Camping under the stars at Halfmoon

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By Jordan Ingram

Ford Smith kayaks down the foaming waters of Big Timber Creek in the Crazy Mountains on Saturday afternoon, June 3. Big Timber Creek offers some of the best whitewater for kayakers in the state.

Yellowstone Newspapers photos by Hunter D’Antuono

The recent wave of warm weather and sunshine meant that a camping trip to Halfmoon Campground was long overdue.

The site is roughly 24 miles northwest of Big Timber on the eastern side of the Crazy Mountains, or Awaxaawippiia, the name given to the island mountain range by the Apsaalooka (Crow).

Located in the Custer Gallatin National Forest, the 12-mile journey on Big Timber Canyon Road from U.S. 191 was rocky and slow. The sturdy but small four-speed Honda Civic managed the rough terrain, which at times felt like driving a rover on the surface of the moon.

Once we arrived at the campsite, we unloaded our gear and began our hike at a gated trailhead located within the campground. The path eventually meets up with Big Timber Canyon Trail, a well-maintained U.S. Forest Service trail that runs parallel to Big Timber Creek and cuts through miles of privately owned land.

The wooded trail emptied out onto open rock flats that lead us directly to the lower portion of Big Timber Creek Falls. A cool-water mist from the massive waterfall was welcomed refreshment, and could be felt along the entire rock ledge as thousands of gallons of water relentlessly pounded the canyon walls just below our feet. The light spritz accompanied the deafening beauty of the falls – pearl-white water churning and plunging 120 feet down a narrow, zigzag rock chute. Picturesque, to say the least.

Back on the trail, we continued up the scenic, creek-side path on a steady incline. Marveling at the rushing, white-capped waters to my left, two men appeared to be walking in the river. Both were wearing bright-colored helmets and wet skirts and were attached by climbing cord. One of the men was moving a large, downed tree branch. These “river walkers” were local kayakers clearing a path down river.

According to these water sport extremists, Big Timber Creek Falls offers the best whitewater kayaking in the state. But the rough and rapid waters are clearly for the more experienced boater, requiring a great deal of strength to muscle out of a broach, reach eddy lines and navigate the carnage.

As we continued onward, snow began to pile up beside the trail, eventually taking over the path completely. A family approached us on its way back from one of the six lakes – Thunder, Blue, Twin, Pear and Granite – located on various offshoot trails that venture further into the Crazies. A boy carrying a couple fishing poles led the group. When asked whether he had any luck, he just shook his head.

“Lakes are frozen,” he said. “No fish.”

As we reached the second wooden bridge that crosses the creek, we were walking in a foot of snow and decided to make our way back to the campsite.

After a long day’s hike, we returned to Halfmoon and relaxed by a campfire as the stars emerged overhead, recounting the beauty we had encountered throughout the day. 

There was plenty to see in just a few short hours and so much more yet to discover. But we could save that for our next adventure to the Crazies.

 

Jordan Ingram is a writer for the Livingston Enterprise out of Livingston, Montana.

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