Meriwether Canyon Trail (253) is a scenic trail leading into the 28,560-acre Gates of the Mountains Wilderness Area. The trail begins at Meriwether Picnic Area, a popular picnic site on the Missouri River with a picnic shelter, fire grills, toilets, and potable water. You can hike into Meriwether Picnic Area via Mann Gulch, or you can access it by boat.The Picnic Area marks the site where Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery camped over two centuries ago on July 19, 1805. They set up camp here after their passage through the Gates of the Mountains, magnificent 1,200-foot limestone cliffs that create a narrow gorge through which the Missouri winds. Lewis' journal entry from July 19, 1805 describes the sight as "towering and projecting rocks" that "in many places seem ready to tumble in" on them. Meriwether Canyon Trail begins with a series of steep switchbacks for about 5 miles. At the top of these switchbacks the trails opens up to great views of Sacagawea Mountain and valley below. The trail continues for another mile, and at six miles, Meriwether Canyon Trail ends and you reach Trail Junction 252. From here, you can turn around and take the boat back at the Gates of the Mountains Boat Club or you can head toward Refrigerator Canyon. If you want to hike out Refrigerator Canyon, follow Trail 252 from the junction for about another 2 miles to Kennedy Springs. From there, it's one more mile to get onto Refrigerator Canyon Trail (259), and a mile after that you reach Bear Prairie. The trail levels out for several miles and then begins the descent down a series of switchbacks in a shady wooded area. The last quarter-mile leads into a narrow canyon with 200-foot limestone walls and out to the trailhead on Beaver Creek Road, 18 miles from Meriwether Picnic Area.PLAN AHEAD! Arrange to be picked up by boat at the Gates of the Mountains Boat Club if you are hiking into Meriwether Picnic Area from Refrigerator Canyon, or you can be dropped off at Meriwether Picnic Area and hike out toward Refrigerator Canyon. Boats runs several times daily and stop at Meriwether Picnic Area on the way up and on the way back. Call ahead for current schedules and prices at Gates of the Mountains Boat Tours (406) 458-5241 or visit the website at www.gatesofthemountains.com orcontact the Helena Forest Service for maps and brochures. Length: 6.0 miles. Moderate difficulty.Trail Begins: Upper Holter LakeTrail Ends: Trail Junction 252Area Maps: Helena National Forest Visitor Map Gates of the Mountains Wilderness and Recreation Area MapUSGS Map1: Upper Holter LakeUSGS Map2: Nelson Township 13N; Range 2W; Section 19
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