12 Mile Loop through the Highwood Mountains
A series of small mountain ranges dot central Montana. One of these “island” ranges is the Highwood Mountains that lie northeast of Great Falls. Besides the fact that this range bursts with beauty with wildflowers in spring and early summer and shimmers with golden aspen leaves in autumn is the little known fact that the Highwoods boast some of Montana’s finest single-track.
Because of its fairly remote location, this Mecca of great trails has been largely undiscovered by many cyclists. Rides begin from the Thain Creek Campground. The camp can come in handy as a base since there can be several days worth of riding here. The trails in the Highwoods are mostly smooth buffed out trails, but they do pack plenty of horsepower, at least the need for some in your legs with strenuous grades. The climbs are tough and descents fast making the Highwoods more of an intermediate to advanced rating in both riding skills and endurance.
Much of the trail system’s smoothness and high quality can be attributed to a local dirt biker club. The trails are multi-use to be aware of hikers, trails bikes or cows in summer while enjoying your ride.
One favorite loop begins at the campground climbing steadily for 3 miles to 5700 feet in elevation on Trail #453. At the top of the climb lays the summit of Windy Mountain, which is just off the main trail, and if you have time, a short hike to the summit yields a stunning view in all directions. Then it is a ridge top ride to the intersection of Briggs Creek Trail #431, you can either descend directly back to the campground by turning right here or if you would like a longer ride, turn left and descend down Grant Creek Trail for 1.2 miles. Turn right onto Kirby Creek Trail, there it crosses two small creeks and climbs again for 1.8 miles. When reaching the North Fork of Highwood Creek Trail #423 turn right and begin a fun, wild roller coaster 3 mile. You can continue along an old two track or turn right onto another fun section of single-track through a lodgepole pine forest for one mile then turn left onto Biggs Creek and the finish at the campground is just a quarter mile away. All in the entire loop is a little over 12 miles in length though it seems like more both in effort and on the fun meter.
There are several other trails worth exploring including a tough ridge top loop on the south side of Trail #423. While tough, the view from the top is outstanding.
For more information on riding in the Highwoods contact The Knicker Biker in Great Falls 406-454-2912. You can also purchase (highly recommended) a great trail map from the Lewis and Clark National Forest office in Great Falls, 406-791-7700.