Best Missoula Hiking Destinations During the Fall Season
Fall is my favorite time of the year, so it only makes sense that I am always looking for ways to get outside and enjoy the crisp weather and beautiful colors. The best way to accomplish this is to lace up your hiking boots and head out to one of the many day hike destinations that Missoula offers. I want to tell you about a few of my favorite trails and wilderness areas to visit this season.
Mount Sentinel is what the locals consider “Missoula’s Mountain.” No matter what side of town you are on, you can almost always spot the concrete “M” located near to peak. It boasts unbelievable views of the Missoula Valley. To hike to the “M”, you can expect a ¾ mile trek that will take you approximately 20 minutes. If you are really looking to push yourself, make the full hike to the summit which will be a 1 and ¾ mile excursion and will take you about 1 hour to reach. Even if you are not in shape, you will probably be able to tackle the mountain as the hike is considered mildly strenuous. The trailhead is located behind the University football stadium on Campus Drive. The trailhead is well marked and also offers a decent sized parking lot.
The best part about this hike is that you can bring Fido along, as this is a dog friendly walk along a treeless ridge. The reason I say “walk” is because I consider this hike more leisurely than exercise. Even though this hike offers beautiful views of the fall colors and wonderful sights of the valley year round, the very best time to visit the hill is in the spring, when it is covered in bright wildflowers. The round trip of Cherry Gulch Loop is 2.2 miles and takes approximately 1 hour to complete. To reach the trailhead, start at the intersection of Broadway and Madison, in downtown Missoula. Drive north on Madison to Greenough Drive, then take the first left after crossing I-90 and continue up the road to the signed trailhead.
If you are familiar with the Missoula’s Rattlesnake recreation area, you will already be aware that there are numerous trailheads to conquer. Of all the choices, my favorite is the ever challenging Stewart Peak trail. This hike is not for the faint of hearts, as I would place it in the long and strenuous category. Stewart Peak holds the title for Rattlesnake’s highest peak at 7, 960 feet and possesses some of the best views of the Missoula Valley and surrounding peaks. The distance of the loop is a total of 20 miles and can easily take 10 to 12 hours. So, while I wouldn’t necessarily consider this one a day hike, it can be done. However, you will probably enjoy this hike more if you can make a weekend of it and camp overnight before making the descent. To get to the trailhead from Missoula, take Van Buren east and drive 4.5 miles up Rattlesnake Drive to the main trailhead. This trail starts from the main trailhead and branches off at the ½ mile mark.
Whether you want to take a short hike on your lunch break or plan to make a weekend of it, you can find a local hike that works for you and your fitness level. Now that the weather is mild and the smoke has cleared out for the most part, make some time to get out and enjoy the outdoors right off your back doorstep. Before we know it,Missoulawill once again be engulfed by frigid weather and a bunch of snow.