Mill Creek Nordic Trails
Visit this quiet spot for some solitary skinny skiing.
The largest drainage in the Absaroka Range (aka, Western Beartooths), Mill Creek welcomes winter (and early-spring) visitors with a picturesque stream, endless white slopes shooting skyward, and a Forest Service cabin rental complete with bunks and woodstove. On the north side of the parking area is a steep, and sometimes treacherous, sledding hill—which makes this a great destination for kids, or adults who are kids at heart.
Mill Creek is a multiple-use area and is thus frequented by snowmobiles, dogsleds, and backcountry skiers. Still, it remains uncrowded compared to many other areas, especially on weekdays. There are several different skiing trails, and if you plan an early start, pack along some firewood and hot cocoa, and complete the Mill Creek Winter Triathlon: ski, sled, sip.
Who: Skiers who want to get their hearts pounding, families looking for a mellow outing, and anyone who wants to kick and glide along a charming creek or up a wicked hill. Also suitable who for those who need something to do before soaking at Chico Hot Springs, or those who enjoy a drink by the fire at Sage Lodge.
What: There are several options for cross-country skiing. From the parking area, head to the right and across the bridge to ski Wicked Creek (Snowbank Rd.) as it winds through clearcuts and heavily treed areas, gently ascending to a spot with great views. Between 1.5 and 2 miles out, the road splits; stay right. Almost immediately the road splits again; this time, stay left. There is no real destination to this tour, so turn around whenever the mood strikes.
For an easy ski, go straight up Mill Creek Rd. It’s a gentle climb as the road follows the creek up the canyon. You’ll see East Dam Creek on the left—it can be a bit hairy, but a fun ski. Or continue up the road 2.4 miles to the Passage Creek Falls trailhead.
When: The snow is generally better in the Mill Creek drainage than in Paradise Valley or Livingston, and ski season can last from November through March or even into April. After January 1, the Mill Creek Rd. beyond the parking area closes to cars.
Where: From Livingston, drive just over 15 miles south on Hwy. 89 to Mill Creek Rd. (between mile markers 38 and 37). Turn left and travel about 11 miles, until the plowed road ends at a gate (the gate is locked on January 1; before that, you can drive as far as conditions allow). Park in the plowed area on the left.
Why: Because we live in a snowy place (when we are lucky) and we should take advantage of it. Mill Creek is lovely, quiet, and away from the crowds and the bros. It’s the perfect spot for a campfire with friends, combined with time on skinny skis for a solitary wander in the winter woods.
Melynda Harrison is the author of Ski Trails of Southwest Montana.