In a city surrounded by mountains, it’s no surprise that there are hiking trails springing up on all sides of town. From the mountain biking matrices of the Rattlesnake and Blue Mountain, to the wooded folfing course in Pattee Canyon, there is certainly a trail that can meet the need of locals and visitors alike.
After hiking in all the areas of Missoula, I have determined my favorite day hikes.
1) The “M” Trail
Access to the trail starts at the parking lot across from Aber Hall on Campus Drive at the University of Montana. Taking the trail to the right takes you up the traditional route up the front side of Mount Sentinel. Thirteen switchbacks later, you’ve reached the “M” and one of the most well known views of Missoula.
If you’re feeling adventurous, in search of an intense workout, or simply a different view, at the bottom of the trail, take a left and take the trail up the ridge line of Mt Sentinel. From this point, one can cut over to the top of the “M” or continue all the way to the summit. Hiking along the ridge you are able to look deep into Hellgate Canyon and the historic Glacial Lake Missoula high water mark.
My best time up and back down for the traditional “M” trail is about 28 minutes walking while the summit of Mt Sentinel is about an hour and fifteen minutes.
2) Waterworks Hill
Another matrix of trails that lead to the top of Waterworks Hill on the north side of Missoula. The main trailhead starts at the parking lot of the Orange Street exit on-ramp. This trail is narrow yet great for either walking or running. There is a mostly constant incline for most of the hike depending on which route is taken. The views from the top look southward into Missoula and north into the Rattlesnake Wilderness. This is a trail for hikers and runners of all abilities.
3) Ch-paa-qn Peak (Squaw Peak)
Located west of Missoula, Ch-paa-qn Peak, locally known as Squaw Peak, is a majestic, rock topped point on the Lolo National Forest. The first half of the trail is a low grade wooded trail. The last half mile is a slate rock field. Going up is easier than coming down, so take caution. The views into the Lolo National Forest and north into the Mission Valley are incredible.
4) Reservation Divide Trail (#98):
3.5 miles, +1838 feet elevation overall elevation gain
At the Ninemile Ranger Station, continue on Edith Peak Road (FS# 476) for approximately 10 miles to the Reservation Divide boundary. [Stay right (straight) at the left turn to “Squaw Peak trailhead”]A large parking area is available on the left and the trailhead starts here.
Follow the well-marked trail over easy, rolling terrain for approximately two miles until the trail starts traversing west across the south face of the peak. Here, turn right and leave the trail and bushwhack up easy slopes onto the talus-covered southeast ridge. Boulder hop to the summit. Looking northeast toward the Mission Valley.
Whether you take my advice to one of the trails I have listed or decide to adventure on your own, hiking in the area is one of the most accessible and easy ways to enjoy the area for both locals and visitors alike. For more information on hiking, visit www.destinationmissoula.org/hiking