Great Falls, MT: Windy Mountain Loop

This 7.1-mile dayhike in Lewis and Clark National Forest loops through the Highwood Mountains, skirting several creeks and the broad summit of Windy Mountain.
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This 7.1-mile dayhike in Lewis and Clark National Forest loops through the Highwood Mountains, skirting several creeks and the broad summit of Windy Mountain.

When snow blankets the trails in Montana's high country, head to the Highwood Mountains for this lower-elevation trek that traces several creeks and winds beneath Windy Mountain. The hike starts at Thain Creek Campground and travels north for 1,000 feet to the first trail junction. Turn right, heading east, for a 2.3-mile climb along Briggs Creek. During this stretch, you'll be treated to intermittent views of Highwood Baldy, the tallest peak in the Highwood Mountains. After cresting a small saddle at mile 2.5, turn left onto Trail 454 for a rolling traverse to Windy Mountain Pass. If you have time to spare, take the scenic detour at the top of the pass to the 5,998-foot summit of Windy Mountain (you won't regret the view). From here, it's a 2.7-mile descent along Thain Creek to the trailhead.
-Mapped by Stacey Thurlow and Mark Taylor

TO TRAILHEAD: US 87 S to MT 228/Highwood Rd. In 13.7 miles, turn left to stay on Highwood Rd./MT 228. In 6.2 miles, turn right onto Upper Highwood Creek Rd. (follow signs for Thain Creek Campground). In 6.4 miles, turn left to stay on Upper Highwood Creek Rd. In 7.1 miles, turn left onto Thain Creek Rd. Follow 1.4 miles to trailhead parking on left.

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 11.4

Waypoints

WIN001

Location: 47.4759987, -110.5851924

From the Thain Creek Campground, hike north up the Thain Creek drainage for 1,000 feet.

WIN002

Location: 47.4785548, -110.5849993

Turn right @ 3-way junction, heading southeast. Ahead, the trail rounds to the east for a brief traverse into another drainage.

WIN003

Location: 47.4790298, -110.5797315

The trail veers south after the first creek crossing and descends toward Briggs Creek.

WIN004

Location: 47.4772315, -110.578047

Cross Briggs Creek, then turn left. A few yards up the trail, turn around for picturesque views to the southwest of the 7,670-foot Highwood Baldy, the tallest peak in the Highwood Mountains.

WIN005

Location: 47.477449, -110.5763304

Look to the southwest for views of Highwood Baldy to the southwest. Next, continue heading east.

WIN006

Location: 47.4776811, -110.5623937

Pass a rock formation that resembles a throne. Ahead, the trail winds to the southeast.

WIN007

Location: 47.4768979, -110.5425882

The trail crests the pass at mile 2.5. Rest your legs while taking in views of the Great Plains to the east and west. Seasonal wildflowers speckle the alpine meadow below. Next, turn left onto Trail 454 and head north (do not follow the trail that continues straight down the other side of the pass).

WIN008

Location: 47.4914714, -110.5633163

Windy Mountain Pass: That's all for the climbing; take a breather before starting the 2.7-mile downhill stretch to the trailhead.

Add a peak: If you have the time, take a quick detour to the top of 5,998-foot Windy Mountain (just north); you won't regret the view.

WIN009

Location: 47.4942044, -110.5683911

The trail traces the edge of a meadow just above treeline. Windy Mountain rises to the northeast, protecting this spot from the wind (a perfect place to stop and eat lunch).

WIN010

Location: 47.4970822, -110.5745709

Bare left off the side of the saddle, heading southwest.

WIN011

Location: 47.4905579, -110.584259

Cross a stream. Ahead, the trail travels south along Thain Creek and reconnects with Waypoint 2; keep straight @ the 3-way junction to reach the trailhead.

Highwood Mountains

Location: 47.4794721, -110.5449593

Trailhead

Location: 47.4760078, -110.5851334

First Trail Junction

Location: 47.4785548, -110.5849349

First Creek Crossing

Location: 47.4790298, -110.5795813

Highwood Baldy

Location: 47.477478, -110.5761051

Briggs Creek

Location: 47.4777391, -110.566771

Rock Throne

Location: 47.4776811, -110.5622005

Grassy Hillside

Location: 47.4767674, -110.5569649

Grassy Slopes

Location: 47.481981, -110.5463862

Trailside Views

Location: 47.4853162, -110.5481994

Wildflowers

Location: 47.4915004, -110.5531025

Open Ridgeline

Location: 47.4920368, -110.554111

Forest

Location: 47.4914714, -110.5817056

Trail

Location: 47.4839749, -110.584774