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Birch Creek Recreation

Birch Creek Recreation


National Forest surrounds Birch Creek Center on all sides and the opportunities for outdoor activities are virtually endless. These are a few activities that our guests have requested information about in the past. If you have questions about the availability of other activities, contact us and we will research your interests. 

Hiking in the Birch Creek Area

Birch Creek Center has 3 established hiking trails on campus totaling over four miles in distance. Hiking is moderate to easy and the trails meander through forest, rangeland, local streams and several ponds. The area directly bordering the Birch Creek drainage offers endless scenic hikes with high mountain lakes and streams, geological wonders, an abundance of wildlife, and endless Montana splendor at every turn. There are several established trails in the area with moderate to difficult hiking. Birch Creek Center has a topographic map display on-site for reference purposes. Those who wish to hike "off the beaten path" can make arrangements to attain proper maps prior to their visit. 

Biking in the Birch Creek Area

The gravel road to Birch Creek Center offers over 15 miles of touring. Bikers will often encounter "washboard" conditions on Birch Creek Road, so a proper bicycle and safety gear is strongly recommended. Several established trails in the area are wide enough for a bike and the terrain will present a challenge to the seasoned mountain biker. 


Fishing in the Birch Creek Area

Birch Creek and Thief Creek border the campus of Birch Creek Center and both streams hold lots of small Brook and Cutthroat Trout. There are many other mountain lakes and streams which hold an abundance of Rainbow, Brook, Cutthroat Trout, and Arctic Grayling. Birch Creek Center is also about 30 minutes from two world class blue ribbon trout streams: the Beaverhead River and the Big Hole River. Additionally, there are plenty of private waters within a short drive from the center and endless fishing throughout Southwestern Montana. Contact us for more information and we can send you in the right direction. 


Other Recreational Opportunities

There is a plethora of opportunity for adventure in the area around Birch Creek Center. The mountains that serve as the backdrop for the Center typically hold large snowfields well into June. Skiers and snowboarders have been known to hit the south face of Torrey Mountain in late July. Humbug Spires Wilderness Study Area offers all levels of rock climbing and is a 20-minute drive from Birch Creek Center. Contact Birch Creek Center for information about adventure programming. 

Recreational Areas and Equipment

  • Horseshoe pits & horseshoes
  • Hiking Trails
  • Volleyball court & volleyball
  • Playing Field
  • Basketball court & basketball
  • Campfire Ring
  • Amphitheater
  • Ropes Course

Birch Creek Programs

Birch Creek Programs


Each year the Birch Creek Center operates, supports, or hosts numerous and various programs. From 1st graders discovering how trees grow so tall to grandparents fly-fishing with their grandchildren, the Birch Creek Center is where explorations as well as memories are made. 

K-12 School Programs

Continuing Programs

Each spring and fall, the Birch Creek Center hosts hundreds of school children from southwestern Montana to learn the ecology of streams, ponds, forests, and fire. In 1993 the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest and the University of Montana Western formed a partnership to enhance outdoor education opportunities at the Center. Through this partnership, a successful site-specific education program called Pioneering Discoveries allows 5-8 grade students the opportunity to conduct experiential, interdisciplinary studies of the native ecosystems at Birch Creek.

Low Ropes Challenge Course

Complementing a group’s visit to the Birch Creek Center is the Low Ropes Course. The Low Ropes Course consists of a series of elements and challenges that a group must work together to solve and overcome. An experienced facilitator provides guidance through a series of challenges including problem solving games and the use of elements made of trees, planks, ropes, and cables. The course is designed so that each individual must participate in order for the whole group to succeed. Teamwork, rather than athletic ability, is the key to success.

