NOTE: Road closes December 1st through May 15th.
The Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway is one of the closest byways to our home in Butte Montana. This 49-mile drive is a great day trip to those living in Butte, Anaconda, Dillon, or other nearby cities. There are several things to see and do on this route. We wanted to share what we discovered on our mini road trip this October.
Starting at the northern end in Wise River
Since we are living in Butte, we started this journey traveling north to south. We drove on I-15 south and took the exit towards Wise River. This drive to Wise River is exciting on its own. The road winds along next to the Big Hole River for most of the duration of this stretch. On this part of the drive, you’ll see how the mountainside drops rather steeply, ending where the road is. There is a brief section where a cliff cuts straight down next to the road on your left, with the river on your right. Needless to say, it was a good beginning to the drive.
In the town Wise River, you will take a left onto the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway. You will drive next to Wise River for about half the length of this byway. We traveled this part in the morning on a blue sky day. The sunlight was shimmering off the river while we were driving by.
Plenty of hiking and camping opportunities
There are a number of hiking access points scattered throughout this drive. Though they are not obviously marked. We recommend picking up some hiking books on the area to find trails or you can take a look at our hiking map. The week prior, we hiked to Grouse Lakes at the northern end. We plan on hiking into Bobcat Lakes in the near future.
Not only are there great hiking opportunities, but there’s a significant amount of camping options. Both for RV camping and tent camping. The convenience of these camping spots stir all sorts of ideas for overnight adventures. The variety is sure to fit anyone’s preference for their overnight experience.
The mountain views really start to pick up about midway down the byway. The first big viewpoint is called the ‘Grand Vista Overlook’. It features a large parking lot with a bathroom and several picnic benches. This is a great spot to have lunch, tea, and look around for wildlife. This stop also has an informative plaque which talks about the terrain and how it is prime for Montana’s wildlife.
Coolidge – mining ghost town
Onward we journeyed down the dead-end road that takes you to a mining ghost town called Coolidge. You can type in Coolidge parking lot which will easily pop up in Google maps. From the parking lot, it is about a .5 mile easy walk into the ghost town. There is one standing structure left out of the town. Most of the other buildings have already fallen and started to let nature take back the land. We walked down the road of abandoned buildings first, stopping where the road narrows and appears to turn into a trail. We didn’t venture past this point. Turning around, we walked back to where you can cross a small creek. We followed the road to the left up a hill which takes you to the mine portal. We were instantly sidetracked by the outstanding view of Saddleback and Comet Mountain instead of the portal. This town is worth checking out, and the journey there has some great views of the Pioneer Mountains.
Dig your own quartz crystals
After driving out from the dead-end road into Coolidge, we continued southbound. The road switchbacks upward, presenting you with more exposed mountain views. This section of the road is best for viewing the higher elevation mountains in the Pioneers. It eventually takes you through a large field with the peaks poking through in the background. There is a plaque along this stretch that indicates which mountains you are viewing.
Towards the end of the large open field is Crystal Park. This park can be a highlight of the trip if you are interested in digging up your own quartz crystals. Digging the quartz crystals is unique here because they are hexagonal prisms with pointed faces on each end. It’s great for all ages and a unique experience for your road trip! There is a parking fee of $5 at the time of writing this.
End your day relaxing in a hot spring
Sadly, we are getting towards the end of this beautiful history rich byway. We believe it has the perfect ending though – a hot spring! Elkhorn Hotsprings sits right at the base of this mountain range. It’s a great way to relax before journeying back to wherever your home is at the end of the day.