A long hike, horse trip, or backpacking trip into a wilderness area.
Bear Creek Loop Trail (325, 326) snakes up between the saddle of the Helmet and the Sphinx, two of the most famous and fantastic mountains in the Madison Range. The peaks, composed of conglomerate rock, jut up and out of the surrounding forest unlike any other mountains in the wilderness. They both present easy, non-technical scrambles for aspiring climbers. The views from on top of the peaks stretch out across the Madison Valley to the Gravelly Ranger and Pioneer Mountains in the west. To the east, you can see The Gallatin Valley and Absarokee Mountains. And to the south you can even see the Tetons on a clear day. The Helmet towers above the saddle and the views from here encompass vast tracts of wilderness.
The trail leads up the Trail Forks and down the Middle Fork of Bear Creek, winding through open fields of glacier lilies and lupines, the habitat of elk and grizzly bear. The entire loop travels through a wide range of scenery: Across open sage fields, through thick forests of Douglas fir, and up into the high alpine environment.
Starting just behind Bear Creek Station, Trail 325 runs up along the Trail Fork of Bear Creek. After it breaks out into a meadow, the trail forks. Bear left here. You are now on Trail 326, which climbs switchbacks up to the saddle between the Helmet and the Sphinx. The trail descends the saddle in another series of switchbacks and reaches the Middle Fork of Bear Creek. You will hit a junction with Trail 346 (Cougar Creek, McAtee Basin). Turn left here and head back to Bear Creek Station. The trail follows the Middle Fork for about 5 miles before it junctions. Take a left there, then contour back around the open hillside of Black Mountain for a mile, returning to Bear Creek Station.
This is a wilderness area so all mechanized travel, including mountain bikes, is prohibited. In most of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness, special regulations are in effect concerning camping in grizzly bear country. There camping regulation are designed to protect both bears and humans, and are posted at the trailheads or are available at the district offices.
Length: 12 miles round trip. High difficulty
Trail Begins: Bear Creek Stations.Trail Ends: Loop
USGS Map: Lake Cameron, Sphinx Mountain