Snowy Mountain Range
The Snowies is the farthest east geographic area within the HLC NFs plan area. It is primarily in Fergus County with smaller portions in Golden Valley County. Lewistown is the largest nearby population center. The geographic area includes both the Big and Little Snowy Mountain ranges. The Snowies display prominent changes in elevation accentuated by surrounding grassland, high plains, and foothill savanna.
The Little Snowy Mountain range has a rich cultural history, beginning with first peoples then homesteading. Today, large ranches maintain the open character of the area. Pine Grove Cemetery continues to be the final resting place for early Euro-American occupants. The Little Snowies are separated from the Big Snowies by a subtle break in topography. It is characterized by foothills that are partially forested with mostly ponderosa pine. In general, the country is semi-arid and dominated by grassy vegetation. Landform is rolling with slopes that are gentle to flat, except where creeks have dissected them. The area lacks prominent high points. Creeks within the Little Snowies are small and often run dry during the summer months. The major drainages are Willow Creek and the North Fork of Pole Creek, both of which drain south to the Musselshell River.
There are no developed sites within the Little Snowies but the area is used for dispersed recreation opportunities such as hunting, camping, and some wildlife viewing. The area is known for its wild turkey populations.
The Big Snowy Mountains have long been a unique and revered destination. Early first people visited its basins and summits. Their artifacts and art still sporadically adorn the range. Lower slopes and foothills were homesteaded and have become large, iconic ranches. Unique, biophysical phenomena, such as ice caves, continue to attract intrepid visitors. Crystal Lake Guard station still actively facilitates Forest Service stewardship.
The Big Snowies are higher in elevation and larger in size than the Little Snowies range. The spine of the dominant landform runs east-west for approximately 25 miles, and 10 miles north-south. Middle elevations are clad with coniferous trees. At the highest elevations, the forest transitions into a tree-less plateau of alpine that is characterized by rock and tundra. Slopes vary from steep rocky canyons to gentle benches.
Streams flowing out of the north side of the Big Snowies flow into the Judith River. Those flowing out of the south side flow into the Musselshell River. Many streams originate in steep-walled, amphitheater-like basins and emerge out through canyons. The climate and porous limestone imbues a dry character to the range.Crystal Lake is one of the Big Snowies’ crown jewels. It is a shallow lake of natural origin, roughly 15 feet at its deepest and underlain by a bed of limestone. There are a number of developed recreation sites along Crystal Lake including a campground, day use areas, boat launch, trailhead, and cabin rental. Several dispersed trails take off from this location and provide access to interesting interpretive points such as the Ice Caves which are located within the GA. The geographic areas karst topography conceals many caves. Floristically, the Big Snowies are unique with many vegetation types compressed into the same area. Fire was the historic driver of plant communities.