The northern section of the Porcupine Ibex trail was opened for public use in late 2019. This 2.9-mile trail departs from the Porcupine Cabin and crosses the forested west slopes of the Crazy Mountains. The trail leads to a junction with the North Fork Elk Creek Trail #195 which heads to Campfire Lake and deep into the Crazies. The trailhead and parking area are right at the Porcupine Cabin which is a USFS rental unit.
The Porcupine Ibex trailhead is located on the Custer Gallatin Forest northeast of Wilsall, MT. To get there take the Shields River Road which leaves from US 89 on the very north end of town. Follow the Shields River Road for about 8 miles to the junctions with the Porcupine Road. Turn right onto Porcupine Road and follow it for a little under 8 miles to the parking area. This road is gravel and is in pretty good shape except for the last 2 miles or so which are impassable in the winter, may require a 4wd when muddy and a high clearance vehicle is recommend the rest of the time.
Porcupine Ibex Trailhead
The trailhead area is an open parking lot with plenty of room for parking. There is room enough for horse trailers to turn around. There is no camping at the trailhead. A short trail leads to a vault toilet at the cabin adjacent to the parking area.
An information board has very basic info messages and a map of the Crazy Mountains. There are two trails that depart from this trailhead. The Shields Lowland Trail #258 leaves from here and travels north and east to either Sunlight Lake (8 miles) or the Shields River Road (8 miles).
The Porcupine Ibex Trail # 267 heads south from the parking lot and varies between east and south as you hike. The trail generally parallels the Shields Valley heading southward. There are new trail signs that mark the way.
Hiking the Porcupine Ibex Trail
As might be expected for a new trail this one is easy to hike. The surface is often softer dirt and everything is helped by the trail not being too steep. Much of the trail is forested with giant conifers towering above the trail. The dense overhead canopy limits the shrubs and smaller trees resulting in an open forest.
The trail runs south and east for nearly 3 miles until it reaches a junction with the North Fork Elk Creek trail #195. This trail leads into the heart of the Crazies and connects to the trail system in the center of the range. If you stay on the trail for about 4.5 miles and 2,500 ft of climb the trail leads to Campfire Lake.
At the junction of the Porcupine Ibex Trail #267 and #195, you can remain on the Porcupine Ibex Trail which continues on for about 7 miles to the Ibex cabin. This trail historically was called the Porcupine Lowland Trail and connects the two popular forest service cabins.
Porcupine Cabin Rentals
The Forest Service operates the Porcupine Cabin as part of its rental program. The cabin is available to rent on a nightly basis all year long. The cabin is fairly large measuring about 1,100 sq ft with three rooms and an enclosed porch. Sitting at about 6,400 ft, the cabin has majestic views of the Shields Valley below.
The cabin has a wood stove, 4 sets of bunk beds, a wood stove for heat, and a propane lantern (without fuel). Note there is no cook stove. There is a vault toilet next to the cabin and a fire pit area in front of the cabin. You will need to bring drinking water, cooking gear and food, bedding, fire starters (matches and newspaper), extra toilet paper, flashlights, a first aid kit, cookware, dishes, and utensils, among other necessities. You need to bring a propane bottle to use the provided lantern. The use of liquid fuel is banned so no Coleman gas stoves or lanterns are allowed. Think of this cabin as being a big tent and bring the same gear you would for camping.
If you are within 3 days of the date you want to reserve contact the Livingston Ranger District at 406-222-1892. You can reserve the cabin up to 6 months in advance and learn more about the cabin and rental rates by contacting Porcupine Cabin Reservations.
Cross Country Skiing
Skiing on the Porcupine area trails is great. Unfortunately, it can be tough to access. You should plan to park at the final split in the road which is about 2 miles from the cabin. Beyond this point, the road is usually impassable in the winter. Unless you are sure you can go further I advise stopping here.
This area frequently has great snow conditions for skiing. However, there is no way to check on conditions without driving there. You might be able to get current ski conditions by calling Dan Bailey’s Outdoor Company.
A winter visit to the Porcupine cabin is a memorable experience. The cabin is well heated by the woodstove and many cozy nights are spent here every winter. Of course, you have to bring in all of your own gear, including water. The haul is worth the effort once you are settled in to enjoy the silent majesty of the winter mountains.