By J.B. Chandler
Somewhere high up in the Little Belt Mountains a little spring spurts out the start of Belt Creek. The path of the King’s Hill Scenic Byway follows this creek closely as it winds its way down and through the mountains, where it will eventually join the Missouri River.
As all good things should start with a waterfall, Belt Creek is like no other. After passing over King’s Hill Pass (and checking out the Showdown Ski Area at its peak) the trailhead for Memorial Falls is only a few miles north on the right. The short trail (less than half a mile) leads you to this amazing waterfall that nearly everybody, of all ages and hiking ability, can see and
enjoy. Continue up the pathway to witness a second waterfall just above the first.
Neihart is the mining town turned ski town that serves as the meeting point for all hikers, skiers, and snowboarders in the area. Specifically, Bob’s Bar is that meeting point. The large complex stores the bar, the restaurant, and the motel. The town fits snugly within the narrow Belt Creek Canyon, and you can imagine how difficult mining must have been without a railroad. Remains of the mines can still be seen today, north of town, as well as the many abandoned buildings from the mining era, including the Wu-Tang Laundry Building.
The final town we pass through before leaving the mountains is Monarch. She has a post office, the rural fire department, and the Cougar Canyon Bar and Grill. Get your drink and a bite to prepare you for the big outing of the day: Sluice Boxes State Park. Belt Creek winds its way through the narrow canyon walls. (It was named by gold pan handlers, so you can see why it’s called a Sluice Box.) Visit the ghost town of Albright and see the remains of the old railroad bridges, but be wary that during low water levels these railroad sections may be just below the water. Now even if you do not have a canoe, you can still enjoy this cliffs. A trailhead exists on the northwest side of the park, and you can visit many of these spectacular areas while on foot. Be prepared for the worst, but also be prepared to be blown away by the scenery of this area.
The first miners of Neihart had to drag the ore down from the mountainside, then pay for a mule to transport it to the river where the steamboat could take it to the processing plants far away to the east. Today, we can spend a whole day in the area and discover more treasures than those miners ever thought possible.