Judith Peak - Montana Mountain Project

Picturesque summit?
When I first starting scheming about the Montana Mountain Project back in the good old days of 2015, I plotted all the mountain ranges on a map and spent many meals dripping spaghetti sauce on topos while following little dotted lines with tines of a fork. I quickly noticed that many of the range high points had more than just dotted lines near their summits; they had solid, road-looking lines. Some of the ranges I could drive to the highest peak.

I was, and still am to some extent, conflicted. If I drive to the top does it still count as reaching the high point of the range? I have lost little to no sleep debating this question, but I can say with certainty that yes, I can count it. It's my project and I can do what I want. But also, after my experience in the Judith Mountains, and especially the North and South Moccasins the next day (another story for another blogpost), I learned that sometimes driving can be more of an adventure than a hike.
Running a lap on top to prove to Strava I was there

The same evening we summitted Greathouse and Old Baldy Sara and I drove into the Judith Mountains on the north edge of Lewistown. Our initial plan was to camp and then head up Judith Peak the next morning, but as we got closer the sky closed in and a fierce rain began flying through the canyon we were driving. Our motivation for car camping quickly ebbed, especially since Sara's dry apartment was only 30 minutes away.
Hiking in Lime Kiln Canyon

So we drove to the top then went home.

But that's not the only story of the Judith's. When I dropped off Sara in Lewistown three weeks prior, we spent a few hours hiking in the southern end of the range. It was here that I first realized Lewistown is much more than muddy roads, cloudy skies, and allergenic crop dust blowing in the wind. There are some pretty great trails not far from town.

Limited view from the summit
While randomly driving around town we stumbled across a road that led up Lime Kiln Canyon to a beautiful single track trail. Similar to the Smokejumper Trail in Missoula, it ascended around 1500' in a couple miles and ended with a view overlooking the town. From here we could easily see into the Big Snowies, Moccassins, and across the prairies into the Little Belts and Highwoods near Great Falls. As first-time visitors to Central Montana, the trail up Lime Kiln Canyon provided a great geographical orientation of the surrounding area.

The southern hills of the Judiths were home to the largest cattle ranch in Central Montana in the late 1800's, the DHS ranch. But in the mountains nearer to the high point of Judith Peak, gold ruled (for a short time). Today two semi-ghost towns, Maiden and Gilt Edge are reminders of the riches that were once found abundantly enough to attract settlers. There are still a few die-hards scouring for worthwhile minerals, but the main industry is limited to four hooves.

Little black bear on the drive out
The Judith's are a relatively small range, but with trails in near proximity to Lewistown, and more mountain bike and atv trails tucked farther back among the peaks, there is still plenty to do. Even a quick drive to radio towers on top of Judith Peak can be an adventure if you let it.