With Mosquitos Gone, This is Montana’s Best Family Adventure
Southwest Montana offers some of the state's biggest country and biggest adventures.
But it also has the biggest mosquitos, and that can make an outing miserable. Especially if you're head down, looking for treasures.
That's why there's one adventure I recommend you don't even try until the weather turns cold. And that makes it one of the best all-day family adventures you can share in Western Montana.
All that glitters isn't gold. Or silver.
While this location is just up the road from the rich gold strike at Bannack, on Grasshopper Creek, and just over the hill from one of the state's most productive silver strikes, you won't be looking for precious metal.
This adventure is all about the crystals. The Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest allows individuals to dig for quartz crystals at the Crystal Park Picnic and Mineral Collection Area. While they can be found sporadically throughout the Northern Rockies where there has been geothermal activity or with igneous rocks, this 220-acre, hilly site has a concentration that's made it popular with generations of rockhounds.
The crystals are six-sided prisms and can be tiny, barely the size of your fingernail, or up to several inches in length. Most you'll find are gray, or a cloudy white. But occasionally someone will find a "purple", the amethyst that gets everyone excited.
You won't get rich doing this. But it's a tremendous amount of fun, and the kids love taking their own crystals home as collector's items, and if they're handy, turning them into pendants and rings, or for proud display in their room.
Tunneling is banned, and you need to keep from digging around trees with other rules listed on signs and search only in designated areas. Hand tools are allowed, and it's best if everyone in the party has a small garden trowel or "fork" with a small camp-sized half shovel handy for a group.
There's no water on the hill, but it's available seasonally from one of the old-fashioned "pump wells" at the trailhead (the kids love that too), where there's also a picnic area and restrooms. Keep an eye on small children, since the holes that dot the hillside can be a bit hazardous.
Watch the weather
While late-season digging is best to avoid the mosquitos and black flies, plan for the weather. The park is at 7,800 feet and can change quickly so have plenty of warm clothes along and be ready for a fast retreat.
Crystal Park is open until the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway closes for the season, usually by mid-to-late October. There is a $5 fee per person for adults, but kids 10 and under are free. If you'd like to break up the drive, there are several camping options along the Byway in season.