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Western Montana Hikes & Attractions

Ringing Rocks

Ringing Rocks is a fascinating place where ordinary-looking rocks produce the sound of a bell when struck by a hammer. Located 4 1/2 miles off I 90 near Butte, MT, Ringing Rocks is on BLM land. Ringing rocks are only found here and in Pennsylvania so take advantage and plan a visit.

What is Ringing Rocks

Ringing Rocks is a unique geologic feature – a big pile of boulders that the sound of a ringing bell when struck with a hammer. It’s uncanny hearing the metallic sounds of a bell being struck while you stand with a hammer hitting a rock.

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It’s not just a few rocks that peal when struck. In fact, the large boulder field covering the hillside is full of these incredible stones. While not every rock rings, about 1 out of 3 do and some will give different tones depending on where they are struck. Visitors can explore all of the boulder field and there is a rack with hammers of different sizes and you can try as many as you want.

Where is Ringing Rocks

Ringing Rocks is located off I 90 about 18 miles east of Butte, MT, then a few miles north of the Interstate. The road to the site is gravel and dirt and can be quite rough, especially when wet. In good conditions, most SUV’s can make it to one of the parking areas but a high clearance vehicle is recommended.

Photo of boulder field at Ringing Rocks
There is a small parking area right at the base of Ringing Rocks. Visitors are free to explore the entire area. This isn’t the only parking as there are several places to park further down the road. In fact, the main parking lot is below here.

Driving Directions

From I 90 head north at the Pipestone exit (Exit 241) and follow the sign onto the gravel road that parallels interstate heading east for about three-fourths of a mile. Follow the sign and turn left (north) onto a gravel road. Cross the railroad tracks and follow the road northward for approximately 3.5 miles.

In the last half mile or so the road gets rougher and there are several places to park if you don’t want to continue on the road. With a high clearance vehicle, you can generally drive to the parking area where there is a map and a few signs.

Exploring Ringing Rocks

As you approach the base of the boulder field you immediately find the “hammer rack” which holds an assortment of hammers of different sizes and weights. Grab a hammer and begin to explore. There is no trail through the rock pile so just head wherever you want.

Close up of Ringing Rocks boulders
This closer view of the boulders shows the light spots on many rocks that have been developed by years of people tapping to hear the notes they produce.

Not all of the rocks ring. Probably about 1 out of 3 or so make the metallic ringing sounds. You will notice that a lot of the rocks have very visible worn spots where they have been repeatedly struck. However, don’t limit yourself to hitting on worn spots you’ll find rocks that ring anywhere.

There are no trails and no boundaries so it’s up to you to be responsible for your own safety and for the preservation of the site. Be very careful when you are climbing in, over, and through the rocks. Never try to remove any of the rocks. Never try to break off a piece of rock and make sure not to litter the area.

Why do the rocks ring

Why do the rocks ring? The simple answer is we don’t know. We know it’s not just the composition of the rocks because of two things. All of the rocks are made of the same material but only some of them ring. If the composition of the rocks produces the ringing then we would expect them all to ring. Since only some of the rocks ring there must be another factor.

The way the rocks are piled together likely has something to do with the ringing. Rocks quit ringing when they are removed from the site. Their clear metallic tones vanish as soon as they are removed from the pile. This indicates the ringing is somehow related to how they are piled together.

Although geologists don’t know why the rocks ring, a lot is known about the geologic makeup of the area. Unfortunately, it’s detailed and complicated and I’m not going to discuss it here. If you want all the detailed information read this Wikipedia article about Ringing Rocks.

Pipestone Area Recreation

The area around Ringing Rocks is generally known as Pipestone. The name comes from Pipestone Hot Springs which was developed in the mid-1860s, about the time gold was discovered in Butte. At its peak, it featured a hotel, a bathhouse, a sanitarium, and at least 100 cabins with canvas roofs. The resort closed in the mid-1960s and rapidly deteriorated. Today Pipestone Village & Hotsprings rents cabins and domes that feature hot tubs supplied with natural hot spring water.

Most of the lands in the Pipestone area are BLM and Forest Service with a few scattered private holdings and the primary recreation is motorized. The BLM areas are formally designated the Pipestone Off-Road Vehicle (OHV) Area and they publish a map of the approximately 75 miles of designated trails spread across 30,000 acres. This is a great area to visit if you enjoy off-roading.

In addition to OHVs, the trails are great for mountain biking. There are no developed hiking trails that I know of but Delmo Lake is close by in the national forest. The lake has a campground and is popular with anglers, campers, and off-roaders.