Helena Hiking Challenge

By Heidi O’Brien

When the snow melted in Helena’s South Hills Trail system this spring over seventy miles of single track opened up to recreation, yet I continued to do my exact same figure-eight route in the Mount Ascension area. I know every turn of the trail and have named the rocks I pass. That is a close relationship with your trail!

It’s great to know your trail, but when there are so many miles of trail out there, why am I doing the same loop every day?

Thus, the challenge was born – hike every trail in the South Hills Trail System this summer. I wanted to do this to push myself to explore more of Helena and also so that I could better recommend trails to visitors who come into our Visitor Information Center at 105 Reeder’s Alley.

Of course, I learned a few things along the way:

  1. Holy smokes – our trail system is HUGE! Our City of Helena Parks Department and the City Open Space office has an enormous task managing this area and our community should be incredibly grateful that they do such a wonderful job. As the impact to the trails evolve, the City leaders will need to dedicate more resources to this valuable asset of our community.
  2. Our Trails are indeed HAPPY. The Prickly Pear Land Trust has it right using the “Happy Trails” slogan. I have encountered countless hikers, dog walkers and mountain bikers over the course of the summer and everyone has been courteous and offered a friendly greeting. How can you not be happy out enjoying Helena’s trails?!
  3. What kind of terrain are you after? Helena HAS it all. No hike looked the same and many areas of our trail system are vastly different from each other. It was a treat to see something different every day (and to name some new rocks along the way).
  4. Don’t tell your friend your plan to hike every trail because she will do it and beat you to it. Just kidding dear friend, it was great to have some company along the way and it was also nice at times to hike, reflect and enjoy on my own.

My Favorite New Trail: When I’m at home, I hike the Mount Ascension Area. When I’m at work, I hike the Mount Helena area. I never have hiked around Rodney Ridge. This area has quickly become my new favorite area. There’s one point along Rodney Ridge Trail where TR Trail, Rodney Meadows Trails and a couple of others all come together and you can see them all and once and it makes me feel like “Holy Smokes! This is stunning and these trails are awesome!”

My Favorite Longer Day Hike: This has been my favorite longer loop:

Tip: There are lots of fitness and GPS apps out there. I loved using the Avenza app with the Helena South Hills Trail System map downloaded to it. I’ve completed all the trails in orange. I still have the green left to hike.

– Start at the Beattie Street Trail Head and go up Prickly Pear Trail.
– Turn right on Pay Dirt.
– Continue on Archie Range.
– Go up Entertainment to summit Mount Ascension.
– Head down Eddye McClure Trail West.
– At Lime Kiln Road you’re going to be hoofing it down the road for a bit.
– At the Lime Kiln Trail head take Prickly Pear Trail over to Easy Rider.
– At Pay Dirt head back down to the Beattie St. Trailhead where your adventure began.

Why I love the Free Trail Rider Shuttle:
A few times this summer I’ve enjoyed the FREE Trail Rider Shuttle up to the Mount Helena Ridge Trailhead. I’m usually one a handful of hikers. Most folks are mountain bikers and trail runners. I love this group of people because all three user groups head up together — chatting about which way they’ll come down, the weather, weekend plans, etc. The shuttle has a real community feel – especially the awesome and enthusiastic Friday morning crew. Thanks Blue Cross of Blue Shield for making this morning shuttle possible. And, a huge THANK YOU to all the wonderful Shuttle sponsors. We are so lucky to be part of such a giving community.

Hiking or mountain biking Helena will not disappoint. Stop by the Visitors Information Center, 105 Reeder’s Alley, for our recommendations, a map and to fill up your water bottle. Our entire staff is well-versed in the trail system.

I have not completed my summer hiking challenge, but after seven and a half years my time at Visit Helena Montana has come to an end. I cannot wait to watch Anna Strange and Jennifer Davis take the organization into the future. I have no doubt they will do amazing things.

Work left undone and trails left un-hiked… There’s more to explore and more to be developed. Thank you Helena for the awesome trails, the wonderful community, the staff who are truly my friends and the opportunity to have grown personally and professionally. I bid adieu.