|Katie on one of the many crossings|
|Through the train trestle|
|Reenie and Bruce Rohrer|
|Katie takes a bath|
Yes, the teen-age party and cliff-jumping crowd may be clued in, but somehow those looking for a spectacular day hike in the area somehow forget about it.
The park is a narrow strip that covers awesome limestone canyons and emerald Belt Creek, 32 miles east and south of Great Falls on U.S. 89.
There are no designated hiking trails, but unofficial trails braid its canyon bottom and along its west slope.
The easiest way to get from one end at Riceville to where the bridge crosses Belt Creek on the Logging Creek Road, is to follow the former bed of a railroad track.
A narrow gauge railroad train used to ply this canyon from Great Falls to Neihart where ore cars would be loaded from the mines there and hauled back to Great Falls for smelting.
The 1953 flood tore out the trestles and by the early 1970s the canyon had pretty much been reclaimed by hikers and fishermen.
Those hiking the area see the remains of the old railroad; many ties are intact along the trail; there’s an impressive tunnel to walk through; concrete supports are still in place; and intricate rockwork shores up many crossings.
Around every corner there’s something interesting to see, from the limestone spires to the twisting creek, to an architecturally interesting double-topped limekiln at the mining ghost town of Albright. There are a number of intact buildings, ore cars and iron rail at Albright.
Depending on which route you hike through, there are between five and 15 crossings. Some of them can be quite deep.
On our trip Saturday the water was as high as I’ve seen it in the past dozen years. It went waist deep on several crossings.
I’d advise waiting a couple of weeks for the water to recede before doing this hike.
I wouldn’t discourage fishermen from hitting either the Riceville or Logging Creek Road bridge areas and wading up the creek from either of those ends.
There are two pretty good access points from the north: Riceville and about two miles up the Riceville Road from the bridge to a well-marked parking area. I like this higher-up starting point. It approaches Belt Creek from a limestone canyon from the east and is on a trail about 100 feet above the creek. At the beginning of the hike there is a little waterfall.
Approaching the park from the South means taking the long, gravel road from Stockett or taking U.S. 89 to the Logging Creek Road, which drops significantly to Belt Creek and is rutted and rocky and one-track in several spots.
To hike through, you’ll need to ferry a car to your end point, but well worth the effort.