The sun glistening off freshly snow-dusted trees provided bright contrast to the blue sky on the hike up to Sagebrush Flats on a recent Sunday, as well as a refreshing way to breathe in some clear, cool mountain air.
The trail is just one of several that branch off Highway 2 in Thompson Park, nine miles south of Butte. The 25 miles of nonmotorized routes in the park are highlighted by a 4.5-mile section of the old Milwaukee railroad bed that has been converted to a trail, which climbs or descends at a gentle 2% grade. The trail and the park end at the top of 6,500-foot high Pipestone Pass where recreationists can hook into the Continental Divide Trail.
To spice up the hiking, mountain biking or horseback riding, the old rail bed travels through a 550-foot-long tunnel, a 1,110-foot long tunnel and over a 600-foot long steel trestle bridge. The tunnels are great places to check out your echo skills.
Altogether the park spans 3,500-acres that is jointly managed by the city of Butte, Silver Bow County and the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. The park owes its heritage and name to William Boyce Thompson, a millionaire mining engineer who gifted 75 acres of mining claims to Butte in 1915.
The trails climb, wind and drop through a lodgepole pine forest at an elevation of about 6,000 feet. Scattered throughout the trees are the unusual rounded granite rock formations of the Boulder Batholith. Interpretive signs along the routes provide insight into the history of the railroad, rocks and terrain.
The park also includes an 18-hole disc golf course, three picnic areas and trailheads, parking and vault toilets. No overnight camping is allowed in Thompson Park.