I’m super excited to have my friend Amelia with Tales of a Mountain Mama on the blog today with a special post all about kid-friendly hikes in Southwest Montana. You can also find her on last week’s podcast show.

Take it away Amelia…

Over the past few months, we have been traveling and hiking specifically in Southwest Montana. The locations are perfect “stopping off points” between Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks. Most of these we have hiked with our family. However, a couple of them were recommended by longtime residents. We would have hiked them ourselves if not for 5 feet of snow in June!

In our family, we have 4 kids (aged 1, 3, 6 and 8) and a pregnant mama….so while these trails could be enjoyed by anyone, we are particularly sensitive of kid-speed forward movement and interest along the way to keep everyone engaged.

As always, be sure to bring lots of water, and protect yourself with sunscreen and hats, etc. I noted which trails are more exposed/shaded.

Recommended Hikes in Southwest Montana

Axylotl Lake

This one was recommended to us by Carma and John who run the “Just an Experience” Bed and Breakfast we stayed in in Nevada City. More on that here. Trailhead is located off Hwy 287, FS road #2532.  Hike begins by Twin Lakes and is approximately two miles round trip. Moderate to easy hike because it is uphill, but the views are gorgeous!

Branham Lakes outside of Sheridan, MT

Another one recommended by Carma and John (who have lived in the area for 3+ decades) that we couldn’t access because of snow. Travel Mill Creek Road East out of Sheridan, there are two trails on the way up – North Fork and South Fork.  Both are moderate with elevation gains, beautiful views, forests, and water.   Both trails join the Ridge Trail, traveling the Tobacco Root Range. Distance is your choice as you have to come back on the same trail.  At the Lakes, trails traverse around Lakes to the Ridge Trail or just walk around Upper Branham – waterfalls, flowers, fishing, and scenery!  Easy hike and highly recommended for families!

Wade and Cliff Lakes Trail

Photo courtesy Amelia Mayer

This easy ~1.5 mile trail goes between the two lakes, which is a fun exercise break between dips in the gorgeous water! While the trail isn’t crammed with people, the lakes often are in the height of the summer (with good reason!) If you plan to camp and then hike, be sure to arrive mid-week and/or very early in the day to secure a spot. The trail is mostly shaded and a great break from the sun for a while.

Lewis and Clark Caverns

Photo courtesy Amelia Mayer

This has to be one of our very favorite hikes simply because of what you get to see along the way! The two mile, 2 hour guided hike goes through the caverns, as you twist and turn and duck along the way. You do have to hike to the entrance and then back out again, but our 5-year-olds were able to easily do it. Plan 3 hours+ with the full hike. NOTE: if you are claustrophobic, this one could be tough. Also, they do not allow you to carry a kid on your back because of the danger of hitting their head so plan accordingly!

Hike between Nevada City and Virginia City

This short, 1.5-mile hike is a great way to get out and move a little more and let the kids throw some rocks and explore the plants and vegetation. We hiked from Nevada City (where we were staying) to Virginia City, got a pizza to eat while we waited, and then caught the train back to Nevada City. The train and pizza were great motivation. NOTE: Especially in the busy season, you do need to make reservations on the train to assure that you have a spot if you do not want to hike back. This hike is mostly flat, but there isn’t much shade (so great for the morning). More info on train and how to make reservations here.

Hike at Boulder Hot Springs

There is a plethora of hiking trails around Boulder Hot Springs for guests to enjoy. A perfect way to get some exercise before soaking your muscles in the hot springs. One short, 20-mile hike, goes up to a viewpoint overlooking the hot springs complex. Again, beautiful views and many choices to explore the mountainside behind the resort.

Mount Ascension in Helena

Mountain Ascension is bursting with trails perfect for moderate biking trails and easy – moderate hiking trails. While you do need to be aware of bikers, people were friendly and respectful. The trails are heavily used, but a great spot to take the family. We accessed the trails via the Beattie Street Trailhead, which is right on the edge of town. We loved getting quick access to views of Helena, partially shaded trails, and many options to make the hikes shorter or longer as trails criss-cross.


About Amelia

Amelia lives with her husband and 4 kids currently in Teton National Park (though usually in Yellowstone National Park). They are expecting Baby #5 at the end of the summer, adding to the chaos and fun. As a family, they love to hike, camp, bike, ski and play outside…..for the sanity of all!

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