Helena National Forest


Looking uphill through a tree-filled canyon in Gates of the Mountains Wilderness
A view in Gates of the Mountains Wilderness on Helena National Forest

Containing some 976,000 acres, the Helena National Forest is broken into several sections. On the eastern side is the Big Belt Mountains and the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness. On the west is the continental divide and part of the Scapegoat Wilderness. To the south are the Elkhorn Mountains.

Typical of a western National Forest, the Helena lowlands covered with a mix of native grasses and sagebrush with islands of Douglas fir, larch and spruce interspersed. Nowhere do the mountains here exceed 10,000'. In the Scapegoat Wilderness you'll find a sizable population of grizzly bear while most of the forest sees black bear, moose, elk, pronghorn, mule deer, bighorn sheep and mountain goat.

The forest contains more than 1,000 miles of designated trails with several lakes and numerous trout streams. Many of the trails become cross-country ski trails and snowmobile trails in winter. For almost 80 miles, the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail crosses the Helena National Forest as it journeys southward from Scapegoat Wilderness to Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. As for campgrounds, more than a dozen are developed on the Forest.

Historically speaking, there are sites here ranging from prehistoric Indian cliff paintings to historic mining ruins.

Bighorn sheep in a meadow in the fall on Helena National Forest
Bighorn sheep
 
Upper photo courtesy of Steve Boutcher, US Forest Service
Lower photo courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management
 

Campgrounds

Helena Ranger District

Name Elevation Season # of sites Amenities How to Get There
Coulter - in Gates of the Mountains Canyon 3,610' late May - late Sept 7 Tent campingCampfires allowedPicnic areaToilets availableFishing available nearbyBoat launchHiking trailsWilderness accessFee site I-15 to Gates of the Mountains exit, located next to the Missouri River
Cromwell Dixon - Continental Divide Trail nearby 6,260' late May - late Sept 15 Tent campingCampfires allowedPicnic areaToilets availableDrinking water availableHiking trails At MacDonald Pass on Highway 12, Scenic vista, paved access
Kading - Near Electric Peak WSA 6,200' late May - late Oct 10 Tent campingCampfires allowedPicnic areaToilets availableDrinking water availableHiking trailsWilderness accessHorse corrals nearby Highway 12 west of Helena to Little Blackfoot Road, then south 16 miles
Meriwether Picnic Area - in Gates of the Mountains Canyon 3,610' late May - late Sept 10 Tent campingCampfires allowedPicnic areaToilets availableDrinking water availableFishing available nearbyBoat launchHiking trailsFee site I-15 to Gates of the Mountains exit, located nest to the Missouri River
Missouri River Fishing Access - Day use only 3,590' early May - mid Nov 0 Toilets availableFishing available nearby Between Hauser Dam and Holter Reservoir: Highway 280 north from Helena to York, then north on dirt road to Nelson and Beaver Creek Road, go left 6 miles to river
Moose Creek - Next to Rimini Road 4,880' late May - late Sept 9 Tent campingCampfires allowedPicnic areaToilets availableDrinking water availableHiking trails Highway 12 west of Helena 8 miles, go south on gravel Tenmile Road 5 miles
Moose Creek Group 4,880' late May - mid Nov Group Tent campingCampfires allowedPicnic areaToilets availableDrinking water availableHiking trails Same as Moose Creek
Park Lake 6,360' late May - late Sept 22 Tent campingCampfires allowedPicnic areaToilets availableDrinking water availableFishing available nearbyHiking trails I-15 to Clancy exit, then west on Lump Gulch Road to Corral Gulch Road, then 6 miles west & south to Park Lake
Quigley Group Camp - Continental Divide Trail nearby 6,260' late May - late Sept Group Tent campingCampfires allowedPicnic areaToilets availableDrinking water availableHiking trails On MacDonald Pass off Highway 12, 1/2 mile east of Cromwell-Dixon
Ten Mile Picnic Area - Next to Rimini Road 4,840' Year round 5 Tent campingCampfires allowedPicnic areaToilets availableHiking trails 8 miles west of Helena on Highway 12, south 4 miles on Tenmile Road
Vigilante - Next to Trout Creek 4,400' late May - late Sept 18 Tent campingCampfires allowedPicnic areaToilets availableDrinking water availableFishing available nearbyHiking trails Highway 280 east from Helena to York, go northeast along Trout Creek to end of road

Townsend Ranger District

Name Elevation Season # of sites Amenities How to Get There
Skidway 5,800' late May - late Sept 13 Tent campingCampfires allowedPicnic areaToilets availableDrinking water availableHiking trails Highway 12 20 miles east of Townsend

Lincoln Ranger District

Name Elevation Season # of sites Amenities How to Get There
Aspen Grove - Campground & Picnic Area 4,800' late May - early Sept 20 Tent campingTrailer and RV campingCampfires allowedPicnic areaDrinking water availableFishing available nearbyHiking trails 6 miles east of Lincoln on Highway 200, then south at Aspen Grove Campground sign
Copper Creek - Snowbank Lake 5,300' late May - early Sept 17 Tent campingCampfires allowedPicnic areaDrinking water availableFishing available nearbySwimming nearbyHiking trails 8 miles east of Lincoln on Highway 200, then south at the Copper Creek Campground sign