A Three Forks threesome.
When Saturday dawns warm and bright and outdoor ambitions rise within you like spring snowmelt, it’s time for a Montana multisport: two or more outdoor activities spliced into a single day of fun and adventure. Lash the raft or canoe to the roof; hoist bikes onto the hitch rack; stash paddles, life jackets, and daypacks in the back. Slip on Chacos and board shorts. Then double-check the cooler, top off your coffee mug, and turn the wheels west.
Your destination: Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park, the 3,000-acre playground between Three Forks and Whitehall, off Highway 2, where an arid microclimate makes for promising springtime hiking and biking. Park in the campground and pick your pleasure: an easy warm-up on the short Nature Loop; a naturalist-style stroll to the Jefferson along the Fishing Access Trail; or an all-out grind up Cave Gulch Trail, a four-mile out-and-back with 1,000 feet of elevation gain. If you’ve been spinning your quads into shape all winter and want a real ride, fill your water bladder and hit the Grand Loop—6.4 miles of switchbacked singletrack through juniper-flecked foothills, Douglas fir forests, and moist alpine mini-meadows. Enjoy sprawling views of the Jefferson River far below, meandering in the shadows of the Tobacco Roots’ northern front.
After a screaming, brake-clutching descent, hop upstream to the nearby fishing access. Logistics depend on energy level: you can drop the boat, drive downstream and park the vehicle at Williams Bridge, then bike back to the put-in; or bring a second car for a quick and easy shuttle. Either way, plan on a leisurely float through Class I/II water, with plenty of wildlife and serene vistas along the way. This is big-ranch country, with no bluff-top trophy homes to spoil the views. Just be sure to curse Greg Strohecker’s name as you pass what remains of the once-stunning cliffs below Sappington Bridge—despite a Montana law that protects landowners from liability, the brash KG Ranch manager dynamited the 65-foot natural landmark to prevent floaters from jumping off.
At Williams Bridge, take advantage of laid-back county rules—and basic legal literacy—and join the local kids jumping off the bridge into the deep, swirling pool below. Swim back to shore, crack open a cold one, and relax a while before rolling into Willow Creek to wrap up the day in style, with a burger, steak, or rack of ribs. As you draw deep on your ice-cold Bozone amber, reflect on an incredible day spent outdoors—and how you just packed a weekend’s worth of fun into a single day.
For a full rundown on Lewis & Clark Caverns, visit stateparks.mt.gov; find Jefferson River info at jeffersonriver.org.