Two Hikes in the National Forests of Western Montana

The weather finally began cooperating as we headed north out of Idaho into western Montana. We took Route 93 through the magnificent gorge cut by the North Fork of the Salmon River then climbed up and over the continental divide, dropping into the Bitterroot Mountain Range of Montana. Looking for a place that we could overnight and also take an afternoon hike we pulled into the first forest service campground we came upon, Indian Trees. For the bargain price of $5 we ended up having the entire place to ourselves – a quiet spot nestled in the ponderosas. Interestingly, the campground was located on a popular 19th century foraging plot the Bitterroot Salish Native American tribe used to harvest the tender, gummy underlayer of the pine trees. The scarred trees that can be seen bearing the marks today were cut between 1835 and 1890.

After we chose our site and filled our packs we set off for what turned out to be a 3 ½ hour, 7 ½ mile, 1,000-foot plus hike out of the canyon into the mountains to the west. Much to Abby’s delight we crossed multiple creeks as we steadily rose up in elevation. Tom and I were more delighted by the views across the valley that emerged over the trees but there really did end up being something for everyone.

We had one more day before we were scheduled to arrive in Missoula so the next morning we chose to continue north into Lolo National Forest. The drive – as all routes in western Montana seem to be – was incredibly scenic, with fantastic views right and left of the Bitteroot Range from the valley. For our hike we randomly chose the South Fork Lolo Creek Trail since there was a sign for it on the forest road we turned off on; this selection turned out to be even better than the previous day’s walk. Surprisingly, the trail followed the creek for not much more than the first half mile. From here the path turned ninety degrees and began a steep climb up a side canyon, and then switchbacked up the side of the canyon to a ridge. As we steadily climbed up the overgrown canyon we began having our doubts, but by the time we reached top we were pretty enthusiastic: Not only did we have sweeping vistas up and down the main canyon of the South Fork, but the route looked to continue climbing up a more exposed section that was dotted with wildflowers.

We continued along the trail for awhile after that point, enjoying the views but by mid-afternoon we decided to change our plan of overnighting at a dispersed campsite and instead head into Missoula. This would have the dual benefit of giving us a closer jumping off point for our day building with Habitat for Humanity and give us an opportunity to sample another of Missoula’s fine breweries. Based on Tom’s fondness for German beers (and German food) we went to the delicious Bayern Brewery which offered us a comfortable atmosphere to lounge and some seriously tasty beer. As a (huge) bonus, their homemade hot pretzels were made without egg wash and were thus vegan! Combined with my delicious limited release hopped Golden Pale Ale, I was just about in heaven.