DILLON — Memorial Day weekend marks the kickoff for outdoor summer recreation and camping season. The Beaverhead-Deerlodge covers over 3.3 million acres in seven counties of Southwest Montana and offers an abundance of recreational opportunities for people to enjoy. Even though Memorial Day Weekend arrives early this year, visitors will find campgrounds, trails, and cabins open and available.
In the Butte-Whitehall Area, Beaverdam, Lowland, Delmoe Lake, Whitehouse, Pigeon Creek, and Toll Mountain Campgrounds will be open. Water will be available at Beaverdam, Lowland, Delmoe Lake and Whitehouse. Homestake and Elkhorn picnic areas will be open as well with water available at Homestake.
Thompson Park is open daily from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. daily. There are three picnic areas and two trailheads that access 25 miles of non-motorized trails, including the Milwaukee Road. The park is co-managed with Butte-Silver Bow through October. The Thompson Park Eagles Nest disc golf course is the only authorized course open to the public for use on the National Forest. Improvements to the course are being completed by an Eagle Scout candidate from Troop 1608.
Sheepshead Recreation Area, north of Butte, offers fishing and picnicking for groups and will open June 10. The pavilions at Sheepshead and Freedom Point can be reserved for weddings, picnics, and other types of day-use activities. Call the Butte Ranger District for reservations.
Most trailheads are open; however trail access may be minimal at higher elevations due to high snow levels. Trail crews and volunteers have cleared Thompson Park, portions of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail and Rawhide Trail in the Elkhorns; however trail users should expect to find blocked trails due to the high number of downed trees. Contact the Butte Ranger District to find out trail conditions or to report blocked trails. Forest Service crews will begin clearing the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail in June. A variety of maps including Whitetail-Pipestone, Thompson Park, CDNST, and forest maps are available at the Butte Ranger District as well as downloadable maps from Avenza for android and iPhones.
For updates on access to recreation sites and trails, contact the Forest Service office in Butte at (406) 494-2147, or visit 1820 Meadowlark Lane.
For the Georgetown Lake, Philipsburg and Deer Lodge Valley: Philipsburg Bay and Lodgepole, Flint Creek, Racetrack, and Piney Campgrounds are open. Spring Hill, East Fork, Copper, Spillway, and Cable Campgrounds will open by Memorial Day weekend. Orofino should be open by early June. Certain sites within these campgrounds may be closed as hazard tree removal continues, visitors are asked to respect those closures. Grassy Point and Red Bridge will be available for use by Memorial Day along with the day use sites around Georgetown Lake.
Echo Lake picnic area may not be accessible due to snow conditions, but should be open by early June. Most trailheads are open; however trail access may be minimal at higher elevations due to high snow levels and a high number of downed trees at low and mid elevations. Trail crews will begin work in June to clear trails.
Call Forest Service office in Philipsburg, (406) 859-3211 for more information.
Some of the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness trailheads are accessible at this point, but not all. Visitors will likely encounter snow and downed trees within a couple miles of trailheads, but most lakes are still snow covered As a reminder, use of stock within the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness is prohibited on the Pintler District April 1 through July 1. Check with Forest Service offices in Wise River, Philipsburg, Sula or Wisdom for details as you plan your wilderness trip.
In the Big Hole area, most campgrounds will be available for use with limited services. Some roads and sites will still be under snow and inaccessible.
The Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway, between Wise River and the Grasshopper Valley remains closed due to heavy snow conditions. Most campgrounds along the Scenic Byway will be available for use with limited services. Roads adjacent to the Scenic Byway may still be blocked with snow and downed trees. Travelers may reach the historic Canyon Creek charcoal kilns west of Melrose; however, Vipond Park is not fully accessible.
Other Forest roads blocked by snow include the upper end of Thief Creek road, above the Birch Creek Center, and Upper Willow Creek. Travel may not be possible up-drainage to Gorge or Tendoy Lakes until mid-June.
All major access roads into the Lima Peaks, Tendoys, and Bloody Dick Range are open. Access to Reservoir Lake is open; however travel over the Big Hole Divide is closed. Lemhi Pass and the Sacajawea Memorial Camp are open. Browns Lake, out of Glen, along Interstate 90, on Rock Creek is open, but access further up the drainage is not possible or is limited. Be aware that creek and river levels can change significantly with warmer temperatures. Caution should be used when playing and hiking around main tributaries. Contact the Dillon Ranger District at (406) 683-3900.
