Located in Montana, just south of the Wyoming border, The Pryor Mountains are one of the most geologically unique landscapes in the United States. Comprised of many habitats from alpine prairie to arid desert, riparian woodland, and limestone canyons, these mountains remain a nature lover’s haven.
The Pryor Mountains has been home to human occupation for more than 10,000 years according to archaeological evidence. Native Americans consider the mountains to be sacred and the Crow people continue their use of the mountains as sacred lands to this day.
Europeans did not begin their usage of the mountains until just over 200 years ago, when trappers and explorers beginning with the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1805 passed through the mountains. The Pryor Mountains got their current name from Sergeant Nathaniel Pryor, a member of that expedition. Soon after, thousands of people began using the Bozeman trail to travel through the Pryors in the 1860’s.
The Pryor Mountains were also the site of many homesteads in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Many remnants of these properties are still intact in the mountains. There are also many archaeological sites in the mountains that are protected by federal and local laws which are heavily enforced. Many cameras are in the area that are activated by movement and record.
The landscape of The Pryor Mountains is unique in Montana and created an island in the middle of vast prairie that was formed from the erosion of limestone rather than glacier carved granite as most of the nearby mountain ranges in the area were. The sub-alpine prairie plateaus peak at nearly 9,000 feet elevation on the south and west slopes while the north and east drop thousands of feet into arid desert landscape.
Within 10 miles the landscape changes from a desert climate with less than 5 inches of rain per year to lush forests of douglas fir trees and subalpine meadows with habitats that include sagebrush, woodlands, and over 1,000 species of plants, many of which are rare and endangered. 40% of the plant species that grow in the state can be found in The Pryor Mountains, including Pryor Mountain Bladderpod which is only found in the Pryors.
The Pryor Mountains are also home to a plethora of wildlife from bighorn sheep, black bear, butterflies, birds, mountain lions, predatory birds such as peregrine falcons and eagles, and ten different bat species. There are over 200 different species of animals that Audubon groups venture into catalogue every year including the pure strains of Yellowstone cutthroat trout. There are 5 known species of snakes that have been identified in the mountains—Bull snake, garter snake, rattlesnake, eastern racer, and milk snake.
In the spring into early fall the landscape becomes a colorful oasis of wildflowers such as pink bitterroot, purple shooting stars, dark blue larkspur, a variety of paintbrushes, lilies, yucca, penstemon, phlox, forget-me-nots, asters, and many others.
Most areas of The Pryor Mountains are open to the public. Areas that are not, such as those under archaeological or geological survey will be visibly noted with signage and/or fencing. Cameras and law enforcement strictly enforce the regulations for visitors accessing and using the mountains for camping and hiking.
Pryor Mountain Road Driving Tour- the primary motorized access into Pryor Mountains on the North side is through a scenic drive that takes visitors through Pryor Mountain Road and the only developed areas of the mountain—Sage Creek Campground and Big Ice Cave Picnic Area. There are caves and trails also accessible from different points on this road which is also signed as Route #2308. Visitors should be aware that this is not an all weather road and is mostly gravel and can be quite rough and sometimes muddy. SUVs are the preferred vehicle to travel this path.
Hiking- Most of the public land in The Pryor Mountains is accessible through Custer National Forest. Unfortunately, there are no signed trailheads or marked trails; however, the Pryors Coalition has provided detailed hiking guides through their website to help navigate the many trails with both driving and hiking directions through the mountains. Many of the hikes are several miles long and offer amazing views of the many ecological habits, archaeological sites and Crow Reservation.
Camping- The only developed campground is the USFS Sage Creek Campground on the North Side. There are 10 campsites with two toilets and drinking water. Primitive camping is allowed as long as you follow no-trace regulations. Backpacking is allowed, but be aware, water is scarce in many areas of the mountains. website
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