Got Kids? Take Them Hiking in Central Montana

The “here it is” moment when you get to Memorial Falls

Most kids seem to have unlimited energy and an endless curiosity to discover new things. Quench that thirst for exploring and take your kids for a hike.

Learning moments often begin with finding something new – a pine cone in the forest, a trail that ends in a waterfall or discovering unique shaped rocks. With just a bit of pre-planning, it can be fun for all and the kids will come back excited about what they saw.

Many hikes are rated by our public land managers and it’s probably best to start with those termed “easy”. Here are  some favorites.

Memorial Falls, about a mile and a half south of Neihart, is a half mile in, half mile out. You can hike farther but you’ll get to the first falls in a half mile. There is a parking area adjacent to US Hwy 89 and the trailhead is right at the end of it. And, the promise to my grandson was…a waterfall! I’m not sure he knew what a waterfall was but it was a fun moment when we got to it. The trail is easy and you’ll even find a bench along the way. This short hike in the Helena-Lewis & Clark National Forest is great for all ages and is best early summer through autumn.

Beaver Creek Park south of Havre is a favorite area of mine. Being born and raised just east of the park meant we could easily do day trips to this 10,000 acre county-owned park. The 17-mile long park is easily accessible on a paved road and there are several lakes

Hiking the Bear Paw Nature Trail south of Havre

for fishing, camping areas that are easy for a rig to pull into, and several hiking trails.

My favorite trail in Beaver Creek Park is the Bear Paw Nature Trail (in the foothills of the Bear Paw Mountains). The trail is 5 3/4 miles long but you can do it in segments, depending on the ages of the hikers. You’ll discover canyons, meadows, a creek bed, aspen groves and berry bushes. And, if you want to take the kids snowshoeing in the winter, click in to your snowshoes and try portions (or all) of this route. Bear Paw Nature Trail has a couple of nice features when hiking with families – there is good signage, bathrooms, and a map produced by the Havre Trails group. There are other hikes in Beaver Creek Park (Rotary Canyon Loop and a short hike up Mount Otis), a dark skies viewing area (astronomy anyone?) and some amazing birding opportunities. My favorite always seems to be the nature trail.

If you are in Great Falls there’s an easy non-motorized trail that follows the Missouri River. The section running through town is paved so it’s super easy for the youngest walkers. And, you can learn about the hydroelectric dams along the Missouri.

Hiking by Black Eagle Falls and hydroelectric dam

Benches dot the route, along with interpretive panels, and there are several access areas so you can easily do this in segments based on the ages of the kids.

The last time I took one of my grandkids we entered the trail by the green caboose (that was even interesting!) and walked past Black Eagle Falls. You feel so close to the river and the waterfall with the dam when you’re on the trail, and it’s a fun experience for all ages. We had a nice discussion about turning on the light in his bedroom and how that electricity was generated.

The Rivers Edge Trail is almost 60 miles long and if my grandson and I would have stayed on it longer we would have come to Giant Springs State Park. Montana’s most visited state park really has something for all ages – the bubbling spring that spouts 156 million gallons of clear water per day, a fish hatchery (you can feed the fish), and an inside walk-through exhibit that shows the species of fish found in the Missouri River.

Hiking in Giant Springs State Park

My granddaughters and I have hiked and explored alongside the trail leading to Giant Springs many times. It’s a great for opportunity to look for different birds (bring binoculars) and if you want to try and spot owls, they frequently perch in the trees right in the park.

Giant Springs is primarily a manicured park with some portions natural. One feature that my grandkids love is the Roe River (named “roe” because that is what fish eggs are and the park has a fish hatchery). The Roe was designated the shortest river in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records as a result of a Great Falls’ fifth grade class doing their research. Their submission wasn’t formally accepted until that class of kids became sixth graders but it was a lesson in persistence and what can be accomplished by doing your research.

There’s plenty of room to explore Giant Springs State Park and plenty of teachable moments.

As seasons change and winter rolls in, we don’t always think about hiking. With some advanced planning and preparation, you can get the kids out.

Hiking (and enjoying a sled ride) on the way to Mills Falls

The Kings Hill winter recreation area is just off Hwy 89 south of Neihart. Several maintained cross-country ski trails and snowshoe trails, both with nice terrain variety, leave from the parking area where you can also find public bathrooms.

Mills Falls hike is short – .1 of a mile! At the end you do see waterfalls and they are amazing in the winter when the water freezes into beautifully sculpted ice. Drive a few miles north of Choteau, turn onto the Teton Canyon road and drive about 16 miles. Turn south onto the forest service road and travel another 9 miles. You’ll reach the Mills Falls Campground. From there it really is just .1 of a mile.

There are many more trails in Central Montana to discover to get kids (and adults) exploring, having fun and learning.

Happy hiking!

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