One of the great advantages of Upper Canyon Outfitters’ location is that we are surrounded by thousands of acres of public land. For those who like to hike, this means you can pretty much just pick a direction and start walking.
As someone who moved to Montana from the east coast I was perplexed by that idea at first. Like most people I was used to driving to a trailhead and hiking a marked path.
We have several “official” hiking trails within a few miles of UCO if that is your preference. However, the option to blaze your own trail is a unique experience that is worth a try, and we are happy to give you some ideas and point you in the right direction.
From Romy Creek trailhead at the end of Lewis Creek Road you can begin hiking Snowcrest Trail. This is a great hike for anyone wanting to get an incredible 360-degree view of the area.
The trail starts off meandering in the timber but hikers will notice a gradual incline. As the trail breaks the treeline the switchbacks continue all the way to top ridge of Snowcrest Mountain, a great place to stop for a lunch break and enjoy the views.
The road to the trailhead can sometimes be difficult to navigate with a regular vehicle. Ask us about a road condition update before heading out, or opt for a guided hike and we will get you there in one of our 4×4 side by side vehicles.
Little Willow Trail
Little Willow Trail is an old road that leads to the remains of an old talc mine. The road is now overgrown and is only used by hikers and hunters.
It is a great option for someone looking for a more moderate hiking opportunity. The road goes for approx two miles through thick timber, with Little Willow Creek running alongside it.
At the end of the road you will reach a bare hillside which is worth hiking up as you gain a nice view of the Snowcrest Range. Access to this spot is easy and can be reached with most vehicles.
A UCO favorite, the Lookout is a beautiful spot easily reached by hiking right from the ranch. There isn’t an official trail. All you have to do is make your way up the mountain across the road from UCO until you reach the Lookout which is situated in a little “saddle” between two peaks.
From this spot you get a great, almost bird’s-eye view of UCO, the three mountain ranges that surround us – Greenhorn, Snowcrest and Gravelly – and the Ruby River meandering through the canyon, flowing down toward the valley. On a clear day you can even see Black Butte, an old volcano unique shape, and the highest peak in the Gravelly Range. (This is another hiking option to ask us about!)
To return to the ranch you can retrace your steps down the mountain or follow the prominent game trail to the other side and down the mountain to make a “loop.”
If you choose the game trail option, keep following it down the mountain until you reach the sage flat. From there the trail disappears but all you have to do is work your way back toward the main road which you can walk to back to the ranch.
Please remember that we are surrounded by wilderness and that wildlife is abundant in this area. There is a good chance you might run into some critters on your hike. Some of the animals you might see include elk, white-tailed deer, mule deer, moose, badgers, gophers, big horn sheep, antelope, a wide away of birds and occasionally a bear or mountain lion.
Grizzly bear sightings have increased in the area and we highly encourage everyone to carry a can of bear spray with them. We always have canisters of bear spray in the office so be sure to grab one before you head out.
Hikers can enjoy abundant wildflowers in the spring and into early summer. Be sure to take a field guide along. Some common flowers
include lupines, wild geraniums, and Bitteroots – which are Montana’s state flower.
There are several safety measures you should employ whether you are hiking on an established trail or exploring on your own. Always let someone in the office know where you are going and when you plan to be back if you are not using a guide. Be sure to stick to your plan or notify someone if you make changes to it.
What to pack
There are some basic items you should always pack when going out for a hike, even if you don’t plan on being out for very long. Packing these items can make a big difference if you find yourself in an unpredictable situation.
- First aid kit
- Survival items such as matches, an emergency blanket and whistle
- Bear spray
- Adequate food and water. (Pack more than you think you need.)
- Communication device that works with no cell service (Garmin InReach/radio)
- Extra layers of clothing
- Rain gear
- Headlamp/flashlight and extra batteries
Other items from a more comprehensive list may prove to be helpful.
How to dress
“Better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it” are good words to live by when preparing your pack. The weather in the mountains can change quickly and extremely. It is not uncommon for a day to start out warm with clear blue skies only for a thunderstorm to develop during the afternoon. You have to be sure to be as prepared as possible when going hiking since all you have is what you bring with you in your pack and your vehicle or the lodge can be miles away.
The most important thing is to dress in layers and bring additional layers for warmth and rain protection. When storms roll in temperatures can drop, even in the middle of summer. If you’re not adequately prepared you can be at risk for hypothermia.
Wherever you decide to go hiking be sure to let someone know where you are going, which trail you plan to hike and when you are expecting to return. And stick to that plan.
Whether you decide to stick to the established trails or decide to forgo those and pick the less beaten path, we can point you in the right direction, or better yet, set you up with one of our guides