Sunday, July 10, 2005

Through the Sluice Boxes

Katie on one of the many crossings

Through the train trestle

Reenie and Bruce Rohrer

Katie takes a bath
Sluice Boxes State Park may be the best kept outdoors secret in the Great Falls area.
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.


david said...

Tom, you've convinced me -- Sluice Boxes is where I need to go on my next few days off!

Anonymous said...

I've hiked the Sluice Box many many times, usually leading a large group of people. It's seven or eight miles of walking and due to the many creek crossings, progress is slow - so the average hike time is about one mile per hour. There is no way out of the canyon once you start the hike, so you can't just hitchhike back to your car if you get tired halfway through the hike. And it is a VERY remote, inaccessible place - so if there's a sprained ankle on slippery rocks or a bad reaction to a bee sting or hypothermia due to the sun going down over the canyon walls while you are still soaking wet -- you will have to rely on your own resourcefullness to get yourself out. The trail is absolutely inaccessible by anything except foot traffic - no horses, no ATVs, no jeeps, and few boats larger than a kayak can make it down this canyon. So please be prepared! Signed,

Bethany said...

My boyfriend and I walked up this trail today (february 23, 2008). It had some snow on it, but was a good little hike. We saw some old buildings and some cables and we had no idea why it was there. I'm glad I stumbled upon this blog because I was really excited to research more about the buildings. The creek was frozen over so we could get across, but we also wondered how people did it in the summer. You have enlightened me. We can't wait to go back and try it again in the summer. We couldn't really see any definite trails either, so once again, you've really helped out. Thanks for writing here, and keep up the good work!