with gorgeous blue skies, rock formations, and fantastic river views. You might even come across assorted relics of the old railroads like wooden bridges, stone tunnels, and trusses.
The trail is rather simple and popular for nature trips and hiking. Make sure to keep water shoes for the crossings and extra layers of socks for warmth. You might even stumble upon huckleberries or other kinds of exciting fruit that you can sample.
- Length: 15.1 km
- Elevation gain: 217 m
While hiking is one of the best ways to experience the Park’s nature reserves, there are certain precautions you can take, so you enjoy your time without having to worry too much. These include:
- Planning your trip with a good topographical map or a guidebook. This ensures that you know the terrain, elevation changes, and crossroads.
- Having someone accompany you to the trail. Not only is it a great way to spend quality time with your loved ones, but you can also protect yourself from hiking dangers.
- Wearing appropriate footwear with good ankle support.
- Check the weather conditions so you can be appropriately dressed for the trail.
- Reading the signs for any wildlife and treating any encounter with nature with extreme caution.
- Taking emergency signaling devices like flashlights, alarms, etc., and finding out the nearest ranger station or park office location.
Camping at Sluice Boxes State Park
If you’ve always wanted to spend a night under the stars, with the refreshing winds surrounding you, keeping you cool and the tranquility of nature relaxing your soul, then Sluice Boxes State Park is an excellent choice for you.
The campsites can be reserved from the third Friday in May through the third Sunday in September. The best part about reservations for state parks is that you can book a site even six months before visiting two days before. If you want the whole Montana experience, then book a cabin, yurt, or tipis.
Many of the fishing sites in Sluice Boxes State Park allow camping alongside rivers and lakes. So if you’re planning a short trip, book cabins near rivers or lakes, enjoy a quiet time while fishing in the calm lakes of Sluice Boxes State Park.
- A double bed
- Set of bunk beds
- Electrical outlets
- Electric heat
- Grill for outdoor cooking
- Table and four chairs
If you’re feeling more adventurous and want to experience the wilderness, spend a night in a tipi. Sluice Boxes State Park offers tipi rentals that transport you back in time. The tipis are mainly made of canvas and are around 18 ft. in diameter with little to no furnishings.
Tipis accommodate around 6-8 people according to their sizes. The amenities with tipis may include picnic tables and a fire grill.
Campsite reservation fee ranges from $4 to $34 per night but is dependent on different seasons and the amenities available at that moment. As the Park offers several additional luxuries, the price of your campsite will vary accordingly.
The cabins start from $54 every night. You can get them at slightly cheaper rates i.e. around $50 on the third Monday in September and the same in May.
These fees apply to non-residents and residents with a parking pass. As for non-residents, the charges are $66 per night and $60 per night between the third Monday in September and the third Thursday in May.
You can rent teepees as a resident or non-resident with a Park Pass for $30 per night or for slightly cheaper around $26 on the third Monday in September as well as the third Thursday in May.
As for non-residents, the teepee fee is $42 per night. However, you can get it for $36 on the third Monday in September, as well as the third Thursday in May.
Whether you book a camp, cabin, or tipi, the reservation fee is $10 for all state parks and any other accommodations.
Experience the Culture and History of Montana
The Sluice Boxes State Park was once home to prospectors that we’re searching for metals, smelters, and miners. The area is now littered with ghost towns, old railroads, and interesting architecture when industrialization was picking up pace.
When you visit the Sluice Boxes State Park, you’re met with the history of the old west. If you’re a history enthusiast, you can even hire guides or attend presentations by tribal elders to have a better and more engaging experience with all that you will encounter.
Things you Need to Know Before You Visit
Hours & Seasons
These hours are subject to change if there are any weather conditions or special restrictions. Make sure to check for alerts.
The Park is open all year round, with the parking area or the trailhead open from sunrise to sunset. The campground, however, is open 24/7.
The residents of Montana who pay the parking fee of $9 with annual vehicle registration do not have to pay any daily entrance fees for state parks. However, for those who do not register their vehicles, the same non-resident day fee applies.
Non-residents pay around $8 for the entrance fee with a vehicle daily. If they are on bikes or are bus passengers, their fee is $4. However, a non-resident entrance pass is free.
A non-resident entrance pass is eligible for out-of-state individuals. It allowed free entrance and discounted camping fees for the user. A 12-month pass costs around $50 per vehicle and is valid for a year starting from the month of the issue.
You can also purchase a $35 non-resident entrance pass for a shorter period, i.e., seven days. All in all, Sluice Boxes State Park remains to be one of the most alluring features of Montana.