After getting a start on exploring the 65+ miles of trails accessible from downtown Helena, we decided to take a longer drive and explore the Continental Divide. The Lewis and Clark Pass (Alice Creek Trail) seemed like a great place to start, being a 1.5 mile round trip hike that approaches the Rockies from the west. The history of this well-worn trail is fascinating; it has been used by Native American tribes for thousands of years as a gateway to the plains and buffalo hunting, and Meriwether Lewis crossed here with 14 others (William Clark took a different way) in 1806 en route back east.
Our hike started off well, and the kids were excited to view wildflowers, form snowballs from the scattered patches of snow, and cross a gentle stream. While the incline is gradual, the path is quite straight and you can see the path ahead for almost the whole way. Without switchbacks or other changes to the scenery, the Younger Fives’ interest slowly faded. By the time the path made a 90-degree turn to the right to make the final climb, the snow was quite deep which made pressing forward slow and difficult.
Coming down went more smoothly, and we stopped for lunch at the base of a small waterfall. The kids liked spending more time exploring the stream, following it through patches of cottonwood trees. Despite the setbacks, it felt amazing to be following footsteps that stretch back thousands of years.
* Take Alice Creek Road, just over a mile west of the intersection of Rt. 200 and Rt. 279 (Lincoln Road). From there go about 7 miles on a good dirt road to a sharp left by an interpretive sign. Then the road narrows and goes another 3 miles to the end where the gate, picnic area, and restroom are located. 4-wheel drive not needed, but at least when we went the road was muddy in spots.
* Directions from other sites underestimated the distance from the Rt. 200 / 279 intersection to Alice Creek Road. Also, other directions said the dirt road went 7 miles, but that was only to the first forest service sign. It is really another 3 miles further to the trail head.
* The closest town is Lincoln, about 7 miles west of Alice Creek Road.
* From downtown Helena the total time to the trail head was about 1 hour 20 minutes.