Camping, Hiking and Traveling in Montana
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Hike Index
H=Hike   C=Camp   V=Visit     S=Ski

Livingston Area
  Elephanthead Mtn. H

Paradise Valley
  S. Fk. Deep Creek H
  Pine Creek H,C
  George Lake H
  Passage Creek Falls H
  Crow Mountain H

Big Timber Area
  Boulder River H,C,V
  Natural Bridge Falls H,C,V
  Big Timber Creek Falls  H,C,V
  West Boulder Meadows H,C
  Twin Lakes  H,C
  Prairie Dog State.Park   V

Bozeman Area
Chestnut Mountain H
  Goose Creek H,S
  Mystic Lake H
  Lava Lake H

Central Montana
  Little Belt Mountains H,C,V,S
  Castle Mountains H,C
  Central MT Railroading V
  Cooney Reservoir C,V
  Crystal Lake H,C,V
  Judith Mountains V
  Judith Gap Wind Farm V
  Moccasin Mountains V

The Yellowstone River
  Upper Yellowstone Floating
  Yankee Jim Canyon

Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness
  Anvil Lake H,C
  Beartooth Lake H,C,V
  Beartooth Highway V
  Island Lake H,C,V

Western Montana
  Painted Rocks Rec Area V,C
  Salmon Lake State Park V,C
  Warm Spring Ponds  V

West Boulder River Near Big Timber, MT

     The West Boulder Meadows are a popular destination for hikers in the Boulder River drainage south of Big Timber, MT. The Meadows are located several miles from the end of the road that runs up the West Fork of the Boulder River. The Meadows are very popular with anglers, as they provide great fishing for wild trout. The trailhead is easy to get to and the trail is an easy hike. This is a great place for a first ever backpack trip.

     The West Boulder Meadows trailhead area includes a National Forest Campground as well as a parking area for hikers. This is a fairly high use area and it is not uncommon to find horses at the trailhead or on the trail. There are no services at the trailhead so be sure to arrive fully prepared. The West Boulder River trail continues on far beyond the West Boulder Meadows and a fair number of through hikers use the trail.

     To get to the West Boulder Meadows trailhead drive south of Big Timber on the Boulder River Road (MT 298). The Boulder River Road is a great drive. It travels through the broad valley with great scenery in every direction. This is ranch country and this road is a great way to experience the
Weat Boulkder River trail
     The West Boulder River trail is generally in great shape. This view is typical of the stretch at the top of the switchbacks you encounter just after crossing on the bridge. Looking up canyon the, the meadows are about a mile ahead. The trail continues on until it crosses the mountains and descends into Paradise Valley.
qualities that have made Montana what it is.

     The Boulder River road is a paved highway that you  follow for 17 miles until you reach the intersection with the West Boulder Road (also known as the Swingly Road). Turn right (west) here and stay on this major gravel road as it follows the West Fork Boulder River. After 7 miles you will reach a well signed intersection for the West Boulder forest access. Turn left (south) onto this gravel road and follow it until you reach the campground and trailhead about 7 miles ahead. Note: the Swingly Road continues on to just east of Livingston. This is a very scenic but rough road - if you are coming from Livingston, consider taking this route.

     The West Boulder access road travels through private property all the way from the junction to the campground. Please respect the property rights of the landowners and do not ever leave the road right-of-way. The campground and trailhead parking area are completely surrounded by private property so again, please do not trespass.
West Boulder Meadows near Big Timber MT
   The West Boulder Meadows sit in a beautiful mountain canyon. The fire that burned through in 2006 left lots of standing dead trees but has really opened up the views.

     The parking area for the trail is large and well signed. The road continues past the parking area but do not drive further! Everything ahead is private property, including the road. However, you will walk on part of this road.. From the parking area the trail starts by hiking in the road for 50 ? 100 yards past the cattle guard that is right at the parking area. After this short distance  the foot trail heads off to the left at an intersection that is obvious so just look. This is the beginning of an easy hike that gently climbs through the forest.

     This is a heavily used trail and it is in great shape, mostly smooth and easy hiking. After a mile of so you will enter a section of forest that was thoroughly burned in the 2006 Jungle Fire. This major blaze burned a lot of the back country in the Boulder River drainage. The burn on the West Boulder was pretty significant and the contrast between the unburned and burned areas is rather dramatic. While many believe the burned forest somehow looks unattractive, I find that it has charms of its own. Fields of wildflowers spring up there is lots of lush new green vegetation and the views really open up so you can see a lot more. In particular, this fire seems to have spurred a lot of new Aspen growth.

     Soon the trail reaches a very sturdy bridge that crosses the West Boulder. Immediately after crossing the bridge the trail begins to climb with a couple of switchbacks. The climb up levels out and the trail follows the creek through a nice canyon area. This section is through burned forest and there
Beautiful trout filled pool on West Fork Boulder River
  This pool is found right where the meadows begin. Its slow clear water is filled with cruising trout which fisherman can spot and cast directly to. There is a nice camp site located in the trees on the right. Learn more about Selecting a Great Campsite
are great views of the creek below and the surrounding mountains. Continue to follow the trail for about another mile until you reach the West Boulder meadows.

     When you reach the West Boulder Meadows it will become obvious where they get their name. The canyon becomes a very flat valley for about a half mile and the river slows and meanders through beautiful meadows. There are several good backpacking camp sites in the Meadows and this is an excellent place to take an overnight hike. The fairly short and easy trail makes this a perfect place for a first ever overnight. Be aware that the bugs can be bad at times.

     The West Boulder Meadows are very popular with anglers who come to fish for the wild trout that inhabit the cold clear waters. Through the meadows the river is clear and slow, making it a great place to spot feeding trout and to ?sight fish? where you cast directly to a fish you can see. The trout in the West Boulder come in all sizes and it is common to find multiple people in fishing in the Meadows during good fishing months. If you have the Meadows to yourself you can start fishing right at the outlet end where the Meadows end and the canyon section begins.. The long deep pool that is right above this outlet usually holds a number of nice fish. Start with this pool and gradually fish your way upstream  for a memorable angling experience.
West Boulder River in the West Boulder Meadows   The West Boulder River through the West Boulder Meadows is a very special place that is well worth a visit.

     For those interested in exploring the West Boulder further, the trail continues on past the Meadows for many miles. About 5 miles further on you reach the junction with Falls Creek, a major tributary. A smaller meadow area called Beaver Meadows is another 3 miles or so along the trail. Ultimately, the trail steeply climbs up and over the Mill Creek pass. From there it is downhill into the Yellowstone Valley. This is an excellent multi-day backpacking trip that begins at one trailhead and ends at another. Along the way you will intersect
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Selecting a Tent Site
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The Camp Kitchen
Selecting a Camp Stove
Water Supplies

other trails which offer access to much of the Absaroka back country.

    Despite the great backpacking opportunities, most hikers will stick to the 6 mile round trip hike into the West Boulder Meadows and there are few better short hikes than this. I especially recommend this as an easy overnight backpacking trip. The West Boulder Meadows are a beautiful place with great fishing opportunities and the trail is a great hike. Be sure to try this one if you ever get a chance.  

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