Laid-Back Backpack in the Montana Wilderness

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14154A, Backpack


  • Explore one of Montana’s lesser known, but premier wilderness areas
  • Hike among cascading creeks and sparkling alpine lakes
  • Enjoy an alpine experience without the effort associated with high altitude


  • All meals and group cooking equipment
  • Enough memories to last a lifetime
  • Optional day hike to alpine lakes and high passes 


DatesJul 27–Aug 2, 2014
Difficulty3 (out of 5)
StaffJim Reel

Trip Overview

The Trip

Your visit to the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness is an ideal way to enjoy an extraordinary hiking opportunity in southwest Montana. This area is a little used gem -- a secret known mostly to locals. Known for high, rugged, and beautiful mountain scenery where mountain goats make their home, the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness is located in moderate elevations, ranging from 5,100 feet to 10,793 feet. Effects of past glaciations dominate the land. Here, 130 miles northwest of Yellowstone, the Continental Divide winds through the heart of a beautiful verdant forest covering the Anaconda Range. You’ll see cirques and hanging valleys with alpine lakes, long U-shaped valleys, and glacial moraines that form a wilderness wonderland. Stop to make a snow angel in the year-round snow banks feeding tumbling streams that rest only briefly in deep, canyon-lined pools. Cascading creeks spill from these snowfields and feed a network of sparkling alpine lakes where fish abound. Lower slopes of sagebrush and willow give way to a thick alpine forest of aspen, pine, and fir at the upper elevations. Trails crisscross the Continental Divide over numerous high passes that lead past rugged peaks and glacial cirques above timberline. Inhabitants of this high country include mountain goats, flying squirrels, and 13 varieties of raptors. Elk, moose, deer, bears, mountain lions, and a multitude of smaller mammals and birds also call the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness home. Even with this spectacular mountain grandeur, the Anaconda-Pintler is less well known than other wilderness areas of Montana. Gradually the word has spread of the outstanding backpacking opportunities available to those willing to go beyond the trailhead and hike some of the many miles of maintained trails in the wilderness.

The Continental Divide's Anaconda Range is a true Sierra-type mountain range. The trailhead is located in the central part of the Anaconda Range on the north side of the wilderness area. We’ve selected a route that will make for enjoyable days on the trail, touring through lake and river valleys and crossing multiple passes that will have us hugging both sides of the high divide. A long segment of the 3,000-mile Continental Divide Trail traverses the wilderness. We’ll follow sections of it to gain access to many of the most scenic spots in the wilderness. Your trip will be a rewarding backpack interspersed with the opportunity to pursue personal interests and activities. These activities might include fishing, photography, day hikes and climbs, or restful solitude on the planned layover day. Although many lakes stay frozen until July, there are excellent fishing opportunities for four trout species, char, whitefish, and arctic grayling. Montana state regulations apply, and a license is required. Spinning or fly rods can be used.

The leaders take a laid-back approach to backpacking and prefer to take frequent breaks as we ease along the trail and enjoy the scenery as we go. All backpacking trips are physically demanding due to the fact that we carry loaded packs up and down mountains. Do not underestimate that fact just because this trip is conducted in a laid-back manner. This outing is best suited for people having some backpacking experience, but extensive experience is not required. What is required is a sense of adventure, good physical conditioning, and a flexible attitude. With those three traits, the rest will work out great!


This trip is rated 3 (moderate). We will be backpacking a loop that's about 40 miles long, with one layover day. The distance covered each day will be about 6 to 8 miles, with one longer, 12 mile day. Taking a slow-but-steady approach, we will appreciate and relish the beautiful country through which we pass. On our layover day participants may explore peaks and alpine lakes in the area, play in nearby creeks, or simply stay in camp to relax.

On a typical day, we will rise about 6-7 a.m., have a hearty breakfast, break camp, and be hiking by about 9 a.m. We generally will get to camp by 4 p.m. with plenty of time to erect tents, clean up a little, and even catch a short nap before dinner.

