South Shore Trail

When I was in high school, I would drive out along Giant Springs Road and park by the railroad bridge. There was usually something interesting down the hill by the water–a shopping cart, a bike, etc. I don’t remember there ever being trailheads, though. It’s entirely possible they were there, but my teenage self was never really looking for trailheads.

Today is my dog’s 6th birthday. I think. Vet’s best guess was that he was born sometime in December, so I picked the 15th.

Diego the dog, smiling on his walk

Side note on the dog: He was born in a dump in Baja, Mexico. There’s a shelter down there that partners with a shelter in the Pacific Northwest, so he immigrated. The first time I took him to the vet, the vet tech and I had to translate his immunization records from Spanish.

Anyway, I’ve been slacking on his walks lately, so I figured a birthday walk was in order.

Rainbow dam

Rainbow Dam

The south shore trailhead parking area is just south of the BNSF train bridge. There seem to be two parking areas–one for an overlook, and another for the trail itself. There are benches along the trail that make it easy to kick back and enjoy the view when you need a break.

It was windy as shit today, so we only went a mile or so down the trail. Based on the Google Maps satellite view, it looks like the trail goes on past Ryan Dam. Might have to explore that one these days when it’s a little warmer.

The River’s Edge Trail runs almost 60 miles along both sides of the Missouri River.

First People’s Buffalo Jump

My mom will outlive us all. She and her service dog walk all over town. To yoga, to classes, to the grocery store. Wherever she needs to go, they walk. They might take a bus in the winter when it’s really cold, but only if it’s really cold. So when she visits, she requires walks.

Mom and Kaiah

The First People’s Buffalo Jump is just down the road from me, so on her last visit we decided to walk the lower loop. I’m almost ashamed to admit I hadn’t actually been to the lower part of the park before. I’ve driven to the top, looked around, even shot some Milky Way shots from the entrance to the upper area. I was looking forward to hiking the lower loop.

Milky Way over Central Montana

I am not in the same shape as my mom. Neither is my dog. So when we realized the trail starts off uphill, we were questioning our life choices. But it wasn’t bad. It was actually an awesome little hike. I had the camera out, hoping to get a shot of a rattlesnake, but we saw none. The second half (the downhill part,) makes for a nice leisurely stroll.

It’s a fun loop hike

My only advice would be to bring water, and watch for snakes. We may not have seen any, but it’s perfect terrain for rattlers. From a distance, they’re beautiful creatures. Just don’t try to pet them.

Heading West on the loop trail, Square Butte in the distance

If you’re feeling froggy, walk all the way up to the top and check out the prairie dog town. If you’re not feeling froggy, just drive around to the top of the park via Ulm Vaughn Road and check out the prairie dog town that way.

If you’re visiting in the winter, pay attention to the winter hours. Sometimes the upper area gate is closed in the winter–it depends on how much snow they get.

There’s a visitor center at the bottom, and a bathroom up on top. The park is open every day in the summer from 8am to 6pm, and 10am to 4pm Monday through Saturday, 12pm to 4pm Sunday in the winter. It’s definitely worth the short drive from Great Falls.

More photos will be added to the project gallery as I take them.

Lost Lake/Dry Falls

When I was a kid, we lived in Highwood for a few years. I had no idea I was living 30 minutes from one of the coolest places I’ve seen in Montana.

The curved shonkinite walls of Dry Falls flank the west end of Lost Lake–remnants of what once was Montana’s own Niagra Falls (but bigger.) The history of this area’s features date back to more than one ice age. There’s a great write up here if you want more information.

Standing on the north cliffs, looking southwest

I found Lost Lake on Google Maps (of course,) so we all loaded up and drove out to see what the big deal was.

We ran into some Montana traffic along the way, but eventually made it to the make-shift sign reminding visitors that it is, in fact, private property. The sign also told us that we were hiking at our own risk.

We walked from the sign to the edge of the northern cliffs. I couldn’t believe I lived so close and never even knew this existed. Epic doesn’t even begin to describe this place. Imagining the vast amounts of water that used to cascade off the western edge, we explored (carefully–this is prime rattlesnake country,) for most of the afternoon. Aside from the rattlesnakes, there are hawks, rabbits, and other critters who call the rocks their home.

A lot of places in the US have history, and maybe I’m biased, but Montana seems to have some of the coolest history. Geological history, dinosaurs (see the Bynum post), ghost towns… Montana is full of it.

Looking southeast from the north cliffs

We finished up the day with ice cream in Fort Benton, because, why not?

If you make the trip out to Lost Lake, bring water, watch out for snakes, and be respectful of the rancher’s property. Also, you’re going to be driving on a lot of dirt/gravel roads, so it’s probably not a great idea to go after a heavy rain.

Update: Because it’s on private land, and people were trashing it, the landowner has now (understandably) prohibited public access. This is why we can’t have nice things.