Bitterroot National Forest Overview
The 1.6 million acre Bitterroot National Forest in west central Montana and east central Idaho, is part of the Northern Rocky Mountains. Forest land begins above the foothills of the Bitterroot River Valley in two mountain ranges–the Bitterroot Mountains on the west and the Sapphire Mountains on the east side of the valley. If you are looking for beautiful scenery without having to travel too far, you have come to the right place. The best hikes in Bitterroot National Forest are all within an hour’s drive of each other. Visitors are also an easy drive away from Lolo National Forest to the north or Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest to the south.
|Nearest Metro Area||Missoula, MT|
|Area Size||1,585,070 acres|
|Established||July 1, 1908|
|Hiking Trails||1,600 miles|
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Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Best Hikes in Bitterroot National Forest
(*** = Best hikes in Bitterroot National Forest)
Bass Creek Trail – 8.5 miles out and back
Similar to other valley creek trails below (Bear, Canyon, and Kootenai) this is a gorgeous hike with a lot of features. The trail goes to Bass Lake under Bass Peak in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness but this is a little over 10 miles from the trailhead and will take some determination to reach. Most hikers will enjoy going out about 4 miles to a set of roaring falls along the creek.
Bear Creek Overlook Trail #126*** – 5.2 miles out and back
This is a fantastic trail that climbs about 1,000′ to an overlook with beautiful views of Bear Creek below. More than 20 switchbacks up the mountain make the climb more manageable, especially considering the short distance. Hikers have another great option nearby with Bear Creek Trail #5; this trail follows the creek several miles to some falls. It is an easier option but if restricted to just one of the two, I would highly recommend the expansive views you get with Bear Creek Overlook!
Blodgett Creek Trail #19*** – 9.6 miles out and back
Great hike near Hamilton, MT with views of the canyon walls throughout on your way to 2 waterfalls. The trail follows Blodgett Creek the entire way. Wear the proper hiking boots as parts of the trail are rocky and wet.
Blodgett Overlook Trail #101*** – 2.8 miles out and back
Hikers begin from the same trailhead as Canyon Creek Trail #525 (below). The trail rises slowly up to Romney Ridge where you are rewarded with phenomenal views of Blodgett Canyon.
Boulder Creek Trail – 9.0 miles out and back
Easy to moderate trail that travels through the valley formed by Boulder Peak and Trapper Peak. The trail is about 10 miles total in length but Boulder Creek Falls at the 4.5 mile mark makes for a good spot to return to the trailhead. 9 miles might be a little far but this is a great family-friendly hike in Bitterroot National Forest!
Camas Creek Trail #125 – 6.5 miles out and back
The first 1/2 mile of this trail is on an “old logging road”. The trail then crosses two “foot log bridges” while climbing along the creek to Camas Lake. In the early summer you will see a variety of wildflowers. You will also be rewarded with a scenic view of the Bitterroot Valley.
Canyon Creek Trail #525 – 10.0 miles out and back
This is both a physically and navigationally challenging hike that travels west to East Lake and the beautiful Canyon Lake. The first 3 miles are pretty moderate although the trail can be rough at times. Once you get to 3.5 miles, the trail climbs over 1,000′ in elevation in about a mile. The views along the way and at the lakes are superb but you should be ready for a difficult trek.
Kootenai Creek Trail – 7 miles out and back
Beautiful hike throughout that is mostly shaded as it goes along with Kootenai Creek. In total, the trail stretches about 14.5 miles point to point. At 3.5 miles from the trailhead, the trail ventures away from the creek after entering Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness; this makes an adequate point to turn around.
St. Mary Peak Trail #116*** – 7.6 miles out and back
Beautiful trail that climbs 2,500′ to a lookout tower on the top of the 9,300′ summit. The views from the top are spectacular and this is a very manageable ascent and one you should definitely try if in the area. It is cooler and windy at the top so come prepared; bring a set of binoculars with you as well!
Sweathouse Creek Trail #121 – 4.2 miles out and back
Great option for anyone looking for a quick hike that packs a punch. The trail follows Sweathouse Creek rising steadily before finishing at the amazing Sweathouse Falls. There is a good mix of shade along the way as well.
Trapper Peak Trail*** – 8.4 miles out and back
Strenuous hike up to the summit of Trapper Peak (10,157′) but the views from the top are totally worth the climb. The trail is pretty easy to follow until you get past the treeline with about .3 miles to the summit (don’t stop at the false summit). There you will have to scramble over large rocks in order to reach the top. This is the tallest peak in the Bitterroot Mountains and one that should not be passed up. In total, the trail climbs about 3,600′ in elevation.
Featured Image: Trapper Peak, Photo by US Department of Agriculture
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