The following is our itinerary for the week. Our exact itinerary may change due to weather or other circumstance. We prefer to be flexible on our plans in order to allow for the best wilderness experience for all participants. Our route offers many possibilities for flexibility in scheduling and modification if needed.

We’ll meet on Sunday morning at Copper Creek Campground. This Deerlodge National Forest campground is located only four miles from our trailhead and is a convenient meeting place. Some folks may want to stay at the campground the night before. All participants are invited to meet in Philipsburg the evening before the trip to eat dinner and get acquainted. This is not a requirement, only an option.

Day 1: We'll carpool to the Carpp Creek trailhead and hike into our campsite at Carpp Lake, eating lunch on the trail. This will be a short day of less than four miles to help us acclimate.

Day 2: We'll approach the Continental Divide, hiking into the Johnson Lake area, and make camp.

Day 3: This day will be spent hugging the Continental Divide while we hike past Phyllis Lake and Little Johnson Lake. We will then continue over Bitterroot Pass into the Kelly Lake area, where we spend the next two nights. Today will be a longer day of around 12 miles.

Day 4: On our layover day we can explore the area, hike to Ripple Lake, fish, take pictures, or just relax.

Day 5: After leaving Kelly Lake, we will begin our climb over the Continental Divide and on to Oreamnos Lake, which is a high alpine lake (8,363 feet) tucked against the backdrop of the Divide. Today will be about eight miles hiking.

Day 6: After leaving our campsite, we climb spectacular Pintler Pass on the Divide. We will hike down the other side, passing Johnson Lake and then hiking up to Edith Lake, where we will make our last night's camp after a five-mile hike.

Day 7: After breaking camp on our final day, we will hike north over Porter Ridge along Tamarack Creek and Carpp Creek, returning to our starting point, about seven miles away.



Getting There

The trailhead is located approximately 65 miles from Butte and 101 miles from Missoula, Montana. Bozeman is farther at 140 miles, but it is probably the best airport destination for participants flying to Montana for this outing, as it has more flights. Public transportation to the trailhead is not available.

Specific information and directions about the trailhead and vicinity will be provided to approved trip members. Departure bulletins will be sent prior to meeting in Montana. Ultimately, it is your responsibility to arrive at the meeting place at the specified time.

Accommodations and Food

All meals are included from lunch on the first day through lunch on the last day. Meals include hearty, healthy, and varied breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Most dinners will include soup, entrée, and dessert. The leaders will work hard to make the food as light as possible to lessen the loads in our packs. Participants should bring their favorite snacks to eat between meals. We will accommodate vegetarians. In the mornings fresh coffee and tea will be provided. Responsibility for cooking and cleanup will be shared by trip participants. We will rotate cooking and cleaning responsibilities daily so everyone will get a chance to cook for the group. The leaders will be close at hand should help or advice be needed. State-of-the-art chlorine-based chemicals for treating drinking water will be provided. Participants may bring water filters if they prefer.

Trip Difficulty

This trip is has a 3 (moderate) rating. Our projected route is not overly difficult and is attainable for most backpackers in good physical condition. Our route travels about 40 miles of well-maintained, yet occasionally rugged trail, with an average of about 5-8 miles per day and one 12-mile day. The trail follows creek valleys, lake basins, meadows, and high plateaus while meandering over high passes through a collage of beautiful alpine tundra and rock-bound lakes. The trailhead elevation is 6,200 feet, and we will hike as high as about 9,000 feet. If you do not live in a location at least a mile high, we recommend that you plan on arriving at least two days before the outing to help you adjust to the altitude. Good pre-trip physical conditioning will be vital for your safety and enjoyment. The rewards for this training will be immediate and immeasurable! Those who apply for this outing should be self-confident in their abilities. A fitness program of at least three months (and preferably longer) is required for all participants.

The weather in the Anaconda-Pintler region can be unpredictable. As with other areas in the northern Rockies, it can snow any month of the year. Brief afternoon thunderstorms are common in the Rocky Mountains and are to be anticipated at the time of our trip. Prolonged rain is possible so all participants should be prepared for periods of wet weather. Daily afternoon temperatures in the 70s and 80s are common in late July and early August, and cool crisp nights -- possibly as low as the 30s -- are to be expected. Late July and early August is one of the most pleasant times to explore this wilderness when overall conditions are enjoyable. The mountains should be in their mid-Summer prime, with water flowing and flowers blooming!

Equipment and Clothing

The Sierra Club provides the commissary gear, food, water purification, bear canisters, and a group first-aid kit. You are responsible for everything else that you want/need. In addition to your personal gear, you will be carrying a share of the group food/gear -- approximately 15 pounds, though your leaders will try to get this down to 12 or 13 pounds each. Please keep the total weight for your personal gear below 25 pounds and make sure your backpack has enough capacity for the bear canister and gear, which will be a little larger than two one-gallon milk jugs. In this region, a good rainsuit -- pants and jacket (not a poncho) -- is essential, as we may encounter several days of rain. Be sure to bring a good supply of dependable (DEET) insect repellent. Prior to the trip, the leaders will provide an extensive list of gear to the participants. This list will include items that are essential, such as backpack, tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag rated to 20 degrees or lower, boots, personal first-aid kit, personal medications, and raingear. 



  • Schneider, Bill and Russ Schneider; Hiking Montana. Published by Falcon Press.
  • Arakava, Mort; Hiking the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness.


  • The Anaconda Pintler Wilderness Map is published and distributed by the U.S. Forest Service through the Beaverhead, Bitterroot and Deerlodge National Forests of Montana, as well as through the U.S. Geological Survey.
  • USGS 7.5-minute quadrangle topographic maps; Carpp Ridge, Warren Peak, and Kelly Lake.

All are optional. The leaders will happily share theirs.


Sierra Club founder John Muir wrote "if people could be gotten into the woods, even for once, to hear the trees speak for themselves, all difficulties in the way of forest preservation would vanish." Our trip will be in an area "permanently" protected by Congress, the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness, administered by the U.S. Forest Service. Unfortunately, most of the magnificent wild land in the West is not protected and is at great risk from oil and gas exploration, logging, and off-road-vehicles. During this trip, we will have several evening conservation discussions about our nation's wild public lands, which are rapidly disappearing, and the need to protect this nation's magnificent wild lands.

We will also discuss how you can get involved in a way that works for you: writing or calling your representatives, showing others the beauty of our natural places, or becoming politically active. On this trip we'll discuss and practice Leave No Trace (LNT) camping and ethics.

The purpose of these discussions is to encourage you to get involved by urging your delegates in Congress to support the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act (NREPA) and other public land protection issues. NREPA would protect 18 million acres as Wilderness from just below Yellowstone northeast through Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, an area which encompasses the last great expanse of native biodiversity in the continental United States. The bill's primary objective is to protect the land from fragmentation caused by development and roads, thereby allowing plants and wildlife to migrate between the area's ecosystems in patterns necessary to maintain biodiversity.

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 permits from Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest and Bitterroot National Forest.



Jim Reel Jr., a native of western North Carolina, has been an avid backpacker since 1999. "I was introduced to the Appalachian Trail that same year," he says, "and I set a goal of section-hiking the trail from end to end." To date, he's completed about 1,600 miles of the legendary trail. Jim has also backpacked in California, Idaho, Minnesota and Wisconsin. As a member of the Carolina Mountain Club, he leads hikes, helps with construction and maintenance of the Mountains to the Sea Trail and maintains a section of the AT near Hot Springs, NC.


Diana Lynn, a native of Wisconsin, has a deep appreciation for nature and love for the diversity of seasons in the Midwest. In 2000, she was introduced to section hiking the legendary Appalachian Trail, spending two to three weeks on the trail each year. In the past 13 years, her hiking adventures have taken her to 15 states.

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