Sluice Boxes State Park is just off US Hwy 89 north of Monarch, Montana. If you are driving north it is tempting to zip right by, and I suppose the same is true if you are heading south when you are picking up speed to climb the hill.
Don’t be tempted to pass this gem by!
Even a stop at the scenic overlook is worth your time. There are interpretive panels in an easy in-and-out parking pullout and the views are awesome.
Why call it Sluice Boxes State Park?
The area is a canyon with Belt Creek running through it at a pretty good pace. This was once a mining area and early-day miners thought it reminded them of the sluice boxes used to separate gold from gravel.
The state park covers 1,450 acres and there is a seven mile trail following the grade of the old Great Northern Railway’s Monarch branch. The railroad track was built in 1890 – that’s a long time ago! It was abandoned in 1945. This old rail bed crosses Belt Creek several times so spring hiking means high water. I’ve hiked the area over Labor Day weekend and still crossed the creek twice.
Your history lesson for today – the limestone cliffs rising up the the canyon floor are comprised of seashells deposited 330 million years ago when the area was covered by a vast sea. A slow uplift over time caused the area to rise.
Well, that’s enough history – head out and hike or go bird watching there (I saw a hummingbird the last time I was there, plus a lot of other birds).
Bring your binoculars, some shoes that can get wet and a walking stick. I’d recommend a camera too. Those cliff walls seem to change color as the sun hits them from different directions and you’ll have lots of photo ops.