Crown Mountain is a prominent, cliff-lined peak forming a portion of the southern Rocky Mountain Front on the eastern edge of Montana's Sawtooth Range. A solid day hike, Crown Mountain offers an interesting mix of scenic trail through lush woods opening into scenic vistas into the Bob Marshal Wilderness, capped by a rock-and-scree scramble to the peak's signature cliffy summit ridge.
Distance to the summit is about 4 miles, with an elevation gain of 2700 feet.
The road in.
From Augusta, take the gravel Benchmark Road (No. 235) west for about 20 miles to the Crown Mountain trailhead (No. 270). Enjoy great views of the Front from the spiny teeth of Sawtooth Ridge to the north to the spectacular, isolated cone of Haystack Butte just to the south, with Crown Mountain itself straight ahead.
From the trailhead, follow Trail 270 for a bit more than 3 miles as it gradually ascends through timber with open views to ridges and peaks to your right and the mighty cliffs of Crown Mountain itself ahead. The trail will lead toward the left ridge line of Crown for some time, and you'll see Whitewater Falls tumble photogenically down the north wall of the draw on the right. Eventually the trail will veer to the left as it skirts a wooded 7000' knob, and Crown's cliffs will disappear from sight. Great views to the southeast will open up, and as the trail turns back to the east Crown Mountain will reappear into view.
Crown Mountain in mist.
Soon the scree-swept lower flanks of the peak will draw near, with impressive cliffs above, and the trail will curve south and west around them. A little beyond the 3-mile mark the Petty Creek trail will merge in from the left, and soon the trail will rise above tree line and make a rocky ascent to the pass south of Crown Mountain. Once at this pass, the climb north up the peak begins.
Crown Mountain's south face is a great basin of scree and firmer ledges bisected by a gradual central gully, with the summit at the top of the left-hand side of the basin. A direct climb to the peak could be made from the pass, but will likely be fairly tiring over the open scree. Study the basin, however, for a quick route down on the return. A better way up is to ascend toward the right, as close to the south end of the southwest cliffs as is reasonable. Follow up the cliffs' terminal ridge, reaching a shoulder above a small spur ridge that runs back toward the southeast. Enjoy the view east to the solitary peak of Haystack Butte on the prairie, with Shaw, Square, and Crown Buttes looming farther beyond toward the horizon near Great Falls.
Haystack Butte on the plains to the east.
Continue up, keeping to the left of the cliffs until you're above them, then angle to the right. As you gain the sloping shoulder of the eastern side of the peak, you can choose a path to your liking, aiming north for the summit ridge. A rounded north-south ridge will follow you to your left, and if you like you can angle up it to get better views to the west as you climb. Since you're going this way, you might as well bag the false (eastern) summit for your first views over the steep northern cliffs. The view will open up tremendously as you reach it, offering 360-degree panoramas of the Front, the Bob to the west, and the Great Plains to the east.
The ridge walk west to the summit.
It may look from here that you're on top, but a close examination along the summit ridge to the west confirms that the next hump is higher. It looks like a long slog at first, losing and regaining elevation, but in fact it only takes about 15 minutes to cross over and stand atop Crown Mountain's true peak. Views are as good as or better than from the false summit, with the amazing sea of peaks comprised in the panorama from north to south. Sawtooth Ridge's humps can now be seen from the back side, and the line of summits forming the Rocky Mountain Front sweep away to the north. Dozens of ridges and peaks litter the view north, west, and south, and the prairie fills the eastern half of the horizon with the usual haze from farming and forest fires suspended above it. The best view is probably straight down, as the jumble of cliffs drops away abruptly, dotted with spires and keyholes eroded from the main face. On a sunny but reasonably cool day this is a pleasant summit to reach.
The same route can be retraced to avoid navigational errors, but a good alternative is to drop directly to the south down the large scree face to return to the pass. The route should be obvious, but as with any downclimb use caution to make sure you don't wind up above cliffs or off-route into dead ends or "long-cuts." Via either route, once you're back at the pass just follow the trail back to your car.
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