The Crazy Mountains are our top concern and Montana’s most endangered public land access point due to the sheer number of trails that are inaccessible to the public. Blocked trails compounded with the checkerboard nature of land ownership has severely restricted public access into this premier landscape.
The Crazy Mountains rise from the plains northeast of Livingston and are a stunning, wildlife-rich mountain range in the Custer-Gallatin National Forest. The range is relatively close to major population centers including Bozeman, Billings and Livingston, and yet offers only limited recreational opportunity due to ongoing access conflicts.
The checkerboarded ownership of the Crazy Mountains has historically created public access challenges, but in recent years, several long-standing public trails have been blocked. Public access controversy came to a head in 2016, when a Bozeman hunter was cited for using Trail 136, off of Big Timber Creek. Although the public has hiked and hunted from the trail for decades, a landowner blocked access and law enforcement cited the hunter for trespassing. Four additional trails that were historically open for public access are also now inaccessible in the Crazy Mountains, including Trail 122 (Sweet Grass Creek) on the east side of the range; Trail 43 (Swamp Creek) on the southeast corner; and the Lowline and Elk Creek trails on the west side. Taken together, the closure of these trails makes accessing this range extremely difficult.
The controversy over access into the Crazies recently made headlines when the district U.S. Forest Service ranger in Livingston was reassigned to another post after seeking to solve these issues. Months later, the ranger resumed his job after an internal agency investigation, but the issue of public access to the Crazies persists.
This extremely limited access prohibits many families from hiking, viewing wildlife, and biking in this special place. The lack of public access creates severe problems managing the elk herd in the range as well. The official Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks management objective population for Hunting District 580, on the east side of the range, is 975 elk; currently the herd stands at more than 4,800 elk.
A broad coalition of hunters, landowners, hikers, mountain bikers and other recreationists are working together to improve access into the Crazy Mountains. The group is working to establish historic public access routes and regain access to them.
In addition, a working group that includes hunters, area landowners and conservation groups is looking at various land trades to improve access into the Crazies. These are long-term efforts meant to consolidate public and private lands and improve access.