21 Jun Round Up: TOP 10 Montana hikes you’ve probably never heard of, and an online hiking guide to boot
In 2016, the Montana Wilderness Society (MWS) debuted its volunteer-aggregated website, hikewildmontana.org, and it’s been growing ever since. Spearheaded by hiking fanatic and MWS grant and marketing coordinator Kassia Randzio, the effort started in 2014 when 70 volunteers hit the ground, cameras and notebooks in hand, and tracked trails all over the state. To date, more than 300 trail descriptions have been added to the site, and hikers can add new trails anytime, as well as update existing hikes.
“The Montana Wilderness Association has been leading Wilderness Walks for more than 55 years,” Randzio says. “We have this insider’s view on wild places, and love to share them and inspire people to get out and explore someplace new; to think of Montana more beyond Yellowstone, Glacier National Park, and Western Montana, which is what most hiking books cover. There’s a lot more wild country to explore.”
Here Randzio recommends her top 10 picks for lesser-known (but no less amazing) Montana hikes. For more details on each, see hikewildmontana.org.
1. Thoma Lookout
Elevation Gain: 2,000 ft. | Roundtrip: 8 mi. | Location: Whitefish Range Proposed Wilderness, Kootenai National Forest
Hikers are rewarded with 360-degree views from the top of a functioning, staffed fire lookout in the heart of the proposed Whitefish Range Wilderness.
2. Bear-Baree Loop
Elevation Gain: 2,485 ft. | Roundtrip: 9 mi. | Location: Proposed addition to the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, Kootenai National Forest
This loop showcases the biodiversity and spectacular scenery of the southern Cabinet Mountains, skirting lakes, winding through forests, and crossing open ridgelines.
3. Warrior Mountain
Elevation Gain: 3,500 ft. | Roundtrip: 10 mi. | Location: Bunker Creek core grizzly area, Flathead National Forest
A hike along a ridgeline with expansive views of peaks in the Swan Range, Bob Marshall Wilderness, and Glacier National Park.
4. Clearwater Lake Loop
Elevation Gain: 141 ft.| Roundtrip: 2.6 mi. | Location: Lolo National Forest
This easy hike to the first of six lakes in the Clearwater River’s Chain of Lakes is perfect for kids and families, offering great views and the chance to see wildlife.
5. Heart Lake
Elevation Gain: 1,200 ft. | Roundtrip: 4.5 mi. | Location: Great Burn Proposed Wilderness, Lolo National Forest
Hike through beautiful forests before arriving at one of Western Montana’s most stunning alpine lakes with views of exposed ridgelines.
6. Upper Miner Lakes
Elevation Gain: 775 ft. | Roundtrip: 8 mi. | Location: West Big Hole Proposed Wilderness, Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest
Pass through beautiful forests and open meadows before arriving at a beautiful alpine lake surrounded by jagged rocky peaks.
7. Buffalo Horn Pass to Ramshorn Peak
Elevation Gain: 3,200 ft. | Roundtrip: 8.4 mi. | Location: Hyalite Porcupine Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area, Custer-Gallatin National Forest
A fairly steep climb through grizzly country and along the Gallatin Crest to the summit of Ramshorn Peak for views of three mountain ranges and Ramshorn Lake.
8. Crater Ice Cave and Big Pryor Mountain
Elevation Gain: 1,700 ft. | Roundtrip: 8 mi. | Location: Custer-Gallatin National Forest
Climb through dense Douglas fir to the Big Pryor Plateau, featuring abundant wildflowers in July and one of the most expansive views in Montana.
9. Bitter Creek Wilderness Study Area
Elevation Gain: 1,000 ft. | Roundtrip: 6 mi. | Location: Bitter Creek Wilderness Study Area, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Glasgow Field Office
Have a real prairie wilderness experience in the heart of the 60,000-acre Bitter Creek Wilderness Study Area, where you can watch migrating birds and enjoy prairie wildflowers.
10. Natural Bridges
Elevation Gain: 325 ft. | Roundtrip: 3.6 mi. | Location: Terry Badlands Wilderness Study Area, BLM Miles City Field Office
Experience the colorful canyons in the heart of the Terry Badlands Wilderness Study Area and walk out onto the natural bridges.