The Kings Hill Scenic Byway on US Hwy 89 is 71 miles of scenic beauty for those who just want a beautiful drive with diverse terrain. It’s also a year ’round recreation playground with public lands surrounding most of the highway.
The Byway begins about five miles east of the town of Belt at Armington Junction where US Hwy 89 turns south. Private ranches border the highway here with public access to Belt Creek. As you travel south you’ll begin a gradual uphill climb. The highest elevation on the 71 mile Byway is 7393′ and the highway is maintained all year.
The first recommended stop is at Sluice Boxes State Park on the west side of the highway. There is a well-marked turn onto a gravel road to drive down to the entrance of this day use state park. Interpretive panels and vault toilets are located at the entrance, adjacent to the gravel parking area.
The area is steeped in mining history (Barker Mines) and there was a railroad that once ran through the park. If you hike the length of the park you’ll cross Belt Creek several times and cover about 7 1/2 miles.
Steep and craggy limestone cliffs line both sides of Sluice Boxes State Park. Recreation is varied from fishing, floating, hiking, bird watching (I saw my first Calliope hummingbird not too far from the north entrance), and photography is amazing when the evening sun hits those limestone cliffs. Although, when the sun sets you’ll lose light quickly with both walls being steep. Sluice Boxes is open sunrise to sunset.
Once you get back on the highway there is a scenic overlook looking down to the park which is well worth a stop.
The small town of Monarch is about 10 miles from Sluice Boxes. The community has dining and lodging just off the highway. If you turn east on the gravel forest service road as you enter Monarch, you’ll be on the Hughesville Road. Forest Service campgrounds dot both sides of the road. Remnants of the Hughesville Mine are easily viewable from the road but they are on private land. Hiking, camping and mountain biking are popular summer activities and I’ve cut Christmas trees there in the winter. Volunteers are working to restore the Monarch Depot and it’s rail history.
Continue traveling south and watch for the US Forest Service Belt Creek Ranger Station on the west side of the highway. You’ll be driving through the Helena-Lewis & Clark National Forest in the Little Belt Mountains and recreation maps are available at the ranger station.
The next stop is the town of Neihart which began as a mining town. Typical of mining towns, there have been some booms and busts but today you’ll find lodging, dining, a post office and a community-owned grocery store here. As you enter Neihart you’ll see remnants of mining structures. From 1882 – 1929 $16 million in silver was mined near Neihart. Later zinc was taken from the area. Several interpretive panels detailing history of the area can be seen in town.
As you drive about a mile and a half south of Neihart watch for a brown Forest Service sign on the east
side of the highway for Memorial Falls. Turn into the parking area and you’ll see the trailhead for a short half mile hike in to the waterfall. This is an easy hike for all ages. Take your camera!
Continue your drive south and you are almost to Kings Hill Pass but before you get there you’ll see the turn for the Winter Recreation Area. A parking area with vault toilets and trailheads for snowmobiling, X-C skiing, snowshoeing and dogsledding are easily accessible here. There are open areas and heavily forested areas, great views and a warming hut for those doing winter recreation. Snowmobiling trails in the area exceed a whopping 200 miles that criss-cross the Little Belt Mountains.
When you get to the top of Kings Hill Pass (7,393′ elevation) you’ll also be at the turn for Showdown Ski Area. This day use ski area has 34 downhill ski runs, a lodge with food and a bar, equipment rentals and instructors available. Showdown typically opens the first weekend in December and closes about the first week in April, depending on weather.
As you travel south of Kings Hill Pass to the town of White Sulphur Springs you’ll drop about 2,300′ in elevation and be surrounded by ranching country. At the junction of US Hwys 89 and 12 you reach the terminus of the Kings
Hill Scenic Byway. Turn west and in about three miles you’ll enter White Sulphur Springs.
This town of almost 1,000 people has several restaurants, local shops, campground, hotels and a local brewery. Enjoy a soak in the hot sulphur springs at the Spa Hot Springs Motel. You don’t need to be a motel guest, just pay the small fee at the motel and enjoy the 3 hot mineral pools. After that soak, stop by 2 Basset Brewery and sample their beverages.
Motorcycle riders will love the 71 miles of the Kings Hill Scenic Byway – miles and miles of paved curvy roads and plenty of roadside pullouts to stop and enjoy the scenery.
Hiking, fishing, camping, mountain biking, bird watching, big game hunting and endless winter recreation all combine for four seasons of unparalleled recreation in the 71 mile stretch of highway. Gravel roads criss-cross the highway and lead to over 450 miles of spectacular mountain scenery and a variety of campground.
Download a printable map for your exploring.