In Madison County, Potosi, Mill Creek campgrounds are currently open and water is available. The Branham Lake Campground in upper Mill Creek is not yet accessible. The Ruby River Campgrounds are open, Elk Lake in the Centennial is open; water is not available at these sites. Several campgrounds in Madison County are operated by a concessionaire, under supervision of the Forest Service. They lie near the Madison River and include West Fork, Riverview, Madison River, Wade Lake, Cliff Point, and Hill Top. Visitors are encouraged to call the concessionaires, Dave or Laurie Schmidt, at (406) 682-7560 for the latest information on camping opportunities at these campgrounds.
Bears are out and sightings at lower elevations are common. In particular “Be Aware”, a sow grizzly and yearling have been regularly seen in the Bear Creek area: North Fork, Middle Fork and Trail Fork drainages.
Many roads in the Gravelly Range won’t be open until July 1. This allows roads to dry before they get traffic. For more information, call the Forest Service in Sheridan, at (406) 842-5432, or Ennis, at (406) 682-4253.
Things to know before you go!
Be prepared for changing weather conditions and bring potable drinking water for dispersed camping and hiking activity. Contact your local Forest Service office to find current status of camping opportunities and trail/road conditions. Spring weather can be very unsettled.
Stay away from soft and muddy roads, as this is unsafe and can damage the roadbed, leading to expensive repairs. Driving around snow drifts is not permissible because of the damage it causes to vegetation and soil. If you get stuck, help may not be available due to limited cell phone coverage when out of all the residential areas. When driving in the outdoors, visitors are encouraged to notify the Forest Service of any flooding conditions, plugged culverts, downed trees or road damage so that repairs can be made or trees removed.
Many trails may not be open at higher elevations due to mud, snow, or downed trees. Stay on the trail and do not create new trails to get around hazards. Expect many trails to be impassable from fallen trees. The Forest Service will have minimal ability to clear trees this year due to decreased budgets and the lack of seasonal trail crews.
Be careful with fire and to never to leave a campfire unattended, and make sure your coals are cool to the touch before you leave. Conditions are drying out quickly and everyone needs to be fire safe. Fireworks on National Forest system lands are not permissible.
Look up, look down and all around when recreating in the forest due to the potential for trees to fall. Here are a couple of handy tips: Be aware of your surroundings and avoid dense patches of dead trees. Trees can fall without warning; place tents and park vehicles in areas where they will not be hit if a tree falls; Stay out of the forest when there are strong winds that could blow down trees. If you are already in the forest when winds kick up, head to a clearing out of reach of any potential falling trees.
Forest-wide, there are special rules for storing of food and refuse at your campsite to avoid bear encounters. All food and refuse, including liquids other than water, must either be stored in a vehicle, an approved container, or hung 10 feet off the ground and four feet out from any tree or support pole. Free bear-resistant containers are available for loan at the Forest Service offices.
Aquatic invasive species (AIS), including diseases, are easily spread from one water body to the other. Anglers, boaters, construction workers, pond owners, gardeners, seaplane pilots, field workers-virtually anyone who works or plays in or around water can unknowingly transport these pests on their boats and equipment or allow them to spread via improper management practices. It takes only one mistake to potentially infest a new water body. To protect Montana’s waters and native aquatic species, please follow the rules and guidelines of “Clean, Drain and Dry.” For more information go online to: http://musselresponse.mt.gov
The Beaverhead-Deerlodge NF offers 25 backcountry cabins for rent. You’ll need to bring food and bedding, but most cabins come with firewood, beds, and utensils. To rent a cabin, call toll free, 1-877-444-6777 or go online to http://www.recreation.gov/. Prior to going to your cabin contact the local Ranger District Office during office hours to determine current conditions and access issues.
Remember, too, that cross-country driving by motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles, pickups and other “motorized, wheeled vehicles” is prohibited in the National Forests of Montana. Vehicles must stay on existing roads and trails. In some places, vehicles can travel only on specially designated routes. The Forest Service has a brochure explaining the travel rules as well as travel maps to help travelers know which routes they may travel. Also children are required to wear helmets when riding these vehicles.
For more information contact your local Forest Service office or go online to www.fs.usda.gov/bdnf.