After, finally, successfully skiing up on the Beartooth Scenic Highway, we were ready to get back to visiting cities and towns we thought we may be interested in. Next up was Helena, Montana. Since we had started talking about traveling the country in a van, I had been interested in seeing Helena. Helena looked like it should have a pretty good climate. Cooler than Denver, but still plenty of sunshine, less expensive housing, proximity to skiing, and 80+ miles of trails straight from town. After reading about the Trail Rider, Helena’s free mountain bike shuttle, I was ready to move there sight unseen.
Our first stop in town was at The Base Camp. It’s a really nice outdoor store in downtown, across the street from the bust stop for the Trail Rider, and around the corner from Blackfoot River Brewing. The Base Camp had some super friendly and helpful employees who pointed us in the right direction for camping for the night, and some trails to explore the next day. We purchased a map and a few other things and headed around the corner to the brewery. There was an event with live music outside, and a few food trucks where we got some delicious street tacos. After enjoying the food, and music we headed up to Cromwell Dixon Campground.
The campground is at the top of MacDonald Pass on the Continental Divide. It’s a pretty good location, not too far from town. We were even able to get a bit of a cell signal, which was a welcome surprise. The campground appeared to have been logged, apparently due to the pine beetle infestation. Unfortunately, this made the whole area pretty much wide open. the benefit was nice sunsets and sunrises. Otherwise, the campground was pretty nice, so we reserved a spot for three nights total, giving us some time to explore Helena. Another down side to the campground was the proximity to the highway. As the highway goes over the pass, the trucks are loud, especially on the way down with engine braking. By this point in the trip I was pretty used to ear plugs, so I didn’t have too much trouble from the noise.
Distance: 115 miles
Time: 5 hours or so
Vanlife reality: Finding places to stay in the van. We’re constantly unsure of where we’ll spend the night. Noise. Camping is, for the most part, not a serene, peaceful experience.