CassiemeetatreeStudents discovering the forest in a not-so usual wayMvc-JDclassftudents at the Annual Rural and Home School Day are introduced to the trees around Birch Creek by Forest Service personnel
Pioneering Discoveries utilizes the natural resources on site as a basis for learning about the environment. It provides a blueprint for conducting specialized studies for ponds, stream and riparian areas, forest, rangeland, nightlife, and geology. The curriculum guides students through a learning progression from discovery to investigation, data collection to analysis, and finally into application, or action, as a result of the learning experience. Furthermore, it leads pre- and post-field activities to prepare and extend the field experience into the classroom.  


Low Ropes Course

Through assistance from the Community Youth Initiative, U.S. Forest Service, and Americorps, an extensive low ropes course was added to the Birch Creek Center in 1999. The Low Ropes Course is used to develop team-building skills and to foster self-confidence. Groups are taken through the low ropes course by the Center's trained facilitators. Courses range from 3-8 hours depending on the focus and goals of the group. Groups utilizing the course are quite diverse. Some previous groups have included preschool teacher training groups, school groups, Montana Youth Challenge, and university freshman orientation. 

IMG 4193 Trust fall

Continuing Education

Various workshops, conferences and teacher trainings are conducted at the Birch Creek Center each year. State, federal and private groups utilize the Center’s remote location for specialized trainings.

rockA little rock work servicegroup Service Elderhostel group after restoring the historic "Captain's Cabin" and turning it into the only CCC museum in Montana

Geology Field Camps


Southwest Montana provides the ideal landscape for the study of geologic processes. Geology students come to Beaverhead County from all over the world to study this unique geologic environment. Geology in the area covers a spectrum of the geologic time scale from the Archean to the Quaterernary. The tectonic environments consist of extensional and compressional structures. The Block Mountain area is one of the best fold and thrust belt structures in the United States. The geology is well exposed, there is easy access to the field, there is minimal topographic relief and many of the map areas are located on public land.

geolimeGeology student studying the local limestone geolookGeology student 

Family Events

In addition to all of the educational programs at the Birch Creek Center, we also host relaxed and heartwarming family reunions and weddings. We can accommodate up to 80 people overnight and up to 200 for a daytime event. Most of our weddings take place at the outdoor "Amphitheater" followed by a reception around the deck of the Bender Conference Center with Torrey Mountain offering a picturesque backdrop.

Birch Creek Facilities

Birch Creek Facilities

Our staff takes pride in serving hearty, nutritious meals for groups of up to 100. Menus vary seasonally.  Meals are served in the Bender Center buffet style and may be eaten inside or outside on the deck. Sack lunches are always available in place of buffet meals. We are delighted to work with you to create the perfect meal to meet your specific needs and event themes. We are always willing to provide vegetarian and vegan meal options. The Birch Creek Center’s kitchen is not available for private use.

The Birch Creek Center participates in the Farm to College program in order to provide the freshest possible ingredients that are naturally grown or organically produced by grower’s right here in Montana. We use organic greens, vegetables, and fruits in our salad bar. When available, our beef is provided by Montana producers. Pork is provided by local growers and packaged to our specifications. Wheat Montana baked goods are featured.

Inside Bender Center    Lodgepole Dormitory

The Birch Creek Center’s comfortable, historically rustic accommodations are dormitory style with bunk or single beds. The dorms in the Bender Center are handicap accessible. Guests must bring their own sleeping bags, pillows, and personal toiletries.

Historic cabins are heated with wood stoves. Wood is provided, but it is the responsibility of the guests to light, supervise, and maintain the fires. Hot plates, cooking appliances, and food are not permitted in any lodging areas. A safe location for food storage will be provided.

Tenting is permitted at the 15 designated primitive campsites. No fires are permitted at the campsites, and all food items must be stored in a vehicle or in the Bender Center.

Groups are responsible for vacating and cleaning the cabins after breakfast on the final day of their program.

