Much of Montana is covered in vast plains and rolling hills. Seemingly out of nowhere, the gorgeous Rocky Mountain Front juts upward, dramatically ending the grassy flatlands. Crown Butte is a great spot to hike to have views of these distant peaks along with panoramic views of the plains below. The trail up this huge butte also showcases some unique geological features and has never been crowded when we’ve gone. We’ll get into all the details of this hike below.
Getting to the Crown Butte Trailhead
The Crown Butte trailhead seems to be out in the middle of nowhere. But perhaps that’s why this is generally a quiet place to hike. From the small town of Simms, drive south on Simms-Cascade Road. You’ll see the butte to the west as you drive. When you reach a ‘T’ in the road, continue west on Simms-Cascade Road. We saw a couple signs guiding us along the way to the trailhead.
Most of the road is well-maintained gravel, but became slightly more rutted after we turned at the ‘T’ and worked our way to the parking area. When wet or snowy, the road may be impassable. We parked here at a small pullout just off the dirt road. From here, it’s a very short walk down the road to a gate at the start of the trail.
There are no fees or passes required to hike at Crown Butte.
Hiking Crown Butte
Hike Type: Easy loop
Distance: 5-6 miles roundtrip – depending on your route since there is no defined trail atop the butte
Duration: 2-3 hours
Regulations: Pets are not permitted in order to protect the wildlife in the preserve. Respect private property in the area. Camping is not permitted.
Our hike began through the gate not far from where we parked. As we walked up the dirt trail through the plains, Crown Butte loomed ahead. The trail makes a consistent uphill line strait to the west side of the butte. From below the butte we could see the unique columns formed by volcanic activity millions of years ago.
The trail turned up the butte and became a bit steep and rocky for a short ways before we reached the top. From the west side of Crown Butte, you get pretty views of the Rocky Mountain Front. Upon reaching the top of the butte, the trail somewhat disappears, so you are free to explore as you please.
We chose to head towards the north side of Crown Butte first. We made our way over the grassy plateau, taking in the views and watching the birds swoop along the cliffs beside us. Within this preserve, keep an eye out for hawks, owls, eagles, deer, coyotes, etc.
From the east side of Crown Butte, the dramatic cliffs offered vast views of the plains and rolling hills around 900 feet below. Use caution when exploring the cliff edge because there are spots with loose rocks and steep drops.
The wind began to pick up, so we made our way back around the south end of the butte, eventually looping back to where the trail descends back down the hillside. We completed our hike by following the trail the same way back down to our car.
Important Notes on Hiking Crown Butte
Crown Butte is best visited outside of the summer months for multiple reasons. Firstly, the plains in Montana can get incredibly hot in the summer and there is no shade along this trail.
Additionally, as mentioned above, the top of the butte doesn’t really have a defined trail, making it difficult to see any rattlesnakes that are known to thrive here in the summer. Living in Great Falls, we’ve also come to know how buggy the plains can get in the summer. The past couple summers, we’ve experienced A TON of grasshoppers and ticks, which we don’t imagine would be too pleasant in combination with walking through the tall grass atop the butte.
When we’ve visited Crown Butte in the early spring, we enjoyed the cool weather, shorter vegetation, and absence of insects. The views of the distant Rocky Mountains were also better without the common hazy summer skies.
What to Bring
Snacks: In case you want to refuel along the trail.
Hiking Boots: The trail has loose rock in places and the top of the butte consists of uneven grassland. The trail can also be wet and icy during winter months. Wear sturdy hiking boots with good tread.
Bug Repellant: If you go during warmer seasons.
Mini First Aid Kit: An item we always like to have just in case.
Camera: If you’d like to capture wildlife or your adventure.
Layers: It can get pretty windy in this area, so come prepared with a wind breaker and other layers as needed. Warmer layers may be necessary in colder months.
Sun Protection: Bring sunglasses, a hat, and/or sunscreen because this trail is not shaded.