Southwest Montana is a large area just west of Bozeman and Great Falls. It’s not far from Yellowstone National Park, and is a great destination to include in your road trip of Idaho, Montana, and/or Wyoming. There’s several fun towns like Helena, Butte, and Anaconda, plus lots of things to do an incredible adventures to take part in.
In this region, there’s some amazing hiking, so we’re here to talk about the top recommended hikes in Southwest Montana. Whether you’re looking for a short family walk or an extended mountain adventure, we’ve got the perfect day-hike for you on this comprehensive list below.
Top Hikes in Southwest Montana
1. Axolotl Lakes
The Axolotl Lakes Wilderness Study Area and Recreation Area is made up of a series of small lakes surrounded by lush meadows, rolling foothills, and riparian wetland areas. Most of the lakes have names and offer great fishing opportunities, but just like our hike to Wheeler Lakes in Colorado, there’s a small surprise lurking in the water of two of the lakes.
If you’re lucky enough to see them, there are “axolotl” salamanders, which are a unique non-metamorphosing form of the blotched tiger salamander. Some other wildlife includes elk, deer, moose, antelope, and even grizzly bears, so be on the lookout when hiking in this beautiful area.
2. Branham Lakes
Braham Lakes was recommended by a local and offers beautiful scenery with lakes, waterfalls, flowers, and fishing. Head eat out of Sheridan on Mill Creek Road up towards Branham Lakes. There’s a couple trails along the way that offer moderate elevation gain (North Fork and South Fork) or you can go up to the lakes and walk around them. Walking around the lakes would be a good option for families since its an easy hike, but this area is only accessible when the snow is all gone.
3. Wade and Cliff Lakes Trail
Both Cliff and Wade Lakes are part of the Great Yellowstone Ecosystem and are fed by natural cold water springs. There’s amazing wildlife diversity and the lakes are incredibly clear. Rent a kayak, canoe, or paddleboard to spend time on the water, and/or hike the 2-mile Interpretive Trail to learn more about this incredible area.
To get there, travel south from Ennis on US Highway 287 for about 40 miles. Turn right at the sign for Cliff and Wade Lakes, then continue down the dirt road for approximately 6 miles. There is first-come first-serve campgrounds here as well.
4. Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park
The Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park was Montana’s first sate park and is home to one of the most highly decorated limestone caverns in North America. Plan on spending at least three hours hiking the 2-mile guided tour of the caverns, plus any extra time and effort for the other trails in the park that are above-ground.
5. Continental Divide Trail (CDT)
The Continental Divide Trail (CDT) is one of the Triple Crown Hikes in America and it runs right through the heart of Southwest Montana. The entire trail spans 3,100 miles from Mexico to Canada and offers unique views of the some of the most diverse landscapes in America. There are several connecting trailheads in Montana, so if you’re looking for a great hike near you, consider seeing if there’s a section of the CDT that you could hop on for a few miles. Some examples includes Upper Seymour Lake, Konda Trailhead, and Homestake.
6. Bear Trap Canyon
If you want a really cool out-and-back trail near Ennis and Bozeman, Bear Trap Canyon would be a great option. It’s 15 miles long, but it’s relatively flat and easy to navigate. Simply hike as far as you like then turn around and retrace your steps to get back to your car.
This hike follows the Madison River as it flows through Bear Trap Canyon Wilderness. It’s a scenic canyon with 2,000 foot cliffs and lots of wildlife. For even more adventure, book a white water rafting trip through the canyon with a local outfitter.
7. Mount Ascension
Mount Ascension is a popular hiking trail near Helena and it offers great views while only being 3.1 miles roundtrip. It does have 931 feet of elevation gain, so it’s not recommended for families with small kids or anyone who isn’t completely mobile. The trail is open year-round but is best May through October when there isn’t snow on the ground.
Cover photo from SouthwestMt.com