Bender Center: separate male and female bathrooms, showers. Handicap accessible.
Sleeping Capacity: 30

Lodgepole Cabin: one bathroom with shower.
Sleeping Capacity: 18

Ponderosa Cabin: one bathroom with shower.
Sleeping Capacity: 9

Cottonwood Cabin: one bathroom with shower.
Sleeping Capacity: 7

Aspen Cabin: one bathroom with shower.
Sleeping Capacity: 20

Inside Lodgepole Dormitory

Meeting & Classroom Facilities

Bender Center Spuhler 
Conf. Rm.
40 6 6 TV/VCR 
Emerick Art 
Classroom 25 4 4 Chalkboard 
Emerick Crafts 
Classroom 25 4 6 Chalkboard 
Rec Hall Classroom 
Lecture Hall
55 7 2 Chalkboard
Original Dining 
35 6 4 Bathroom
Block Hall Lecture Hall 80 13 8 Chalkboard

Group Size & Group Sharing of Facility

A maximum of 80 participants is accepted for overnight use and 150 participants for day use only. A minimum of 20 participants is required for booking the Center. Any group of 60 participants will have exclusive use of the Birch Creek Center to itself. A group less than 60 people will share the site with a compatible group. Under these circumstances facility use and meal times will be at the final discretion of the staff. Directions: Traveling on Interstate 15, turn west at Apex Exit 74, located 11 miles north of Dillon and 50 miles south of Butte. Drive 10 miles on the gravel Birch Creek Road. Turn left at the "Birch Creek Outdoor Education Center" sign, continue across the Birch Creek bridge, and straight up the hill.

Birch Creek History

History of Birch Creek

Birch Creek and surrounding area boasts a unique history. Click for more information: 

Civilian Conservation Corp - 1935

In 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), designed to provide people with jobs during the depression; while working on projects related to natural resources, such as forestry, soil erosion and flood control. Roosevelt exclaimed that "the enterprise will...conserve our precious natural resources and more important will be the moral and spiritual gains of such work". Men, ages 18 - 25, enlisted in the CCC for 6 months, and received food, clothing, shelter, and an allowance of $30/month, of which, $25 had to be sent directly home to their families. 

Construction of the Birch Creek CCC Camp commenced on April 25, 1935. By May 9, 1935, a company of 200 CCC workers, many from the east coast, were established at "Camp Birch Creek". With the exception of the Bender Center, these men built fifteen facilities at Birch Creek, eight of which are still intact. Under the direction of the US Forest Service, extensive projects were undertaken; including new road construction and reconstruction in the area, camp ground development, fire control, surveying, search and rescue, and the construction of telephone lines. 

In addition, the Birch Creek Camp emphasized educational programs for the resident young men. Classes taught at the camp included bookkeeping, forestry, shorthand, auto mechanics, math, Spanish, English, black smithing, carpentry, song class, road location and surveying and numerous others. The CCC crew remained at Camp Birch Creek until 1941. In 1942, the national Corps was dissolved. The Birch Creek site is presently on the National Register of Historic Places and is operated by The University of Montana - Western. 

Farlin - 1875

The discovery of gold at Grasshopper Creek near Bannack, as well as the discovery in the drainage near Virginia City and Nevada City got the miners excited and they began prospecting in other areas to find gold. During the search for gold a prospector named J. A. Kline filed the first claim on Birch Creek on July 12, 1864. Kline called it the "O.K. Lode" which produced silver and copper. A few months later on December 11, 1864 O.D. Farlin discovered the Greenwich lode in the Birch Creek area, however, Farlin did not work the Greenwich lode until the late 1870's when he returned to the area with his brother William. It was 1875 when the Farlin brothers began to work the Greenwhich mine as well as a new claim, the Indian Queen Mine. Both mines produced silver and copper. It was at this time that the mining camp of Farlin came into existence. 

The Utah and Northern Railroad laid track to present day Dillon and later to Butte bringing an influx of money seekers to this area. In conjunction with the mining boom (Bannack and Virginia City), the cattle business thrived feeding the hungry miners. A school was built in 1896 at the insistence of Kate E. Van Emon, the first teacher at the mining camp, and this encouraged mine workers to bring their families. 

