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Yellowstone Area Hikes and Attractions

Crow Mountain Trail in Paradise Valley

The Crow Mountain trail is in the Mill Creek drainage south of Livingston, MT. Mill Creek is a popular National Forest access area where people enjoy hiking, camping , fishing, skiing, snowmobiling and every other form of recreation. The Mill Creek drainage is fairly large and there are a lot of different areas to explore.

Mill Creek is a tributary of the Yellowstone River that joins the Yellowstone in the middle of the Paradise Valley. The Paradise Valley is the very scenic valley formed by the Yellowstone River as it flows north from Yellowstone Park toward Livingston, MT.

The Mill Creek area is accessed by a well signed road that heads east from HWY 89 about 29 miles south of Livingston. The road begins as paved and transitions to gravel after a few miles. The road is generally in good shape and can be driven by most vehicles. About 12 miles from the highway you will reach the Mill Creek Cabin and the campground.

Crow Mountain Trail

To reach the Crow Mountain trailhead continue on the main road past the Snowbank Campground and the Mill Creek Cabin. About 5 miles past the campground the road crosses Mill creek and begins to ascend up the hillside to the south. Leaving the creek behind the road continues to climb for about a half mile until it reaches a junction. Take the fork to the left turning sharply to the East.

This entire area of the drainage has been heavily logged in the past and you are traveling on an old logging road as you climb. There are several spur roads leading off but continue to follow the main drainage, always staying to the left. About 3 miles after leaving the creek you will reach the trailhead parking area.

photo the trail at the beginning of the Crow Mountain hike
The Crow Mountain Trail begins by following an abandoned logging road. The trail continues along this road bed for about a half mile. The Mill Creek drainage has been heavily logged in the past and there are many old roads. Some of these are maintained as roads or trails but most are being reclaimed by the forest.

Hiking the Trail

Crow Mountain Trail is USFS trail #58. This is also the trailhead for USFS trail #280 which heads up Lambert Creek. Make sure you are following the correct trail. It’s always wise to have a good map when you go hiking. You can purchase the official Custer Gallatin National Forest map by visiting a ranger station. The National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map for the area is another good choice.

The hike begins at Lambert Creek as it is rushing downward to join Mill Creek far below. The trail immediately leaves Lambert Creek and parallels Mill Creek as it ascends into the mountains. The creek is on the left and as you hike it will gradually rise up towards you. Mill Creek is climbing the mountain faster than you are so you keep getting closer. This is an easy trail and a nice gentle hike. From the parking area the trail begins by following an old logging road. After about a half mile the logging road disappears and from this point on it is a standard foot trail.

I say a standard trail but anyone who has spent time hiking in Montana knows there is no such thing! This particular trail is really pretty easy to hike it is in good condition and is never too steep. On average the trail climbs less than 400 ft per mile and is never very strenuous. After a mile or so you will have reached Mill Creek and will find a crossing.

photo of a small mountain pond in the Gallatin Forest
This small pond is right along the trail. Small ponds like this provide a diversity of habitat in the mountains.

Soon after crossing the creek watch for trail 221 which heads to the north towards Pyramid Mountain and Anderson Creek. Stay to the right at this junction and after about another mile or so you will pass a small pond on your left. Little ponds like this are common throughout the mountains. While they don’t look like much, they provide water and habitat for a lot of different creatures.

The trail continues to gain elevation as it follows Mill Creek upward. After passing the pond the trail begins to steepen and continues upward toward the high mountains to the south. About a mile further the trail begins to disappear as it enters a large basin surrounded by towering sheer rock walls that rise 1,500 feet or more in a near vertical face. This is a scenic area that offers excellent off-trail exploring of the basin.

Photo of the sheer cliffs that are at the source of Mill Creek
Sheer cliffs form the headwaters of Mill Creek. From here it is all off trail hiking.

The trail basically ends at this point. There is no practical way to scale the mountains ahead but the basin itself is a destination for backpackers, hikers, hunters and horse riders. However, it sees few of any of these users. The Forest Service reports mountain goats in this area so watch for them.

While not as popular as other Mill Creek hikes such as Passage Creek Falls, Crow Mountain is an excellent hike that takes you into some high country with great views and the possibility of wildlife viewing.

A Unique Crow Mountain Hike

On August 11, 2007 we set out for a day hike up to the Crow Mountain basin. The area had been experiencing hot dry days and nights and the fire danger was very high. In fact, just the previous day a fire had broken out in the Mill Creek drainage about 10 miles to the east of the Crow Mountain trail. I called the Livingston Ranger District the prior evening and they told me that there was no problem, that the fire was very small and not spreading and there was no reason to change our hiking plans.

As we drove up the canyon towards the trail head we noticed that there was a smoggy look to the skies but no sign of any real fire activity. There were no Forest Service trucks or other vehicles around and all was perfectly normal. We did a round trip up to the basin and upon returning to the car found a note on our windshield telling us there was a full drainage evacuation taking place and that we should immediately leave the area.

Needless to say, we didn’t delay our drive out and when we reached the USFS Snowbank campground we found the road barricaded and staffed by two USFS personnel. They asked if we were the vehicle parked at the Lambert Creek trail head. We confirmed that we were and the ranger replied “Thank goodness. You’re the last ones in the drainage and we’re really glad that you are getting out.”

They proceeded to tell us that a small fire which ignited the day before had blow up and was now raging out of control. The plume of smoke we saw rising as we drove down canyon was evidence of the fire’s growth. This became known as the Wicked fire and  it burned nearly 25,000 acres in the Mill Creek drainage. 

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