Lolo National Forest (West)
There are five separate areas of the Lolo National Forest. The main supervisor’s office is at Ft. Missoula where the Missoula Ranger District is also located. This district controls the “east” area which surrounds the city of Missoula.
The second area is the Seeley Lake Ranger District. Trails in that area are described under the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex.
The third area is the Ninemile Ranger District, headquartered at the historic Ninemile Ranger Station. This district is bounded on the Missoula District to the east and the fourth area, the Superior Ranger District, to the west. Both the Ninemile District and the Superior District include land on both sides of the interstate west of Missoula and their southern boundary is in the Great Burn Proposed Wilderness along the border of Idaho. Their northern boundary is the Flathead (CSKT) Reservation.
The fifth area is the Plains Ranger District which includes the valley between Plains and Thompson Falls and land in the Thompson River watershed to the north.
Missoula Ranger District
Most of the Missoula Ranger District is dedicated to suburban/natural interface. Hiking and mountain biking trails are common
Blue Mountain Trails
In 2018 fire swept through the forest surrounding Lolo Peak and changed Blue Mountain, one of Missoula’s favorite recreation areas. Located just two miles west of Missoula, Blue Mountain is a multi-use area with specific trails dedicated to mountain bikes, ATVs, motorcycles, hikers and horses. The horse trailhead is clearly marked at the parking lot and has plenty of space for horse trailer parking.
Ninemile and Superior Ranger District
Headquarters of the Ninemile Ranger District are located in the historic Ninemile Remount Depot along with the Ninemile Wildlands Training Center (NWTC).
The Remount Depot was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s as a pack stock breeding/training facility and it still is home to one of the National Forest’s mule pack strings, the Northern Region Pack Train serving Montana, Northern Idaho, North Dakota and Northwestern South Dakota. Visitors are welcome in the small museum at the Depot.
The NWTC provices traditional skills training to Forest Service employees: care and handling of tools, horsemanship and packing, historic preservation and low impact backcountry stock use. The national program, Heritage Expeditions, offers the same classes to the public along with classes about the many issues which are important to the local area such as managing fish, wildlife, water and recreation and protecting cultural resources.
Reservation Divide Trail
Reservation Divide Trail is actually two trails: Reservation Divide Trail East and Reservation Divid Trail West along the divide between Lolo National Forest Ninemile Ranger District and the CSKT Flathead Reservation. The main feature of these trails are the mountain peaks which offer tremendous views of the Mission Mountains, the Flathead and Missoula valleys, and the Bitterroot Range. On a clear day you can even see all the way to Glacier Park.
Please note that if you plan to leave the trail and ride on Flathead Reservation land, you’ll need to have a CSKT Recreation Use permit with you: csktnrd.org/fwrc/recreation
Ch-paa-qn Peak (formerly named Squaw Peak on older maps) is the highest mountain along Reservation Divide Trail East. At 7996 feet, it can be seen from both Missoula and the Flathead Valley. The trail and mountain also have the most visitors. Roads leading to the trail access are near Ninemile Ranger Station. Because physical conditions having to do with the access change frequently and several of the area roads are often closed to motorized vehicles, it’s advised that you contact the ranger station about access and parking before planning your ride.
There is the possibility of riding a loop up to Ch-paa-qn from Edith Peak Road #476, taking Reservation Divide East #98 (3.5 mile high use trail), then taking Kennedy Creek Trail #746 (13 mile low use trail) down to Kennedy Ridge Road 5507 or Ch-Paa-qn Peak Trail 707 (2.8 mile moderate use trail) down to Stony Creek Road 2178.
For a long day ride and easiest horse access to Ch-paa-qn Peak, it may be best to park on Butler Creek Road #456, then ride Kennedy Ridge Road #5507 (which may be closed to motorized vehicles) up to Kennedy Creek Trail #746.
McCormick Peak (7453′) can be reached on a relatively easy, low-use trail, McCormick Peak Trail #708, which is only 1.5 miles from the trailhead to peak. The trailhead is 12 miles from Ninemile Road. Drive NW from the Ninemile Ranger Station and turn right onto McCormick Creek Road #392, then left onto Josephine Ridge Road #4213.
At McCormick Peak, the trail ties into Reservation Divide West Trail #98 which leads to Josephine Peak, Burnt Fork Peak, and Siegel Peak. This 15-mile-long trail is the longest in the area and its elevation varies. The views are incredible, and so are the huckleberries (in season) but water on the ridge is scarce most of the year. You may see the remains of three old mining towns: Martina, Stark, and Old Town.
Burnt Fork Trail #481 is a short (2.5 miles) and steep (3,300′ elevation gain) trail from Foothills Road #5498. It was historically used as a sheep drive from the Flathead Valley to the Idaho border, and it has low use these days. Once at Burnt Fork Peak, Reservation Divide Trail West goes 5.5 miles to Siegel Mountain Road #5572 or 7.4 miles east to Josephine Peak. The trail also provides access to Three Lakes Peak on the Reservation.
Directions: I-90 West from Missoula to Exit 82 Ninemile Road (23 miles from Missoula). Turn north, go approximately 2 miles, turn north just before Ninemile House Restaurant (it’s burned down now, but still there.) Go approximately 2 miles to Ninemile History Redmount Depot. Stop in, pick up maps, and get updates on where to drive and where to park horse trailers, or call ahead: 406-626-5201.
Need a Place to Spend the Night with Your Horse on I-90?
Sloway Campground – Forest Service “Horse Hotel”
Sloway Campground is one of the few Forest Service “horses hotels” in Montana. Situated near the I-90 exit at mile marker, it’s convenient to cross-country stop-overs, trips to the Idaho Panhandle, or trail riding in Lolo National Forest. It’s also the gateway to the Great Burn Proposed Wilderness Area south of the interstate.
Sloway offers 19 tent and 12 RV campsites as well a hitching rail and one large horse corral. The pull-throughs are paved and can accommodate any size RV. Vault toilets are available. Pets are allowed if on a leash. Maximum trailer length is 30 feet. It can be noisy from the highway and the train tracks, but it’s close to the Clark Fork river. No reservations, stay limit is 14 days, and there’s a camping fee. Open Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Directions: Midway between Superior and St. Regis on I-90 take Exit 43 at Dry Creek Rd. After the exit ramp turn right and go 0.3 miles to a stop sign. Turn left and go 3 miles to the campground on the left.
The Great Burn Proposed Wilderness
Heart Lake Trailhead
The Great Burn is a roadless proposed wilderness area along the Montana-Idaho border between Lookout Pass and Lolo Pass. A patchwork of old-growth cedar forests, lush mountain meadows, soaring cliffs, alpine tundra, pristine lakes, and icy trout streams, the area is heaven for backcountry trail riders and hikers.
One hundred years ago the northern Bitterroot Mountains of Idaho and Montana were engulfed in one of the largest and most deadly firestorms in American history. Over two August days in 1910, hurricane-force winds consumed nearly three million acres in Eastern Washington, Northern Idaho, and Western Montana. Eighty-seven people died and the event set the course for fire-fighting priorities of the Forest Service for decades.
The Great Burn is surrounded by 1.5 million acres of roadless Forest Serviyce land connecting Central Idaho ecosystems to the south with Cabinet-Yaak and Crown of the Continent ecosystems to the north. Wildlife rarely seen in other areas of Montana: mountain goats, fishers, wolverines, and the threatened Canadian lynx range the area, and the Great Burn’s open hillsides dotted with pockets of forest serves as prime elk habitat.
Although much of the Great Burn is in Idaho, access to it is easiest from Montana. Located roughly 30 miles west of Missoula, the northwest corner of the wilderness is 20 miles south of Superior and the southern corner of the Great Burn is six miles north of Lolo Pass.
The Great Burn has a long history of horse use – the Nez Perce used it for summer hunting and outfitters guide hunts there in the fall. Most trails are suitable for stock and usage at this point is low.
Heart Lake Trailhead
Situated in the Superior Ranger District of Lolo National Forest, Heart Lake Trailhead is along Trout Creek Road #250. From the trailhead, Heart Lake Trail #171 goes south to Heart Lake, then branches off to go into the Great Burn to the west or Lightning Peak to the east.
Also in the Superior Ranger District of Lolo National Forest along Trout Creek Road #250, this is the trailhead at Hoodoo Pass, the northern gateway of the Great Burn. Hoodoo Pass is 5990′ and the trail from there, #738, heads for Heart Lake, but follows the ridge south of the lake to Trio Lakes and Goose Lake. Many possibilities for trail loops exist in this area of the Great Burn.
Clearwater Crossing Camp
Clearwater Crossing Campground is a primitive campground with three overnight campsites located along the West Fork of Fish Creek. Stock facilities and corrals are available. Clearwater Crossing serves as a trailhead for several trails that access the Great Burn proposed wilderness area. It has a restroom and potable water in the summer.
Trail #103 from the Clearwater Crossing trailhead follows the North Fork of Fish Creek. The trail is an easy ride past the historic Greenwood cabin which is in the process of being restored. Turn north on Trail 143 to the beautiful French Lake basin where one may find mountain goats. Continuing west, Trail 103 becomes increasingly steep and increasingly beautiful. Pass through a grove of huge old-growth cedar trees on the way to Goose Lake, Idaho, an ideal horse camp.
Cache Creek Trailhead
It is not possible to reach other Great Burn trails from this trailhead, but it makes a nice day ride.
For trail and road conditions, contact:
Lolo National Forest
Ninemile Ranger Station
20325 Remount Road
Huson, MT 59846
Getting to the Great Burn Proposed Wilderness from Lolo
South Fork Lolo Trailhead
Nine miles west of Lolo, MT, on Hwy 12, turn south on Lolo Creek Road #451 for two miles, then follow signs to South Fork Lolo Trailhead. Trail #311 leaves the trailhead to the south and forks after a little over a mile – #311 to the right and #309 to the left.
Granite Creek Road – Great Burn Southern Access
Just west of Lolo Hot Springs Resort before you get to Lee Creek Campground, there is a fairly obscure road, #343 to the north which, if followed to Granite Creek Road #9942 and then a right on #17188, is one of the few accesses to the south end of the Great Burn Proposed Wilderness.