Get outside: Winter offers snowy solitude at Trout Creek Canyon

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Trout Creek Canyon in winter

Steep limestone walls define the Trout Creek Canyon near Helena, pictured here in February. 

There wasn’t much fishing in Trout Creek Canyon outside Helena in early February. Instead, fresh snow covered most of the creek. 

But the steep limestone cliffs, photogenic at any time of the year, take on a new beauty when lined with snow. 

The three miles out, three miles back trail is a staple summer hike near Helena. It sees far less traffic in winter months, offering solitude along with the scenery. 

Trout Creek Canyon in winter

Steep limestone cliffs define the Trout Creek Canyon near Helena, pictured here in February. 

Hikers can also get an education. A series of guided interpretative stations explain the geology, wildlife, vegetation, and even weather of the canyon. For example, the canyon walls were built as weak limestone calcite rock folded upward as harder rock pushed against it between 65 and 75 million years ago. In some spots the creek has eroded the canyon to create its own steep drop-offs. 

The high walls and narrow canyon means that the area sees little sunlight, and the temperature is consistently cooler than the surrounding area. But a burger at the nearby York Bar can provide a much-needed warm-up after a cold day. 

The trail has a gentle elevation gain, and the trip back to the trailhead seems to go quicker than the walk out. The trail was navigable on foot in early February, but with additional snow, cross-country skis or snowshoes are advisable. 

The creek has fish, though it’s not known as an angling hot spot. In the snowy winter canyon fishing could be politely described as an ambitious exercise. 


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