Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park
Established in 1941 as Montana’s first state park, Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park offers a glimpse into history along with modern day adventure. Despite the name, Lewis and Clark did not in fact discover the caverns of this park, though hikers can take in views of the wilderness they did traverse from one of several challenging multi-use trails. The park also offers sweeping views of the Tobacco Root Mountains and over 200 species of wildflowers. Spanning 3,000 acres of land that rests above 4,000 feet, Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park is an excellent destination for a day of hiking, an afternoon of fishing, or a whole weekend of camping.
WHAT MAKES IT GREAT
Unlike the nearby town of Bozeman and surrounding area, Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park’s winter season rarely lingers, making it an ideal spring and early summer spot for those eager to hit the trail. The prairie landscape has just the right touch of desert, and with that brings milder temperatures and seemingly endless sunshine.
Additionally, Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park is worth a visit due to the impressive variety of activities it offers. Most notably, there are the namesake caverns themselves, which can be explored on only through a guided tour (which lasts about two hours). These tours, which range from easy to challenging, give curious travelers a chance to navigate their way through massive cave rooms while seeing stalactites, stalagmites, helictites, columns, and passing bats.
The park also features a diverse trail system that spans 10 miles and gains more than 1,000 feet in elevation. Most of the trails are open to hikers and mountain bikers, and options range from gentle strolls to demanding uphill climbs. For a heart-pounding trail with serious elevation gain, the Cave Gulch Trail is a 1.9-mile trek that climbs 1,000 feet as it stretches from the campground to the visitor center. History buffs will enjoy the Danmore Mine Trail, an offshoot trail that journeys to the mountainside ruins of an old gypsum mine. For an easy hike to a tranquil fishing spot, the 1.3-mile Fishing Access Trail meanders along the banks of the Jefferson River, allowing ample opportunities for tired hikers and mountain bikers to dip their toes in the cool alpine runoff.
A campground nestled amongst cottonwood trees offers 40 sites for tents and RVs along with cabins and a single cozy tipi.
WHO IS GOING TO LOVE IT
Hikers who love adventures underground and aboveground, as well as mountain bikers looking to test their abilities on uphill terrain. A cavern tour makes for a family-friendly trip, while a hike or bike ride up the Cave Gulch Trail makes for a springtime challenge. Montana history lovers will appreciate walking in the steps of history, as this trail is the closest route to the one taken by early cave explorers. For anyone in search of a full day of mountain air and prairie views, several trails can be combined into a 5.9-mile loop called the Grand Loop.
DIRECTIONS, PARKING & REGULATIONS
Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park is located near Whitehall. Take I-90 west from Bozeman or east from Butte to State Highway 2. Drive south for seven miles and look for signage indicating the park entrance.
Day-use parking is available at the campground and visitor center, where most trails start and end. The park is open all year except for Thanksgiving, December 24, 25, 31, and January 1. Visitor center hours are from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. in the summer and until 6:30 p.m. at the height of summer. Winter hours are from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Campsites may be reserved online.