In 1903 the "Birch Creek Copper and Smelting Co.," owned by Thomas Ellis, Tom Stephens and William Roberts, built a smelter to work the Indian Queen Mine. Smelters are used to separate the economic minerals from the waste rock. Twenty men were initially employed as the Indian Queen Mine developed. After the smelter was built, 12 miners worked inside the mine and the same amount of men processed the ore at the smelter. This number soon rose to 60 men working both the mine and the smelter. A mining camp sprung up next to the smelter to house the workers but quickly blossomed into the town of Farlin, with a population of 500 people. The Birch Creek Copper and Smelting Co. ran the smelter for only a short time, from 1903 to 1904. After the BCC&S Co. pulled out, the smelter changed hands many times and ran off and on until 1923. The smelter's overall production during this time was 22,907 total tons of mined ore. The ore yielded 1,729,404 pounds of copper, 42,219 ounces of silver, and 299 ounces of gold. 

Life during the boom years was good for the residents of Farlin. They had a general store which carried the basic necessities. The owner of the store always greeted his customers with a smile and liked to keep up on the "world news" as well as the gossip of the town. Behind the General store was the butcher shop that always had fresh meat. If the owner of the general store didn't have what his customers wanted, the customers could go to Apex, 4 miles east of Farlin, and send a telegraph to Butte for what they needed. The expected wait for an item was three days. Apex was the main source of communication from Farlin to the outside world because of the telegraph and the Oregon Shortline Railroad that passed right by it. 

The mail was brought by horse from Apex once a week until 1905 when Gertrude Black became the first 'Postmistress' of Farlin. In 1906, the delivery stopped and the residents were responsible for picking up or delivering the mail on their way to or from Apex. 

In the spring of 1906, the three owners of the "Birch Creek Copper and Smelting Co." ran into financial trouble and skipped town with the monthly payroll (around $1400 dollars). Once the miners found out that they weren't going to get payed they promptly made nooses for the owners. The first of the owners who came back to town didn't even have time to hang up his hat. He was promptly taken to the "Hangin' tree" for his deed. Once Ellis, the second partner, found out about his partners hanging, he bought his way back into town. The third partner was never heard from again! 

After the boom years, the demise of Farlin can be attributed to the drop in the production rate of copper and silver, no attractive gold placers like the ones that made the towns of Bannack and Virginia City, and the remoteness of the town in respect to the smelters and markets for the copper and silver which were located in Butte, Glendale, and Anaconda.

Birch Creek Home

Welcome to the Birch Creek Center website! 

Birch Creek


The Birch Creek Outdoor Education and Conference Center is located 22 miles northwest of Dillon Montana within the Beaverhed-Deerlodge National Forest along the eastern slopes of the Pioneer Mountains.

The Center was originally constructed in 1935 as a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp. The CCC was a direct outgrowth of Rosevelt’s “New Deal” program in response to the financial crisis and high unemployment of the Great Depression. In 1939 Camp Birch Creek consisted of 15 permanent buildings which housed 200 men. The seven original structures that remain at the present location represent one of the best examples of a permanent CCC camp that yet remain in the nation. With the start of the Second World War, Camp Birch Creek was abandoned. In 1955 the Evangelical Covenant Church of America operated the site as the “Birch Creek Bible Camp.” In the late 1970’s the site came under the jurisdiction of the United States Forest Service (USFS). An environmental assessment from 1979 recommended that the site be developed as an educational site.  In 1982 the Birch Creek site was formally listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1983, The University of Montana Western School of Outreach began operating the Birch Creek Outdoor Education and later, the Bender Conference Center. The Bender, constructed during the mid 1980’s, is a modern building with dining facilities and additional overnight accommodations.

Today, the Center provides a place for diverse educational, recreational, and social opportunities for the local and global economy. The Center encourages and supports field-based and group enriching experiences, thus enhancing educational opportunities for the young, traditional, and lifelong learners. These opportunities include K-12 programming, adult training workshops, youth camps, family reunions, and service programs.