South Hills … Adventure in Helena, Montana
The South Hills of Helena provided the setting for a variety of experiences I will never forget. Upon completion of the ride I realized I’d rolled over more than 8 blacktop surfaces, 3 dirt roads, 22 dirt trails, walked across wilderness with no surface except boulders, weeds, and downed trees. I had met some real interesting mountain bikers … from young adults to senior citizens … spied a lake in which my parents skinny dipped in 60 years ago, gotten lost at least 3 times, and rode through some of the most gorgeous country to date.
My South Hills Adventure
Length: 23.47 miles
I rode into the housing tract near Reeder’s Alley and took one of the connectors to join the trail system. I had just left the Holiday Inn … where I had lived for the past 3 days on the southern edge of Helena, Montana. The air was crisp and the surrounding trees glowed golden, reflecting the light of the bright orb perched low in an otherwise deep blue sky. Fall was beginning to show, even though the weather had been warm … the result of the “Indian Summer” the locals had told me about.
Turning left onto the Contour Trail, I followed it to the Dump Out Trail, at which time I decided to try the Prospect Shafts Trail again (I had struggled to ride the Prospect Shafts Trail a few days earlier).
I did much better that second time, finally realizing that in order to ascend the steep rock gardens on “Shafts” I needed to lean back more and just keep pedaling. I was still adjusting to my new bike (a Specialized Camber) after riding my old Stumpjumper for 6 years. However, even with success on the new bike, I was still glad to see the sign for the Hanging Draw Trail … because I knew it ran relatively flat as it worked its way around the eastern side of Mount Helena.
While riding pretty fast, I noticed a trail that branched off to the left but I knew I wanted to go straight so I didn’t slow down. My wife often accuses me of not following directions, but this time I was following the map, which clearly showed a “No Named” trail branching to my left, while Hanging Draw went straight. The trail stayed level as it skirted the face of the mountain, but then appeared to weave its way up the grade through a bunch of boulders.
I knew I was going the correct way as I had spotted several trail cairns (little piles of rock) showing me the way. But it wasn’t long before there were no more cairns and I could hardly lift my bike over the boulders, whose size seemed to be increasing with every step I took. Figuring I had somehow lost the trail I finally decided to hike out of the rock outcrop by going to the side, instead of up the mountain. Eventually I reached a steep, grassy area with many trees, as many laying down dead as there were living. I headed up the hillside, weaving my way through dozens of fallen trees just below the rock outcrop. At this point I realized I was lost. What better place to wander than in this South Hills Paradise.
In the end of my hike I came upon a trail and I wondered, “How had I missed the Hanging Draw Trail so badly … where did it go?” So, instead of riding it to the left (the direction I knew I wanted to go to eventually get to Mount Helena Ridge and eventually Emmett’s Trail) I rode it back toward the Prospect Shafts Trail, wanting to learn where I went wrong … where it came out of the rock outcrop. About a half mile of easy cruising brought me to a sign, and, to my surprise … I had just biked on the Backside Trail … not the Hanging Draw! Some day I hope to return and find out how I got off the Hanging Draw Trail and why there was a piece of trail that heads into a rock outcrop only to dead end.
When I got to the trailhead for Emmett’s run I stopped to eat and drink something. I hadn’t planned on stopping there to eat, but my 1 hour excursion hike-a-biking through the rocks and fallen trees in search of the Hanging Draw Trail changed my tentative schedule. And … the remainder of my time on Emmett’s got a lot more interesting!
South Hills Paradise … Interactive Map.
- Click on the blue “P” for Driving Directions to the Holiday Inn.
Have you done this ride? What did you think of it? How about sharing your thoughts on our Visitor Stories page?
Click to learn about some very interesting people on the next part of this ride …Emmett’s Trail.
Where To Go From Here
South Hills … the first leg of this ride.
Select Emmett’s Trail … the 2nd part of this South Hills ride.
Select Cox Lake … the 3rd part of a four part ride.
Select Rodney Ridge … the 4th and final piece of this ride.
Select Helena Mountain Biking for an overview of rides in this area.