Camping, Hiking and Traveling in Montana
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The Judith Mountains are a small mountain range that lies just northeast of Lewistown, MT. The mountains begin east of Lewistown and arch to the northeast for about 20 miles. In most places the mountains are about 10 miles wide and the range consists of a number of low peaks broken by stream drainages. Pyramid Peak and New Year Peak, both on the southern end of the range are in the 6,000 – 6,200 ft range and when seen from Lewistown (less than 4,000 ft) they stand 2,000 ft higher than the surrounding area.
There are a number of peaks at about 6,000 ft in the range. The highest point is Judith Peak at 6,400 ft. This is rugged country but it is significantly tamed as there are lots of roads in these mountains. In the 1950’s and 1960’s the US Air Force operated a radar station situated at the top of Judith Peak. Today the road to this site provides a great opportunity to drive to the top of the mountains. Throughout the Judith range there are other roads that provide access to much of the high country.
The Judith Mountains are rich with human history. Significant gold discoveries resulted in an active mining history and the mining ghost towns of Maiden and Gilt Edge that make interesting stops for the traveler. In fact, there is a natural loop through the Judith Mountains that visits these ghost towns and can logically and easily be extended to include a visit to Kendall in the nearby North Moccasin Mountains, all in an easy day. This trip can be taken from any starting point and makes a great way to experience central Montana’s mountains.
From Lewistown head east on Hwy for about 12 miles to the Gilt Edge Road. Turn left (north) and stay on this road for 6 – 7 miles until you pass through the old town site of Gilt Edge. Gilt Edge was founded in 1893 and, although gold seemed to be plentiful, failed to thrive because of the illegal financial dealings of the mine manager. By 1899 things were sorted out and the town reached its peak at the turn of the century. Today you will find a scattering of ruins and a couple of buildings. The ruins are right by the side of the road and you can easily park and explore the area. Two buildings remain standing in some sort of the form they originally had. One is the jail and it is easy to imagine that it would not have been a comfortable place to stay as it is very small.
The other building is much larger and was the home for the ladies who kept the miners comfortable at night. The building is very picturesque and peering inside it is a complex building with many rooms. Unfortunately, it is in very poor condition and no one should ever attempt to enter. If you visit Gilt Edge and explore the area around this building be very careful as there is an open well located in back that someone could very easily fall into.
There are a number of other rubble piles and broken walls where buildings once stood in the old town. In one place someone has erected a cross framed perfectly in the window carved by the fallen building (see photo). All of this is in an area where there are people living and working. None of the ghost town areas are posted but please be very careful to respect private property and take only pictures if you visit.
Just up the road is the very obvious tailings pile from past mining. The ore found around Gilt Edge was of low quality and the town never became prosperous. However, it had a very interesting history that has been recounted on a couple of other web sites. If you would like to learn more about the history of Gilt Edge visit:
In the area of Gilt Edge the road you are following changes names to the Maiden Road. It continues past Gilt Edge and travels up into Maiden Canyon. This is a picturesque drive on a well maintained gravel road. After about four miles you will come to a signed T intersection. Following the fork to the left you will quickly reach the remains of Maiden. However, a great side trip is to turn right at this junction and follow the road to the top to Judith Peak. This is a well built and well maintained road that takes you to the highest point in the Judith Mountains. As already mentioned, this road was built to service a radar station placed on the top of the peak. There is still a large complex of antennas and other telecommunications equipment here but the views are excellent. Looking west and south you are treated to views of the rugged mountainsides below you and off in the distance you see the various mountain ranges that break up the plains of central Montana. Looking north you see an endless expanse of flat terrain leading off toward the Missouri River.
After you visit Judith Peak return the way you came until you reach the junction to Gilt Edge. From here it is only a short distance to Maiden where you can see the ruins of a couple of buildings. Unfortunately, the entire town site is now on private property so the only exploring you can do is visual from the road and there is really not much to see, just a couple of tumbled down buildings viewed from a distance.
The Maiden of today is far different than when this was a busy mining area. Gold was first discovered in the general area in 1880 and miners quickly explored all of the surrounding areas. By 1888 Maiden was a thriving town of about 1,200 and many different businesses and services were found there. However, as the gold began to play out the population quickly diminished and by 1896 only about 200 residents remained.
Maiden was one of the first gold camps in the area and it is commonly reported that it got its name from one of the first miners, a man named Maden. He put a sign up in front of his camp that said Camp Maden and somewhere along the line the letter i was added making the town name Maiden. However, there is also an alternate account that the town/camp was named for the daughter of a friend of two of the original settlers. This young girl was fondly known to the men as "Little Maiden" and it is told that they named the town for her.
The exact origin of the name of Maiden is not the only interesting name story in the area. Maiden sits on the west side of the Judith Mountains and is reached by the Maiden road which travels up the Warm Spring Creek Canyon which drains from the Judiths. Maiden sits near the top of the canyon and continuing up the road you cross the crest of the Judiths and drop down the other side into Maiden Canyon and follow Maiden Creek to get to Gilt Edge. Why the town of Maiden would be on the opposite side of the mountain from Maiden Canyon is another naming mystery.
The two canyons, Maiden and Warm Springs Creek, are very different in nature. Maiden Canyon is a narrow confined canyon that quickly descends from the mountains. It is almost all BLM land and is unpopulated. Warm Springs Creek is a broad open valley that is almost totally privately owned. It is well populated with farms, summer homes and other residences. It was the home to the three small towns of Maiden, Andersonville and Alpine. It also housed an air force station that later became a bible college. In short, Warm Springs Creek Canyon has seen a significant human history.
After leaving Maiden the road turns from gravel to pavement and after about 2 miles you will pass the area of the old Air Force base. This facility was built to provide support to the telecommunications facilities on the top of Judith Peak and the base was located to provide an uninterrupted line of sight between the two points. After the Air Force closed the facility it served for some time as a bible college and is now privately owned.
From this point on continue to follow the road for another 6 miles to its intersection with Hwy 191. From here you can head south into Lewistown to complete a great loop drive through Montana's Judith Mountains. However, if you want to continue on and explore another interesting old mining town cross Hwy 191 and continue on to Kendall