Dayhiking Delights in Montana's Bitterroot Mountains

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14248A, Lodge


  • 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 convenient central hotel
  • Breakfasts and trail lunches
  • Airport pickup and local transportation (no rental car needed!)


DatesAug 3–9, 2014
StaffStephen Brown

Trip Overview

The Trip

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 private rooms 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 hotel. 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. Camas Creek leads us in and out of subalpine forest, ascending to beautiful Camas Lake. We have the option of a short side trip to the dark, beguiling Kidney Lake. The main hike is under 6 miles, with 1,200 feet of elevation gain.
Day 3: We follow Fred Burr Creek up the canyon to an old reservoir, dammed for irrigation purposes. The lake sits in a charming cirque with the snow-capped Bitterroot Mountains as spectacular backdrop. Nine miles roundtrip, with 1,000 feet of 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: This northernmost of our hikes leads us up the very scenic Sweeney Ridge, with inspiring views of the Bitterroot Crest. It's a workout with photo ops, and we'll choose our turnaround/lunch spot to suit our midweek stamina. Likely nine miles, 3,000 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.



Getting There

Our lodging is conveniently located in 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 lodging. 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 urban hotel with pool and spa. Rooms -- 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.  

Trip Difficulty

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 August 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:


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.  

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.
While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from the Bitterroot National Forest.



Stephen Brown enjoys exploring wilderness areas of California and elsewhere. He has led Sierra Club backpack, service, and highlight trips in the Sierra Nevada, Utah desert, Montana, Canadian Rockies, and Four Corners Ancestral Puebloan cultural region. He is an enthusiastic promoter of Leave No Trace principles, and is a certified Wilderness First Responder. A fan of biking, day hikes, photography, and world music, and a student Buddhist meditator, Stephen has traveled in Europe, South America, Mexico, and Japan. He now works with a nonprofit organization that provides technology support to nonprofits and libraries.

Assistant Leader:

Jeffrey Black has been leading trips in the southwest – camping trips, backpack trips, service trips – for nearly 20 years. In 2011, he led a service trip to Ramsey Canyon Nature Preserve in southeast Arizona. Last year, he led a base camp trip to Capitol Reef and the Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument. A native of NJ, he lives in Berkeley, California and considers himself an outdoor enthusiast with interests in hiking, cycling, flowers, birds, and protecting the wilderness. He also is an excellent cook, and has over 20 chocolate cake recipes.

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