Dayhiking Delights in Montana's Bitterroot Mountains
- Hike through glacier-carved mountain valleys to sparkling alpine lakes
- Build great memories with photo-ops such as wildflowers and Big Sky vistas
- Savor hearty cuisine at local restaurants each evening
- Accommodations in modern, cozy western cabins
- Breakfasts and trail lunches
- Airport pickup and local transportation (no rental car needed!)
|Dates||Aug 3–9, 2014|
The Bitterroot Mountains, which straddle the Montana-Idaho border, are one of the most rugged mountain ranges in the United States. Lewis and Clark's party nearly starved to death trying to cross them during their expedition in 1805. On their return trip in 1806, William Clark wrote in his journal, "Descended the mountain to Travelers Rest leaving those tremendous mountains behind us -- in passing of which we have experienced cold and hunger of which I shall ever remember." We will hike in this wilderness area that is virtually unchanged from the time of Lewis and Clark, and sample some of the best day hikes in the area. Our hikes will take us up beautiful glacier-carved canyons to serene alpine lakes. After a day of hiking, we will return to our mountain lodge and cabins for rest and hot showers. We will visit the Hamilton area for dinner in a different restaurant each night.
In the middle of the week we will visit Traveler's Rest State Park -- a Lewis and Clark Historical site. We'll drive into Missoula for an optional hike to the "M" above the University of Montana, which offers great views of the city. We'll enjoy a picnic lunch on the river and also spend some time exploring the downtown area, which has an eclectic mix of shops, art galleries, and coffee houses. We may take short hikes to other mountain valley overlooks on our trip back to Hamilton. John Muir wrote, “The mountains are calling and I must go.” Hike with us and share the renewal and joy that mountain wilderness hiking brings.
The itinerary is subject to change by the leader depending on trail conditions, weather, or the needs of the group.
Day 1: Plan to arrive in Missoula no later than 2:00 p.m. You will be picked up at the airport and transported to the lodge. After everyone gets settled in, we will have a get-acquainted happy hour followed by our first dinner. After dinner we will gather to preview the week's itinerary.
Day 2: Our first hike is an easy introduction to the Bitterroot Mountains. We follow Fred Burr Creek up the canyon to Fred Burr Reservoir. The lake sits in a beautiful cirque, with the snow-capped Bitterroot Mountains providing a spectacular backdrop. Today's hike is nine miles round-trip, with 1,000 feet of elevation gain.
Day 3: Today we drive up the Lost Horse Creek Canyon to a high trailhead for Coquina Lake. We hike through a boulder-studded forest with views of granite peaks, including Elk Ridge, then descend to Coquina Lake for lunch. Our hike is five miles, with 900 feet elevation gain.
Day 4: We visit Traveler's Rest State Park, then continue to Missoula for an optional hike to the "M" and a picnic lunch on the river. After lunch we will have time to explore downtown Missoula. We might do small hikes to canyon overlooks on the way back to Hamilton for dinner.
Day 5: Our hike today takes us up Chaffin Creek. We have many views of surrounding peaks in this valley, including the bulging granite of Sugarloaf Peak. We ascend to picturesque Hart Lake, surrounded by granite spires over 9,000 feet, where we stop for lunch. This day is a bit longer at 11 miles and an elevation gain of 2,500 feet.
Day 6: Our final hike wends up a gorgeous valley to Canyon Falls. The trail starts among ponderosa pines and the muffled sounds of water cascading downward. This water music intensifies as we move up the valley toward a 400-foot cascade sluicing down a smooth rock surface. Canyon Lake sits in a glacial bowl among stunted forest and lingering snowfields and makes for a perfect lunch spot to take it all in. We ascend 2,400 feet and walk nine miles today.
Day 7: The trip ends today after breakfast, and you will be transported back to the airport in Missoula. Please don't plan to fly out before noon on Saturday.
Our lodge is located in ranch country outside of Hamilton, Montana. The nearest airport is Missoula (MSO), about one hour from the lodge. This trip is van supported. As part of the trip fee, the Sierra Club will provide all ground transportation during the outing, including round-trip travel between the Missoula airport and our lodge. Please plan to arrive by Sunday, August 3, no later than 2:00 p.m. Mountain time, and schedule departure flights on Saturday, August 9, no earlier than noon Mountain time.
Accommodations and Food
We will be staying at an authentic western lodge in a horse ranch setting. Our cabins -- with two queen beds, full bath and shower -- will be occupied by couples or by singles paired by gender. Each morning we'll have a hot breakfast buffet at the lodge.
The leaders will help participants prepare lunches for daily outings, with a variety of lunch items and snacks. Vegetarians can be accommodated. The costs of five dinners and one town lunch are not included in the trip price.
This trip is rated moderate. Our hikes will range from 8 to 10 miles in length, with elevation gains of 1,000 to 2,500 feet. All of the hikes are on maintained trails, between 6,000 and 8,300 feet elevation. To comfortably complete the hikes on this trip, all hikers should prepare with regular aerobic activity that lasts a minimum of 30 minutes, three to five days a week (e.g., jogging, bike riding, and using aerobic equipment). In the months before our outing, it's optimal to practice on hilly terrain and at higher elevations. The leader will interview each participant (including asking about recent mountain hiking experience) before final acceptance.
Equipment and Clothing
About two months before the trip, you will be sent a list of recommended equipment and clothing -- generally, just what you would typically need for dayhiking. The most important piece of equipment you can have is a pair of broken-in hiking boots. Fishing licenses must be obtained in Hamilton prior to any backcountry fishing.
Weather in the Bitterroot Valley in August will be warm days and comfortable nights. Daytime temperatures can approach 90 degrees, while nighttime temperatures will cool to the 50s. Though July is usually dry, you should be prepared for rain and/or cooler temperatures at any time.
- Steinberg, Scott, Hiking the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. A Falcon Guide.
- Arkava, Mort, Hiking the Bitterroots.
- U.S. Forest Service: www.fs.fed.us/r1/bitterroot
The leaders are enthusiastic proponents of the Leave No Trace ethic, and will be sharing practical perspectives on the key themes during the week. We hope to have a local Sierra Club member speak to the group one evening about current conservation issues in western Montana and central Idaho. These could touch on gas and oil extraction, wildlife management, climate change, alternative energy development, water resource management, invasive species control, livestock grazing -- and more. These are very lively topics in this region!
We encourage participants to bring information and stories from their experience in their home areas (conservation issues, environmental campaigns, volunteer efforts), timely issues, and questions as we try to live more harmoniously with the natural world. (What is your local Sierra Club chapter highlighting?) We welcome discussions on these topics at lunch or after dinner during our outings.
Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from the Bitterroot National Forest.
Notes for Sierra Club Outings
- Carbon Offsets
- Electronic Billing and Forms
- Electronic Devices
- How to Apply for a Trip
- Leader Gratuities
- Liability Release and Assumption of Risk
- Medical Issues
- Non-discrimination Statement
- Participant Approval
- Reservation and Cancellation Policy
- Seller of Travel Disclosure
- Travel Insurance
- Trip Feedback
- Trip Price
- Wilderness Manners