The Wolf Creek Canyon is one of those characteristics of the Montana landscape that can make a difference in a long drive. In this case, you might find yourself on the I-90 heading from Helena in the direction of Great Falls.
The winding walls of the canyon surrounding Little Prickly Pear Creek and the Missouri River make this a scenic path to follow indeed as it cuts its way through the Rocky Mountains, providing full-on glimpses of what some of the best Montana terrains is all about.
The small, unincorporated community of Wolf Creek makes for an ideal stop-off point, giving you time to pause and take a deep breath before heading into the many adventures the canyon area offers.
Nestled deep in the Big Belt Mountains, Wolf Creek was initially founded as a stop along the Montana Central Railroad, which later became part of the Great Northern Railway.
It is said that Wolf Creek got its name from a local Indian legend stating that when the buffalo were being driven over a nearby cliff to their death, a wolf always went along too for the ride.
Thus they named the creek that flowed by the cliff “the creek where the wolf jumped too” – Wolf Creek.
The formations of a town called Cartersville already existed at the point Little Wolf Creek empties into Little Prickly Pear Creek.
Wolf Creek became more established as it expanded to serve the railroad, with the first hotel–the Wolf Creek Hotel–built in 1887 and incidentally still standing today as a historic testament to the beginnings of the town.
Wolf Creek is a highly-regarded region for recreation north of Helena—particularly for water lovers.
Outdoor enthusiasts have frequented the area for as long as anyone cares to remember, and it has always been the place from which to cast off for the incredibly scenic and historic ‘Gates of the Mountains.
The community was also bolstered by workers who built Holter Dam in the early 1900s. When traveling from the southern regions of Montana, Wolf Creek is a great jumping-off point to access the Missouri River.
It also provides easy access to Highway 434 to Lincoln or Highway 287 just north of Wolf Creek alternatively leads to Augusta, Choteau, and the eastern side of Glacier National Park.
Main Cultural, Historic, and Outdoor Attractions in Wolf Creek
For an entirely different kind of adventure on the Missouri River, you can check out the picturesque, historic region that formed part of the route of the Lewis and Clark expedition–the Gates of the Mountains.
Named by Captain Meriwether Lewis, the ‘Gates’ come by way of the massive limestone cliffs that almost seem to stem the flow of the river at every bend, before opening into another narrow passage.
Gates of the Mountains Marina
The Gates of the Mountain Marina is where to start for any decent trip out on one of the most amazing-looking stretches of the Missouri River.
Be inspired by the grand scenery from aboard a boat, having plenty of opportunities to admire the unique mountain vistas.
Little has changed in or around the Gates of the Mountains scenario since the days of their first discovery. Most of the area is a designated wilderness area just to ensure it stays that way, and the marina is set in the heart of it.
Some of the local boat tours lead past pictographs that predate anything on the famous expedition.
There are also various picnic area stop-offs and there is always the chance to spot wildlife like bighorn sheep and goats, as well as birds like eagles, which all cohabit in the Gates of the Mountains regions.
The actual marina itself contains close to 150 private docks of different sizes, and a public launch is open daily from early morning until night.
Trailer parking is available for a fee at the marina, which you can find about 20 miles to the north of Helena at the top end of Upper Holter Lake. Tours are typically run from late May to late September.
This four-site camping and day-use complex is located along lower Holter Lake and the Missouri River about 40 miles north of Helena and 40 miles west of Great Falls.
Located in a beautiful mountain setting, the area offers a variety of recreation opportunities. Fishing for rainbow trout, kokanee salmon, walleye, and perch is popular. Lewis and Clark traveled through this area 200 years ago.
Facilities/Services include; Overnight camping area, swimming beach, boat ramps, boat docks, parking areas, fish cleaning stations, drinking water, and accessible toilets.
Reservations are available for group camping at Log Gulch and for day-use picnic shelter functions at both Holter Lake and Log Gulch. Site managers and campground hosts are available.
Season/Hours: Fees are normally charged from mid-May through mid-October. The camping limit is 7 days from Memorial Day through Labor Day weekends.
If you are up for something a bit challenging you can try the Meriwether Canyon to Refrigerator Canyon Trail in the vicinity of the Gates of the Mountains.
It takes most walkers an average of 9 hours to finish up this route, which is a point-to-point trail of 17.7 miles. The route is used by backpackers, birders, and campers, and it starts out from the Meriwether Picnic Area.
Juniper Bay to Log Gulch Trail is considered a moderately challenging route by way of a moderate, 2.9-mile loop trail.
The route takes most walkers an average of 1.5 hours to complete, and dogs are permitted as long as they are kept leashed.
Note, that the trailhead can be picked up along Holter Lake and the trail can be narrow and steep in some stretches.
A few miles to the east of Wolf Creek the fishing options become more plentiful as the Missouri River broadens into the Holter Lake Reservoir.
Holter Lake presents 140 campsites, 3 designated swimming areas, and forty-eight hundred acres of boating, water skiing, and fishing opportunities.
On top of that just southeast of Wolf Creek, the Hauser Lake Reservoir yields impressively-sized Kokanee Salmon, rainbow and brown trout, walleye, and perch.
Slightly below Wolf Creek, the Missouri provides miles of blue ribbon trout fishing.
The Holter Lake Campground is located on the very scenic Holter Lake close to Wolf Creek.
The facility is about 45 miles north of Helena and is set along the Missouri River among some amazing views. The Gates of the Mountains Historic Site is very near to the well-maintained campground, and the entire area is ideal for outdoor adventure opportunities.
Anyone looking for some decent fishing, hunting, wildlife viewing, hiking, boating, water skiing, or all of these—you will find them within the vicinity of Holter Lake Campground.
Just 7 miles out from Wolf Creek is the Log Gulch Recreation Area where there are more camping options with a 70-site facility as well as endless recreation.
Wolf Creek Fishing Access Site also accommodates permit camping. Fees do apply here as does a 14-day limit on stays. Amenities include a boat launch, toilets, and RV and trailer access. The sites are open all season.
Accommodation– Hotels and lodging:
Not too much going on hotel–wise in Wolf Creek itself, with your best bet being a stay at the Wolf Creek Lodge. Your best bet if planning a trip to Wolf Creek is to check out the available accommodations in nearby Helena.
Special Events in Wolf Creek
- Oct–Wolf Creek Canyon Relay–scenic annual relay event off the I-15 between Helena and Great Falls, held every first Sunday in October
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