Porphyry – Kings Hill Scenic Byway, Montana

The United States has 120 National Scenic Byways – sections of road that pass through an area of significance, be it scenic, natural, cultural, historical, archeological, or recreational. The Kings Hill Scenic Byway is one such road. Notable for its scenery, nature, history, and recreational opportunities, it has been dubbed a Scenic Byway by the state of Montana. This 71-mile stretch of US Highway 89 travels through the Little Belt Mountains between junctions with US Highway 12 and US Highway 87.

It took us an hour and a half to get to the southern terminus of the Byway, just outside the small town of White Sulfur Springs, so this was more of a driving day than a hiking day for us. To drive the length of the Byway takes about two hours, not including stops – of which there are many. We stopped first at a picnic area along Newlan Creek, where we saw a tiny frog and lots of wildflowers!

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Newlan Creek – Kings Hill Scenic Byway, MT
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Frog in Newlan Creek – Kings Hill Scenic Byway, MT
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Wild geranium – Kings Hill Scenic Byway, MT
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Butterfly! – Kings Hill Scenic Byway, MT

The high point of the road is Kings Hill Pass, which tops out at almost 7,400 feet. From here, we were able to climb up to the top of the Porphyry Peak Lookout Tower for panoramic views of the surrounding Lewis and Clark National Forest.

Porphyry has to be one of the stranger words in the English language. Porphyry is actually a type of igneous rock that contains crystals of feldspar or quartz. Porphyry was also a Roman Philosopher.

So basically, it’s the Philosopher’s Stone, although I guess Harry Potter and the Porphyry isn’t quite as catchy of a book title.

Either way, it’s a weird word.

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Looking north from the Porphyry Peak Lookout Tower – Kings Hill Scenic Byway, MT
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Looking west from the Porphyry Peak Lookout Tower – Kings Hill Scenic Byway, MT
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Looking southwest from the Porphyry Peak Lookout Tower – Kings Hill Scenic Byway, MT

From the Kings Hill Summit, the road descends through the tiny towns of Neihart and Monarch. On the way, we stopped at Memorial Falls. There are actually two waterfalls here; the first is just a short walk from the parking area and the second is approximately 0.5 miles upstream. Both falls are on Belt Creek and each tumbles maybe 20 feet. Small but pretty.

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Belt Creek at Lower Memorial Falls – Kings Hill Scenic Byway, MT
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Monkeyflower near Upper Memorial Falls – Kings Hill Scenic Byway, MT

And finally, the Byway comes to an end at Sluice Boxes State Park. A sluice box is a long narrow box used for mining; in this case, the area is an old gold mine. Remnants of cabins and an old railway can also be found here. We didn’t actually have a chance to go down into the park, but took in the views of it from the overlook and spent some time cooling off in the waters of Belt Creek.

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Overlook of Sluice Boxes State Park, MT

Though it made for a long day, Kings Hill isn’t terribly far from my hometown, and I’m surprised we’d never driven it before. It’s an area I’d like to return to. Many gravel roads intersect the highway and lead back into the mountains, so there is still much to see.

It’s a good thing Pat didn’t grow up in the west, because now I have a really good excuse to make a return visit to all of these wonderful places!


The Important Stuff:

  • Getting there: the Byway is the 71-mile section of US Highway 89 between US Highway 12 near White Sulfur Springs, MT and US Highway 87 near Belt, MT
  • Fees and passes: none for driving the byway or parking at any of the pullouts or trailheads; fees for camping
  • Camping: there are many national forest campgrounds along the Byway
  • Hiking: there are many trails along the Byway
  • Other: Plan at least two hours to drive the length of the Byway, more in inclement weather. The road is open in winter but conditions are likely poor.
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