Bear Canyon and Hikers’ Haven Loop Hikes

Revised 10/11/2015

Download printable Loop Hike Guide (3.3 MB)

The Bear Canyon Creek, Rocky Juniper, and Big Sky trails begin from three different trailheads on Helt and Horse Haven Roads. They traverse very different landscapes. But all three trails converge in the same area on the rim of Bear Canyon. This convergence is called “THE Junction.”(1)» This provides the option of loop hikes. Instead of hiking in and out on the same trail it is possible to hike in on one trail and out on one of the other two and experience different landscapes. This requires either hiking between trailheads, or having two vehicles for the short shuttle drive.

Map: Bear Canyon and Hikers' Haven Area Trails Map: Bear Canyon and Hikers' Haven Area Trails
Since these routes are not officially designated, signed or maintained by the USFS and BLM (yet)» , the three trails are currently invisible on the ground at The Junction and there are no signs. (The three trails are fairly easy to follow from their trailheads on Helt and Horse Haven Roads because they mostly follow visible tracks. It is the reverse hike that can be a problem for people who have not previously hiked a particular trail from the trailhead.)

The following directions are for hikers attempting to hike out on a trail they have not previously hiked in on. Finding the trails from The Junction requires carefully following these directions. These directions are meant to supplement the hiking guide for the trail you want to take out. You should have those directions also. (People with experience in off-trail travel and with a compass and the topo maps provided should have little trouble. We hope these instructions will help less experienced hikers.)

The Rocky Juniper Trail is the hardest one to find from The Junction. The Big Sky and Bear Canyon Creek Trails are easier. You can, of course, return on whatever trail you came to The Junction on.

#1 The Junction as seen looking NNE from the USFS/BLM fence line on the rocky-topped hill to the south. #1 The Junction as seen looking NNE from the USFS/BLM fence line on the rocky-topped hill to the south.
Return via Big Sky Trail: To return via the Big Sky Trail follow the turquoise arrow (see photo #1) north using whatever game trails are convenient. Keep the canyon cliffs on your left and the hill on your right (east). Within a quarter or third of a mile this should lead you to the end of the abandoned (for motorized use) two-track route which is the Big Sky Trail. This track curves right around the north of the hill and follows the rim of the main fork of Bear Canyon to the east. (See map.) What makes finding this “easy” is the N/S canyon on your west and its turn to the east keeping you from going off course to either the west or north. Just go around the landmark hill.

Don’t miss the “T” Junction about a mile from The Junction, ½ mile from the hill. There is a small cairn nearby. At the “T” turn south (right) away from the canyon and follow the Big Sky Trail about two miles to the trailhead on Horse Haven Road.

#2 GoogleEarth view of Bear Canyon Switchbacks. White arrows parallel trail pointing uphill. #2 GoogleEarth view of Bear Canyon Switchbacks. White arrows parallel trail pointing uphill.
Return via Bear Canyon Creek Trail: To return via the Bear Canyon Creek Trail follow the yellow arrow (see photos #1 and #3) down into the canyon. The switchbacks are not visible from the top, but you will soon intersect the top switchback. (See photo #2.) Follow the switchbacks down the slope. At the bottom the trail vanishes in the brush. Push through the brush a couple hundred feet on across to the trail in the canyon bottom. Follow the trail left (south) past the boundary fence and gate (0.4 miles) and the BLM barricade (another 0.5 miles). Then it is 1.4 miles to the trailhead.

Return via Rocky Juniper Trail: To return via the Rocky Juniper Trail note the east/west boundary fence visible on the north slope of the rocky topped hill to the south of The Junction (see photo #3). Without climbing too high (unless you feel energetic) follow the red arrow (see photo #3) to the south and contour left (east) around the rocky topped hill. Eventually cross the boundary fence in the juniper forest. (There is another north/south fence only on the south (BLM) side of the east/west fence. You want to be on the east side of it.)
Look for a second, smaller rocky topped hill southeast of the first and largest. Go to the saddle right (west) of this second hill (see photo #4). You will probably need to climb a little to the “saddle” which is described in the Rocky Juniper trail guide. From the saddle simply follow primitive trails south to the trailhead on Horse Haven Road.

#3 The Junction and the rocky-topped hill as seen looking south. White arrows mark USFS/BLM fence line. Note the second rocky-topped hill behind and to the left. The saddle is just right (west) of the second hill. #3 The Junction and the rocky-topped hill as seen looking south. White arrows mark USFS/BLM fence line. Note the second rocky-topped hill behind and to the left. The saddle is just right (west) of the second hill.
#4 The saddle just to the west of the second rocky-topped hill as seen from the north. Note the trail from the foreground to the saddle. #4 The saddle just to the west of the second rocky-topped hill as seen from the north. Note the trail from the foreground to the saddle.


Getting back to your car:
It is an easy 1 mile walk on Horse Haven Road between the Big Sky and Rocky Juniper trailheads.
It is two miles between the Bear Canyon and Rocky Juniper trailheads. Follow the (not motor legal) two-track route paralleling and about 1,000 feet north of Helt Road along the base of the mountain. (See the black double dashed line on the map.)
It is three miles between the Big Sky to Bear Canyon trailheads. Consider a car shuttle.


Return to Hiking in the Pryors page.

This is also the East Rim Viewpoint described in the Bear Canyon Creek trail guide.
BLM has proposed designation of these trails in the Billings Area Resource Management Plan and so may soon (?) sign and do some trail maintenance on the BLM parts of the trails. We hope the Custer-Gallatin NF will do so in the not too distant future. Then these complex instructions will be unnecessary.