Flathead National Forest
The Flathead National Forest is 2.4 million acres of mountains. It runs along the west side of Glacier National Park from the Canadian border down to Hungry Horse Reservoir, along the Swan Valley and down to the Seeley Lake area. In the Flathead alone there are over 2000 miles of trails. Connected to the Bob Marshall Wilderness complex, there are twice as many. Please note that there is no horse camping or stock access allowed within 1/4 mile of lakes in National Forests or Wilderness areas.
Tally Lake Ranger District
Tally Lake area is especially popular with Flathead Valley locals and it’s a good place to ride in the spring and the fall when there aren’t as many tourists enjoying the lake. The ranger district is west of Whitefish and has terrific views of the mountains east of the town.
Round Meadow Summer Trail System #45
The Round Meadow Summer Trails network is fine for trail riding but it can get fairly heavy traffic. There are four trails of easy-to-intermediate difficulty open to mountain bikers, hikers and horses. The trailhead has parking for 20 vehicles, a vault toilet, and an informational sign. There is no potable water available but there is water along the trail for horses. Be aware that dogs are allowed to be off leash. Dog owners are required to pick up after their pets.
From Whitefish take Hwy 93 north and turn west at the Round Meadow sign on the Farm-to-Market Rd. Go about one mile and turn onto Star Meadows Rd #539. Go another mile and turn at the Round Meadow sign.
Tally Lake Trails, Tally Gorge Trail #294, Tally Ridge Trail #458
Talley Lake is a beautiful area used by the locals in the summer when Glacier tourist traffic peaks. Early and late summer is a good time to ride the trails in the area. The 2.2 mile long Tally Gorge Trail is a non-motorized route from an undeveloped trailhead with room to park horse trailers to the Tally Lake Trail #800. Tally Gorge Trail is open to hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding.
The Tally Ridge Trail #458 is 3.0 miles long and begins at the same trailhead for #196 at the end of FS RD #2924. It intersects with #196 about a half mile from the trailhead and ends at the ridge on the east side of Tally Lake.
Elk Mtn Trail #252, Dunsire Pass Trail #258, Elk Basin Trail #182
There must be a dozen Elk Mountains in the US including one in Glacier Park which is probably the one you’ll find in an online search. This one, however, is in the Kootenai mountains west of Whitefish. You can access the trail to the lookout from the Dunsire Pass Trail #258, a half-mile long access to Elk Mtn Trail #252. The area was burned in the 2007 fire and is slowly recovering. The trailhead is near the Dunsire gravel pit and FS Rd #2890.
Elk Mtn Trail is 9.6 miles long and is a local favorite because it’s open to both motorized and non-motorized riding, but trail use is light. If you plan to ride during the week, you’ll probably have the trail to yourself. The view from Elk Mtn Lookout is worth the trip.
To get there, take Talley Lake Rd to the north end of the lake where the road turns into NFD 113. Turn left at the Junction with Star Meadows Rd. Follow to the right turn at FS Rd #2890 which is just to the east side of the bridge crossing Dunsire Creek. Follow #2890 north to the Dunsire gravel pit.
You can also continue west on Star Meadow Rd/#113 from Dunsire Creek to another trailhead on the road for Elk Mountain Trail. Trails in the area lead to several other peaks.
Star Meadow Guard Station and the Ingalls-Mt Conner Trail
The historic Star Meadow Guard Station doesn’t have stock corrals but renters with horses can make arrangements with the district office to have access to a nearby meadow. The cabin sleeps 6 and an additional bunkhouse sleeps four in two bunk beds. Dogs are allowed and there is a kennel on site.
There is no running water. Well water–available from April 1 to November 1–has to be pumped by hand. Bathrooms are vault toilets. The Station is accessible by paved road. 2020 rates are $75 per night and $5 per night for additional trailers.
Directions: From Whitefish take Hwy 93 west for 10 miles. Turn on Farm-to-Market Rd and go 1.5 miles. Turn on Star Meadow Rd and go about 15 miles. Turn at the “Cabin” sign.
