Big Timber Creek flows out of Montana’s Crazy Mountains north of Big Timber, MT. Running east out of the mountains, the creek gradually turns southward and flows into the Yellowstone River just east of Big Timber. Most of the creek travels through private lands but the headwater areas are on the Custer Gallatin National Forest.
The Crazy Mountains are an island mountain range that many people know because of the way they dominate the horizon north of Interstate 90 in the Livingston/Big Timber area. The Crazies offer a number of great hikes but suffers a lack of access. Fortunately, the Big Timber Canyon trailhead provides access to popular day hikes and backpacking opportunities.
Big Timber Creek is accessed from US 191. About 11 miles north of Big Timber there is a well marked turn onto the Big Timber Canyon Road that runs west toward the Crazy Mountains. Follow this gravel road for about 2 miles until a junction where you bear to the right, again toward the mountains. Continue on for about 10 miles until the road ends at the Halfmoon Campground, Halfmoon Picnic Area and the Big Timber Canyon trailhead.
The Halfmoon Campground is a typical USFS campground with picnic tables, fire rings, outhouses and drinking water. There are only 12 campsites which are open to tents, trailers or RVs. If you plan to camp here the USFS cautions “This campground does not use a reservation system, it is managed on a first-come, first-served basis. Be aware the campground may fill up on weekends & holidays during the summer months and you should arrive in the early afternoon to ensure there is a space available for the night.”
While the area is open year-round, the primary season for the campground is Memorial Day to Labor day and there is no water available during the off-season. There is a nightly camping fee and about half of the campsites are accessible. The access road is not suitable for vehicles longer than 32ft.
Besides the campground there is the Halfmoon Picnic Area and a large parking area for the trailhead. For a closeup look at the area here is the Halfmoon Campground Area Map.
Fishing Big Timber Creek
Big Timber Creek offers varied conditions for anglers. The lower creek which is on private land reportedly offer some amazing fishing. Unfortunately, there is no public access to these waters. From the Forest boundary upstream the creek is open to fishing. However, much of the creek is too steep for fishing so you have to search out places to fish. Most of the best fishing water is higher up the creek closer to Lower Twin Lake.
Anglers willing to search out sections of the stream with appropriate water will find healthy populations of rainbow trout. Most are in the 7″-10″ size range but fish larger than 14″ have been documented. These waters have been stocked with both rainbow and cutthroat trout but the rainbows have had the best success. Although the cutthroats are gone, some of their genes remain as many of the rainbows show signs of hybridization.
MFWP reports indicate that brown trout are found in the creek below the campground. It’s always possible that you could catch a brown or two when you are fishing Big Timber Creek.
Big Timber Creek Falls
The Big Timber Creek Falls are a series of falls that split a narrow rock canyon. The falls twist through the rock and there are no good places from which you can view the entire stretch. However, there are great views of the lower falls and I recommended this hike to all waterfall fans. The character if the Falls changes with water levels so be sure to visit more than once if you can.
The Big Timber Creek Falls are reached by following the main trail into Big Timber Canyon. After about 1/8 mile a well-marked side trail (left side of the trail) leads to the Falls. The Big Timber Creek trail continues on to the interior of the Crazy Mountains. This trail is the access for a number of popular hikes, including the popular day hikes to Twin Lakes and Blue Lake.
Kayaking Big Timber Creek
Big Timber Creek offers some of the most famous extreme whitewater kayaking in Montana. This is water for experts and it’s common to find kayakers on the water when the creek flows are good. It’s hard to imagine that anyone could ride a boat through the Falls but many kayakers have accepted the challenge. However, there is a lot of top-quality class V & V+ whitewater along sections of the creek above the falls. This mile or so above the falls is the goal of most boaters.
An internet search will turn up lots of stories and videos about this famous creek. The Montana Eddy Hop blog has a good description of the Big Timber Creek whitewater run, complete with photos. Also, check the EGCreekin site which has this excellent account of running the Big Timber Creek Falls. And then there is this video which is typical of the many videos on the Web.
A number of hikes in Montana follow great kayaking creeks so don’t be surprised to see boats on other creeks while you are hiking. For another story of extreme kayaking in Montana be sure to check out our page about Natural Bridge Falls.
Visit If You Can
Big Timber Canyon offers a lot for everyone. It has excellent camping and picnicking. The Falls are a natural wonder to sit and enjoy. Big Timber Creek offers excellent fishing opportunities and the trailhead provides access to Crazy Mountain trails. The Crazy Mountains are a great place to visit and Big Timber Canyon is a gateway to the best of the Crazies.
Here are some other places of interest in the Big Timber area: