Hiking in the Bitterroot Valley of Western
The Bitterroot Valley offers some of the most diverse hiking
experiences in the West.
People choose to travel to and live in the Bitterroot Valley
for many of the same reasons. Here you are close to the splendor
of natural beauty. Wilderness is quite literally three miles
from the edge of town and when someone tells you they can be
fishing five minutes after leaving work, they're not exaggerating.
Here are a few ideas for taking advantage of the best Montana
has to offer while you're staying at the loft.
On the west side of the valley, craggy mountain peaks and
rugged canyons are the gateway to the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.
These canyons offer easy, short hikes with mystical views
of waterfalls, towering cliffs, and lush green forests, or longer
challenging hikes to the tops of peaks several miles from the
trailhead. When hiking the trails expect to see moose, mountain
goats, deer, elk and a variety of birds.
At the heads of these canyons is the divide between Idaho
and Montana and the heart of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness,
which is part of the largest contiguous piece of wilderness
in the lower 48. This is truly the last wild place.
When staying at the loft, you are only minutes away from
two of the most popular trailheads in the valley: Blodgett and
One of my favorite aspects of living in the Bitterroot Valley
is how easy it is to get away. In the summertime, when
the days are Arctic in length (as Norman Maclean said), the
best part of the day comes after 5 o'clock.
On both the west and east side of the valley are a plethora
of trails that can shuttle you quickly away from the busy world
and into the woods. The number of potential day or evening hikes
are simply too many to list. Discovering them takes a
little acquaintance with a map and a good pair of boots.
One of the quickest and easiest afternoon hikes is Soft Rock,
east of Corvallis. The east side of the valley is more arid
and open. The trail at Soft Rock takes you through sagebrush
flats and ponderosa pine draws, before it climbs up the open
face of Chaffin Butte, home to Corvallis famous. The steep
hike is a good workout, but only takes a couple of hours to
complete. From the top you can see farmers cutting hay, sprinklers
watering acres of alfalfa and the river bottom cottonwoods winding
their way north and south.
To get there, take Willow Creek Road east out of Corvallis
to Summerdale Road and take a left. Follow Summerdale less than
a mile and then take a right on Soft Rock Road. The trailhead
is located at some old corrals.
Another good evening hike is the Blodgett Canyon overlook.
This short trail begins at the Canyon Creek trailhead just west
of Hamilton. The overlook trail heads north from the Canyon
Creek Trailed and immediately winds up the ridge that divides
Blodgett and Canyon Creek drainages. The reward for this
short hike is a beautiful view of the Bitterroot's most popular
creek, with its shear canyon walls and majestic glaciated valley.
For a more challenging day hike head south of Darby.
Trapper Peak is the highest mountain in the Bitterroots at over
10,000 feet. The trail to the top is about 4 miles long and
gains more than a 1,000 feet per mile. But the view from the
top is heavenly. Make sure to bring plenty of water and
give yourself most of a day to get the hike in. To get
to the trailhead, follow the highway up the West Fork of the
Bitterroot River for about 15 miles until you seen a sign directing
you to Trapper Peak, not Trapper Creek.
Another popular day hike in the Bitterroots is St. Mary's
Peak, west of Stevensville. The trail is a moderate hike and
from the trailhead to the summit of the peak is about 4.5 miles.
On a clear day from St. Mary's you can see deep into Idaho to
the west and north to the Mission Mountain Range and Rattlesnake
Wilderness Area outside of Missoula. To get to the trailhead,
turn on St. Mary's Road off Highway 93 just south of Stevensville
and follow the signs.
These three hikes are a good start, but there are so many
other. For more information, contact the Forest Service
in Hamilton at 363-7100.
Here are a few Web sites to provide more information about
hiking in the area.
This site will give you an idea of the diversity of hikes
in the Bitterroot Valley, plus contact information to find out
With a variety of habitats, the Bitterroot Valley offers
a diversity birding opportunities.
The river bottom and wetland habitats provide a home for
bald eagles, great blue herons, nesting ducks, cranes, swans,
woodpeckers and osprey.
Above the valley floor on the east side is a divers upland
and sagebrush habitat, with a variety of songbirds and raptors.
On the west side, birders will find a more typical pine forest
habitat with a unique blend of owls, woodpeckers and songbirds.
In addition to all this, many areas in the Bitterroot Valley
are going through a natural transition brought on by the devastating
wildfires of the summer of 2000. That summer, during a
two-month time span, over 350,000 acres burned in and around
the valley. As these areas began recovering, bird species moved
In the burned areas you can find black-backed woodpeckers,
Lewis's woodpecker, MacGillivray's warbler and wild turkeys.
The valley is also blessed with two wildlife refuges.
The Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge is operated by the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is located just north of
The Teller Wildlife Refuge is a private, non-profit refuge
located just north of Corvallis.
Both offer a wide variety of birding and nature viewing opportunities.
The Bitterroot is also home to a unique trail system. The
Bitterroot Birding and Nature Trail began in the summer of 2005
and provides people with 25 sites around the valley that offer
a variety of birding experiences.
Here are a few articles from the local newspaper about birding
in the area.
Mountain biking is a growing passion in the Bitterroot Valley.
Thousands of miles of trails are open for the pastime, not to
mention the quick and easy availability of forest roads.
Riders of every skill level can enjoy biking in the Bitterroot.
If you want a leisurely ride, the mountain roads can be a great
escape. If you want a expert-level ride, trails in the
Sapphire Mountains on the east side of the valley will push
the most seasoned rider to their limits.
The local bike shops are the best source of information about
mountain biking in the valley.
The same trails available for hiking into the wilderness
are also available for access by horseback. It's not uncommon
to meet trail riders far back in the wilderness. And as more
people desire to see the wonders of the backcountry from a horse,
more opportunity is being made available.