The Ingalls-Mt Conner Trail #171 starts at the Star Meadow Guard Station and ends at Kootenai Divide at the junction of Trail #172. The segment of the trail from the cabin to Forest Service Rd #538 is non-motorized. The rest of the trail allows motorcycle riding, though it’s a lightly-used trail.
Glacier View Ranger District
The Glacier View Ranger District is bordered on the east by the North Fork of the Flathead River and Glacier National Park. Its northern border is with Canada and its western border is with the Kootenai National Forest.
This trailhead is tucked high up in the Whitefish Range. Several non-motorized trails start at this site. Stock facilities (feed bunks, hitch rails, a vault toilet, and a load ramp) are provided. Water is available depending on the season.
Tuchuck Creek Trail #23 is 5.8 miles long and starts on Rd #114 just before the campground. The Tuchuck Ridge Trail #114 also starts at the Rd #114.
The 5 mile long Antley Tepee Creek trail begins south of Trail Creek Rd #114 and ends at the junction of Cleft Rock Trail #13.
The 8.8 mile long Review Mtn Trail begins at Rd #114 near the Tuchuck Campground and ends at the junction of Tuchuck Creek Trail #23. The first two miles of this trail climbs up switchbacks to a ridgeline where the trail becomes hard to see. There are rock cairns marking the path to the peak of Review Mtn. The terrain is subalpine and the views are terrific. Past the peak the trail drops down to an alpine basin with small lakes and creeks. The last two miles go down and out of Tuchuck Creek to the junction with Trail #23.
The Seemo Pass Trail is 4.0 miles long and also begins at Trail Creek Rd #114. It, too, ends at the junction with Trail #13.
Go north from Columbia Falls about 50 miles on County Rd #486, then west on Rd #114 until you see signs for the Tuchuck Trailhead.
Stillwater Ranger Station Photo courtesy Stillwater State Park
Nasukoin Mtn Trail #375, Link Lake Trail #372, Red Meadow Lake Campground
The Nasukoin Mtn Trail is 5.8 miles long and is a fairly strenous route to the highest point in the Glacier View Ranger District. The trailhead is located on Rd #589 at the Jct of Link Lake Trail #372. It climbs to an elevation of 7814 near Lake Mountain, then switchbacks down towards Chain Lakes. Horses and mules are not allowed within 200 feet of lakeshore. The trail features an open subalpine bowl with great views of unique rock formations. The trail ends at the peal of Nasukoin Mountain, elevation 8086 ft. where you can see the entire North Fork and Glacier National Park.
Spotted Bear Ranger District
Main East Side South Fork Trail 80
The Main East Side South Fork Trail is 38.9 miles long. It begins at the Spotted Bear Ranger Station and ends at Jct Trail #126, S10, Big Prairie. You can also access it at Meadow Creek Trailhead nine miles south of the Spotted Bear Ranger Station.
Schafer Creek Trail #327
The Schafer Creek trail is 18.9 miles long and goes over Whitcomb Pass which has an elevation of 7,000 feet.
The closest accesses are from the Middle Big Bill or Trail Creek trailheads.
Swan Lake Ranger District
Cedar Lake Trail #738
The Cedar Lake Trail begins at the end of Rd #10381 and ends at the junction of Piper Creek Trail #119. The whole trail is 13 miles and climbs to 6880 feet.
Crystal Lake Trail #351, Jocko Trail #34, Lindbergh Trail
This Crystal Lake (there are many) is a beauty west of Hwy. 83 in the middle of the triangle of Seeley Lake, Condon, and St. Ignatius. Two trails access the lake from both the north and south. The northern trail is only open to hikers. The longer 4.4 mile south trail is open to horses and is an easy ride. As of summer 2020, the south bridge is out. Be careful when fording the river.
To get to the trailhead from Hwy 83, turn west onto FS road #906 near mile marker 31 just before the Lolo National Forest sign. