Overview: Limekiln trail climbs from mountain meadows through aspen and pine forests to a rocky outcrop with a stunning view, overlooking Lewistown and much of central Fergus County.
Distance and difficulty: According to trail signs and hiking time, the trail is just over 2.2 miles one way, or about 4.5 miles out and back. This trail is rated Intermediate due to the lengthy uphill grade (basically it is entirely uphill all the way to the overlook, with some rather steep sections). The trail climbs from 4,800 feet to approximately 5,400 feet in elevation. The trail itself is well-marked, easy to find and follow, and is mostly packed dirt. There is no water available on this hike; bring your own.
Directions: To reach the Limekiln trailhead, from First and Main in Lewistown travel east on U.S. 87 (Main Street) to Marcella Ave. Turn left onto Marcella, which starts out paved and becomes gravel a short distance later. Marcella becomes Rifle Range Road; continue for 3.3 miles. Turn right on Limekiln Road; the trailhead parking is 2.3 miles up Limekiln. You can also reach the trailhead by taking First Ave. (the truck bypass) to Highway 191. Turn right onto Hwy. 191 and travel 1.6 miles to Limekiln Road. Turn right onto Limekiln Road; travel 5.6 miles to the trailhead parking. This route is often in better condition than Rifle Range Road.
Trailhead: The trail takes off from a well-maintained parking area just below Judith Mountain Lodge. Look for the pole fence and BLM trail sign. The parking area has room for five or six vehicles; there is a vault toilet. Follow the trail signs out of the parking lot.
Description: The trail ambles alongside the south fork of Burnett Creek from the parking lot across two bridges to intersect the dirt road just below Judith Mountain Lodge. Turn right and hike up the road. The trail takes off to the right approximately one-fourth mile along the road.
The mostly dirt single-track trail cuts across a small meadow and enters the trees, and, from that point on, hikers will be walking through pine forests. Even on a bright summer day, most of the trail is under the shade of the tree canopy. Initially the trail climbs gently, meandering through areas of shrubs, berries and wildflowers. There are some short sections of rolling “ups and downs,” and then the trail begins to climb for real.
After about a mile the grade becomes steeper with some switch-backs and a few stretches in full sun. Although tree cover is dense most of the way, there is an occasional view out across Limekiln Canyon to the BLM logging roads on the opposite slopes, a good enough excuse to stop and catch one’s breath before climbing onward.
At 1.7 miles the trail splits. Take the right hand branch, following the signs to the Lewistown Overlook. From here the trail flattens out a bit, and, while still heading uphill, becomes less steep, passing through sunflower meadows. This section of the trail is great for butterfly watching, including yellow swallowtails.
At 2.2 miles the trail ends at a large outcrop of rock. The forest opens out here, affording a spectacular view of the city of Lewistown and surrounding countryside, all the way to the Snowy Mountains. The grain elevators in town, high school and taller downtown buildings are clearly visible. Those with binoculars may be able to pick out their own house rooftop. This is a great place for a snack or lunch break.
The return leg of the hike goes rapidly, being all downhill. Besides a great view, this trail also offers a nice compendium of Central Montana nature. Wildflowers such as bee balm, yarrow, tiger lilies, lupine and bluebells of Scotland add color in the spring and early summer; maples and aspens complete the palette in the fall.
Listen for the melodic cry of the hermit thrush or the drumming of a hairy woodpecker. Chipmunks and squirrels play around and in the trees. Being close to town, you will usually encounter other hikers along the route. Take your camera to capture the view from the top.
Please note: While every effort has been made to guarantee accuracy in trail descriptions, errors in recording mileage and trail conditions can occur. Also changes occur on the land; some descriptions that were accurate when written may be inaccurate later. One storm, for example can block a road or trail. The responsibility for safety while hiking is that of the user.
Ratings: Hikes are rated as beginning, intermediate and advanced. Beginning hikes are those which are mostly flat or with only short stretches of steep grades, and with well-marked, easy to follow trails. Intermediate hikes are those with very steep or long grades, or with trail surfaces which are somewhat unstable. Advanced trails are those with steep, or very unstable trails, those that require some climbing or those which are not well-marked or which contain stretches of off-trail hiking. None of these hikes requires technical climbing. Hikers should adjust these ratings for their own fitness and experience levels.