Helena’s South Hills Trails are among the most treasured attributes of life in Helena. The proximity of this extensive trail network to downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods is truly unique. With more than 75 miles of trails in the foothills around town, there is plenty of room for bikers, hikers, runners, dog-walkers and even horseback riders to find their own favorite route. These trails provide locals and visitors alike with an opportunity to head out for an hour or an entire day on trails.
The South Hills Trails are located on a mix of property ownership and land management. In general, the trails closest to town are located on City of Helena Open Lands property, which includes Mt. Helena City Park and Mt. Ascension City Park. The city of Helena manages about 1,950 acres of Open Lands, primarily for wildlife habitat and recreation. Prickly Pear Land Trust has partnered with the city for the past 13 years to maintain existing trails and build new trails on city property. In addition, PPLT in partnership with the city of Helena and Helena Tourism Alliance has begun the process of collecting valuable usage data throughout the trail system by counting the number of hikers and bikers that utilize the trails.
The trails further up in the hills are located on U.S. Forest Service lands, which include the Mt. Helena Ridge, Wakina Sky and Rodney Ridge areas. These areas form a component of the extensive Forest Service trails network that extends unbroken from the edge of Helena to the Continental Divide. Trails on Forest Service property in the South Hills are open for use by hikers, bikers, and horseback riders, but are closed to motorized travel. Prickly Pear Land Trust has partnered with the Forest Service to coordinate trail management activities in the South Hills.
To read how PPLT acquired land on Mount Ascension, click here.
To read the South Hills Trails Plan, click here.
Interesting facts about the South Hills Trails System:
Introducing PPLT’s interactive map! This map was developed by Kennedy Jenks Consultants through funding generously provided by the Montana Department of Commerce. Huge thanks to both of those organizations for their help in creating this digital web map!
Have fun and take some time exploring the map! Toggle on and off layers to see hiking difficulty, biking difficulty and 2018 trail projects and construction. Explore recommended routes for different ways to experience the trails on a bike, on a run or a hike by yourself or with your family. Click on the bookmarks to see different areas of the map including the Mt. Helena Climbing Area, South Hills Disc Golf Course and Scratchgravel Hills. Click on trails and other features for descriptions and links for further information.
PPLT had a great time developing this map, and we believe what you see today is just a start of what this map can be. Check out the map often as we add features and update the map with the most current and useful information. Some things to look forward to include: new recommended routes from PPLT staff and friends, new trails showing up once the snow melts up high and trails are cleared and ready to use, as well as updates to new trail construction projects as the map will change with on-the-ground results.
Tell us what you think! Please let us know what information you’d like to see added or functionality you think would be helpful.
Is your map toolbox full? The interactive map is just one tool in our toolkit of mapping solutions. Stop in to purchase a paper trail map for out on the trail or to hang on your wall and you can also download our FREE Avenza South Hills trail map to use on your smartphone or other device while out on the trails.
To buy our newest South Hills Trail Map, stop by the PPLT office, The Base Camp, Great Divide Cyclery, or Capitol Sports. $8
What you need to know: this will require route planning and will make for a different type of adventurous summer!
The good news: West Main from Carriage Lane to the Oro Fino Gulch/Grizzly Gulch “Y” will be getting a much needed face-lift this summer.
The not as good news: Travel via foot and bicycle from some of the areas of the trail system back to downtown Helena will be more challenging.
Construction is set to start April 30 with a Pilot Car in place from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The wait will be up to 25 minutes and pedestrians and bicyclists will need to ride in the pilot car as no foot or bicycle traffic will be allowed in the construction zone during operating hours. Outside of construction hours and on Sundays there will be a traffic signal set up.
During the construction it is perfectly acceptable to use your favorite trails out on Grizzly Gulch and Oro Fino if you are willing to wait for the pilot car. If not, we have made a couple recommendations to try out on our interactive Digital Trail Map.
Bike Helena’s trail rider will still be making runs to the Mt. Helena Ridge trailhead this year and bicyclists may still descend E-Trail or Show-Me-The-Horse as normal, just be prepared with alternate plans to get back to town or plan to wait for the pilot car.
The most important part of this construction: remain courteous and patient–on the trail and at the construction site–navigating these areas with a smile goes a long way to keeping our trails happy.
Questions or concerns regarding the construction can be directed to: Helena Sand & Gravel 459-2003
This letter to the editor ran in the March 20, 2018 edition of the Independent Record.
Keep the trails happy! With spring finally here, we know folks are itching to get out on the trails. Here are a few trail etiquette reminders to consider as you head to the South Hills to hike, run and bike:
If you find yourself encountering a muddy spot or puddle on the trail, go right through the middle of it. Stepping off the trail and going around muddy and wet spots widens the trail, damages natural resources and makes the problem worse. If you are unsure if the trails are too muddy to use, check the Prickly Pear Land Trust Facebook page for most up to date details on trail conditions.
Going off trail creates “social trails” that degrade natural resources and causes unnecessary resources to be expended to reclaim these trails. Some trails in the South Hills cross private property, and the generous landowners who provide for this access appreciate when we keep our impact concentrated on the trail surface.
When listening to music or podcasts on the trails keep one ear free so you can hear approaching hikers, bikers and runners.
In general, bikers should yield to hikers and runners. When wanting to pass someone on the trail, a friendly “On your left!” is the best way to get someone’s attention. Assuming you don’t have two earbuds in, hearing those magic words is a nice indicator to calmly step off the trail to allow the faster moving trail user to pass. A smile and “Thank you” go a long way to keeping trail users happy when passing.
Leash your dog in the parking lot and have your pet (cats and parrots too!) under voice control on the trail at all times. Pick up after your pet and be sure to pack the trash out with you.
Our trail system is a source of community pride and a place where all are welcome and valued. No matter your mode or speed of recreation, everyone has a part to play in keeping our trails a happy and positive place to be.
Evan Kulesa, Prickly Pear Land Trust
Andrea Opitz, Bike Helena
Eric Sivers, Montana Bicycle Guild
John Tietz, Helena United Cycling
Jesse Zentz, Vigilante Runners
Michael Jacobson, Helena Ultra Runners League
Whenever you’re on the trails, yield to others appropriately:
To give your time and energy to help maintain the trails, find our community work events here.