Highwood Mountains

Photo of Highwoods Geographic Area

The Highwoods Geographic Area is the smallest of the geographic areas within the plan area and encompasses the Highwood Mountains. This isolated island range is located within Cascade, Chouteau, and Judith Basin counties. This geographic area is the closest National Forest System land to Great Falls. The landmass rises up from the confluence of multiple grassland types: foothill grasslands, semi-arid prairie, Missouri Breaks, and unglaciated high plains. All of these types share basic common traits but are slightly different and collectively set the stage for the Highwood’s unique setting.

The Highwoods have a long history of grazing. It provides an abundance of grass and reliable sources of water. Historic Highwood and Shonkin Cow Camps are reminders of this heritage. Highwood Guard Station continues to greet visitors as they enter the forest at the North Fork of Highwood Creek.

The Highwoods mountain range is of volcanic origin and contains geologic formations that are a mix of igneous and sedimentary rocks. The mountains have been weathered over time by natural processes, rendering them rolling and furrowed in form. The mountains are bisected by Highwood Creek. Slopes are moderately steep. North facing aspects are considerably wetter than less vegetated, rocky, south facing slopes. Here, a characterizing landform is the coulee, which is from the French word meaning “to flow”. Some are predominantly grassy and others harbor woody plants. Some are intermittent and others have perennial flows.

A dense stream network has dissected the mountains, creating numerous folds in the topography. Riparian areas are rich with willow, dogwood, water birch, cottonwood and other water-loving plants.
The land cover of this GA is a mosaic of conifers, deciduous trees, grass, and rock. Large aspen stands intergrade with rich prairie and dense pine forest. Woodland, forest, and prairie ebb and flow into one another. Fire was historically the main determinant of vegetative cover.

Recreation access to the Highwoods is somewhat limited. There is one small developed campground, Thain Creek Campground, and a developed trailhead in North Fork Highwood Creek. These developed sites provide access points for the many single track trails that traverse the Highwoods. These trails are used extensively by motorcycle users as well as by hikers and horseback riders.