Elkhorn Mountains

Photo of Elkhorns Geographic Area

Elkhorn Wildlife Management Unit ~ Elkhorns Working Group -- This link will reroute to more details about the Elkhorns and the Working Group whose focus is on this special place!

The Elkhorn Mountains, roughly 300,000 acres in southwest Montana, is managed in partnership as the Elkhorn Cooperative Management Area (EMCA), where different agencies work together to manage the mountain range regardless of political boundaries. 

An important partnership--Elkhorns Working Group--formed, and remains strong today, and is centered around this unique mountain range. The Elkhorn Working Group (EWG) works with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, & Parks, the USDA Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management in the development of collaborative recommendations related to wildlife/livestock management strategies in the Elkhorns.

The Elkhorns Working Group was created in response to the Fish, Wildlife, & Parks Commission's request for review of elk/livestock management in the Elkhorns, and to assist the Helena National Forest and the Bureau of Land Management in their long range planning efforts. It is also the hope of these agencies that the EWG will be a catalyst for self-sustaining, local responsibility for problem solving in the Elkhorns. Find EWG on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/EWGInfo.

The Elkhorns Geographic Area encompasses the Elkhorn Mountains in Broadwater and Jefferson counties and includes the small mining town of Elkhorn. The nearest population center is Helena, Montana. Many smaller communities also have intimate relationships with the geographic area: Montana City, Clancy, Alhambra, Jefferson City, Boulder, Radersburg, Townsend, Winston, and East Helena. The Elkhorns are surrounded by the Divide Mountains and Boulder Batholith on the west, and the Missouri and Boulder River valleys on the north, east, and, south. The form of the Elkhorn Mountains is rounded and furrowed from extensive weathering. High points are prominent from background northwest, west, and southwest perspectives but cryptic from other vantages. Drainages have carved steep gulches and canyons. The majority of the Elkhorns (north, west, southwest) is a part of a batholith. This geologic history has left the area rich in minerals. Evidence of glaciation is localized as boulder strewn areas of granitic rocks. The remaining approximate quarter (southwest) of the geographic area is underlain by sedimentary rock that lacks the same mineralization as the batholith but is rich in calcareous rock. The landforms are rugged, low mountains with hogback ridges and dry valleys.

The plant communities on the batholith portion are mostly forested with conifers. Aspen stands and water-loving plants take advantage of riparian areas and wet seeps. Parks, rich with grasses and forbs, are frequent at lower elevations and break up the forest in montane elevations. A large expanse of this GA burned in 1988. The sedimentary geologic area in the east is a gradient of foothill prairie and partially forested low mountains. Grassland is a major component. Limber pine and juniper woodland ebb and flow with the prairie relative to disturbances.

The western side of the geographic area is generally wetter than the eastern side. The entire landmass is drained by many perennial and intermittent creeks. All flow to the Missouri River, some via the Boulder and Jefferson Rivers. The basins around Elkhorn and Crow Peaks harbor high elevation lakes such as Hidden Lake, Tizer Lakes, Leslie Lake, and Glenwood Lake. Crow Creek plummets over an impressive falls. Springs are important water features in the more arid eastern sections.

The Elkhorn Geographic Area has been occupied by human inhabitants for thousands of years. However, prehistoric occupation is less evident than the more recent Euro-American settlement. After the discovery of valuable mineral deposits, mines and associated settlements sprang up in portions of the geographic area. The ghost town of Elkhorn is a good example of this era. Other communities have all but disappeared, such as Queen, Eagle City, Gold Dust, and Sourdough. Remnant tools and infrastructure of the mining era are found throughout the geographic area. Eagle and Tizer Guard stations are living reminders of Forest Service administration. Fire has historically has been a major influence to plant communities.

Due to the rich wildlife habitats throughout the mountain range, the Elkhorns were designated a Wildlife Management Unit in 1986, the first of its kind in the nation. Collaborative groups composed of federal, state, and private land holders work toward habitat restoration and interpretation of the area’s history.

There are numerous trailheads and dispersed recreation opportunities throughout the Elkhorns, including dispersed nonmotorized trails and dispersed camping areas, and the area is used extensively by hunters in the big game rifle season.