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Hiking in the Bitterroot Valley of Western Montana

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 Canyon Creek.

Day Hikes

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 more.

http://www.theoutdoorforum.com/Montana/BitterrootNationalForestHikes.htm

Birding

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.

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 Stevensville. http://leemetcalf.fws.gov

The Teller Wildlife Refuge is a private, non-profit refuge located just north of Corvallis. http://www.tellerwildlife.org

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

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.

Horseback riding

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.

Discover Montana Bitterroot Valley Activities, Sports and Things To Do
Camping in the Bitterroot Valley | Canoeing in the Bitterroot Valley | Conservation in the Bitterroot Valley
 Cross Country Skiing in the Bitterroot Valley | Downhill Skiing in the Bitterroot Valley | Farmers Market in the Bitterroot Valley
 Fly Fishing in the Bitterroot Valley | Hiking in the Bitterroot Valley | Horse Care in the Bitterroot Valley
 Hunting in the Bitterroot Valley | Look outs in the Bitterroot Valley | Wildlife Watching in the Bitterroot Valley

 

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