The McKelvey Lake Trail is also known by some as North Meadow Creek Road. This, though the last section of the road going to the lakes is actually the New Deal Mine Road and the last Lake is Cliff Lake. It is a tough trail but also ends at some beautiful lakes with amazing fishing. Mountain Goats and Eagles are commonly seen at the trail’s end. Do not mistake this very scenic trail for being JUST scenic.
About the trail:
This is considered by many to be the toughest natural trail in Montana. We rate it a Class 4 Trail. ~ “Class 4: Novice drivers and stock 4x4s beware. Potentially dangerous situations are not uncommon. Extra ground clearance, low gears, and minimum tire size of 33 inches highly recommended. Rear lockers or limited slips, winches, and jacks advised due to moderate to large rocks and obstacles. Vehicle damage is very possible. Full-size vehicles should be very cautious at this trail rating.”
I advise novice wheelers and those in stock vehicles to beware. NEVER do this trail alone. Think of this trail as one 4 1/2 mile long obstacle. The trail is rough from the first 50 feet out of the trailhead with only a few easy spots over the entire length. Rocker protection (sliders) is highly recommended.
This trail is open seasonally from April 1st until December 31st. However, snow usually make this trip impossible until July.
Fun fact: The Norris Gas Station is at 4,750 ft, the trailhead at 7,100 ft and the end of the trail is just under 9,000 ft elevation. Snow can be a real hazard for much of the year.
How to get there:
The town of Norris is at the intersection of HWYs US-287 & MT-84. This is our starting point. (FYI: From the Norris Gas Station to the trailhead is 15.3 miles.)
From the Norris Gas Station, take Sterling Road heading west. After 3.2 miles (and just before the remains of the town of Sterling) Sterling Road takes a left turn. Sterling Road eventually becomes Warm Spring Creek Road.
From the left turn at Sterling, go about 4.7 miles to the intersection with North Meadow Creek Road. Go right (west) here on north Meadow Creek Road. The trail head is 6.6 miles further. North Meadow Creek Road will also become FS Road 160. At the next intersection (fork), FS Road 160 forks to the right (to the Sureshot Lakes) and FS 965 (North Meadow Creek Road) goes to the left and toward our destination. So go left.
From trailhead to Mine Lake (end of trail) is just 4.2 miles, but it is going to feel like a lot more.
From the trailhead, just follow the road, initially going west. This trail does not lull anyone into thinking it will be easy. It gets tough right from the first 50 feet of trail.
At the next intersection, which is North Meadow Creek Road-FSR 965 and New Deal Mine Road-FSR 965b, take the left fork onto the New Deal Mine Road-FSR 965b. (FYI: the right fork goes to Twin Lakes) This fork will be about 2 miles from the trailhead,
After you get to McKelvey Lake, the road changes from New Deal Mine Road-FSR 965b to FSR 6366. FSR 6366 goes to Mine & Cliff Lakes, but is open to full sized rigs only to Mine Lake, then it is ATV only for the last 1/2 mile to Cliff Lake.
A Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM) is available for this area. You can download it here: **CLICK HERE**
By Richard Hiltz
NOTE: We are simply describing a 4x4 route. We accept no responsibility for your decisions. 4x4 off-roading can be great fun but it can also be dangerous. People can get hurt and vehicles can get stuck and/or damaged. Trail conditions can, do, and will, change at any time. Road conditions may no longer be accurately reflected in this or any trail description. Only you can decide what trails or obstacles your experiance and vehicle can safely navigate. When in doubt, turn around. Wheel Safe!!