Monday, September 05, 2005

A Rocky Mountain Front loop hike

At the Crown Mountain junction
Fork Creek cascade

It's been burned and recut for the trail
Here’s a nice 10-mile loop hike in the Rocky Mountain Front that offers an optional climb and a short side-hike to a scenic waterfall --- Crown-Ford-Petty Creeks Loop.
It is about a 75-mile drive to the trailhead from Great Falls through Augusta and up the Benchmark Road.
I chose to park at the Crown Mountain Trailhead No. 270 and walk back east along the Benchmark Road to the Petty-Ford Trailhead No. 244, a distance of about ¾-miles. Before you get on trail take a moment to have a look at the Double Falls, a short distance east of the primitive campground campground. Sure enough, it’s one falls split in two.
To begin the hike, cross Ford Creek at the campground. There’s a nice log across the creek to make the going easier. The trail starts here and heads uphill, climbing nearly 1,000 feet over the next 1-1/2 miles to a low saddle above Petty Creek where you’ll pass through a wire gate.
Here you’ll likely encounter some cattle grazing, but also nice views of mountains that were burned by the 1988 Canyon Creek fire, and some open grassland before the trail drops into Petty Creek.
At the crossing Trail No. 232 begins, entering heavy forest that opens occasionally as it climbs another 1,000 feet toward Crown Mountain to reveal views of the unnamed mountain south of Crown.
I got off trail at the crossing and decided to explore the hills south of the creek that lead up to that mountain, following elk tracks all the way. I passed through some of the burn and marveled at the regeneration of lodgepole and Douglas fir. I finally emerged from the trees to a cliff high above Petty Creek and views of Crown Mountain. I dropped down to Petty Creek, climbed up and rejoined the trail, walking in forest once again to where the trail met the Crown Creek Trail No. 270.
At this point the hiker could peel off, walk up a west-facing ridge to Crown Creek and gain the final 1,400 feet to the top of Crown Mountain.
Instead, I turned down the trail and within an hour I was back at my car, having enjoyed views of the north face of Crown, Whitewater Creek’s waterfalls beneath its face, and the Fairview-Sawtooth scenery of the Rocky Mountain Front to the north and east.
The hike took about five hours and about 2,000 feet were gained and lost.

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