Every year local rock climbers "lose" some of the most popular routes in Western Montana. But it's all about keeping some peace and quiet for local birds of prey.

The Mill Creek Canyon north of Hamilton on the Bitterroot Mountain Front includes some of the best climbing routes in West Central Montana and is also a popular destination for hikers and horseback riders.

But this time of the year is also critical for nesting raptors to keep from being disturbed.

So, on February 1st of every year, the Stevensville Ranger District closes several climbing routes to protect the known nesting sites. On the north side of Mill Creek, the closure will be the same as 2022 and includes the "Pie for Strength" area.

Winter Ramos; Bitterroot National Forest photo
Winter Ramos; Bitterroot National Forest photo

The closure also includes the cliffs on the south side of the canyon, where Bitterroot National Forest says there are additional nests. Maps outlining the specific closures are posted at the trailheads and are also available for viewing on the BNF website.

Biologists will visit the areas later in the spring to see if the eagles and other raptors have left, or if the nests are unused this year. If that's the case, the climbing restrictions are lifted.

Climbers are also reminded to "self-police" and regulate their use, following guidelines like "Leave No Trace" and packing out trash and other waste.

On a longer timeframe, Bitterroot National Forest managers are still developing an overall Climbing Management Plan for the routes along the Bitterroot Front. That process started in 2021.

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