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Trail Well Traveled – 7/21

Welcome to the Trail Well Traveled!

Each Friday, in partnership with Montana Wilderness Association we will feature a new western Montana trail and then give you some helpful details and tips to get on your way!

This week, Craig sends us southeast to the Lee Metcalf Wilderness and to one of the Madison Range’s most distinctive peaks. Here you get a choice: A long day hike, an overnight loop, or a short out-and-back.

Trail Fork to Sphinx Mountain

Round Trip: 13 miles

Total Elevation Gain: 4,600 feet

Directions: Head east on I-90 to Three Forks, and then turn south on Highway 287 towards Ennis. About 11 miles after Ennis you’ll reach the town of Cameron. Take a left on East Bear Creek Road.

The road turns to gravel after a few miles and then takes a series of sharp turns. Stay on East Bear Creek Road until you pass the historic schoolhouse on your right. Immediately after that, turn left and follow the signs directing you to the Bear Creek Ranger Station and the trailhead.

What to expect: Follow Trail Fork (#326) as it winds along the creek through forests and meadows.  After about 2 miles, you’ll come to an intersection. Here, stay left on Trail #357. After three miles of gradual switchbacks, the trail tops off at the saddle between Helmet and Sphinx at around 9,000 feet.

From here, take in the stunning views of the Madison Range as you ponder your options: Hike to the peak (13 miles round-trip), make a loop (10.7 miles round-trip), or return from whence you came (9.8 miles round-trip),

  1. If you wish to continue on to the peak, follow the trail to the right (southeast) and soon you’ll reach the western gully of Sphinx Mountain.  This is the most common approach to the summit, and is at most a Class 3 climb.  Follow a series of well-established goat trails up the gully before the gully eases up and reaches the scree field at around 10,500 feet.  Maneuver your way up the field and enjoy some stunning views of the Taylor Hilgard Unit to the south, the Gravelly and Anaconda-Pintler Ranges to the west, the Madisons to the north, and the Gallatin and Absaroka Ranges to the east.

  2. To make this hike into a loop, follow the trail #357 down the switchbacks to the northeast of the saddle. After about 1.1 miles you will intersect with Middle Fork Trail (#325). Take a left and begin your 5.5 mile downhill stroll back to the trailhead. Be prepared for a series of stream crossings. There are six total on the Middle Fork Trail (one of which has a bridge) and in the early summer the water can run up to one’s knees.

  3. To return from whence you came, make a complete 180-degree turnaround and do the opposite of what brought you this far.

Learn more about this trail, file your own trip report and photos, or check out some other great hikes at And don’t forget to tune in to the Trail 103.3 each Friday at 9:50 am for the next featured trail and your chance to win!

Big thanks to Rangitsch Bros RV for sponsoring the Trail Well Traveled. Proudly serving Missoula for over 56 years, whatever camper best suits your needs Rangitsch Bros has got it!

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