This is one of our favorite day hikes in Montana, due to the exceptional scenery along the trail, especially through the gorge created by the Stillwater River, which beings almost immediately into the trail. The trail is an approximately 6.5 mile out-and-back hike with around 900 feet of elevation gain, which makes it an easy to moderate hike.
The trail sees moderate to heavy traffic in the summer, but low traffic in the winter. In fact, we hiked this trail on Sunday, January 12th, 2020, and we were the only vehicle in the parking lot! Speaking of the parking lot, it is large enough to accommodate the busy summer season, and it also has a designated area for stock trailers for the equine enthusiast. There is also a primitive restroom for any last minute breaks before hitting the trail.
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The scenery along the trail is incredible the entire year, but peak water run-off in mid-June to early-July makes for a truly memorable experience. The crystal-clear run-off turns a frothy, light blue, as it rushes through the rapids and cascades. The trail closely parallels the roaring Stillwater River, providing plenty of opportunity to enjoy the views. Sioux Charley Lake is located at the end of the 3.25 mile out portion of the trail and provides a great backdrop for a relaxing picnic lunch. On our recent hike, Shawna got to try out her new Osprey Sirrus 24 backpack, a great way to transport water, picnic lunch, or your favorite snacks! Be sure to observe the rules and pack out anything packed in.
A visit in the winter might reveal a Rocky Mountain Big Horn Sheep sighting, as the area near the trailhead is a part of the winter range. The Sioux Charley trail is also bear country, including grizzlies. In fact, we had a bear sighting on a visit in July of 2019 just off the main trail. I highly recommended carrying at least one form bear deterrent, such as Counter Assault Bear Spray. Know how to use your equipment, and always be prepared.
I recommend appropriate hiking footwear. While the trail is maintained well, it is constructed upon rocks adjacent to the river, which makes footing more difficult, with exposed rocks and uneven sections that can be exceedingly rocky. After approximately two miles, the trail leaves the river’s edge and meanders through a forested section.
If you make the trip to the Sioux Charley trailhead, consider hiking the nearby Woodbine Falls trail. Woodbine Falls is an out-and back trail approximately 1.6 miles in total.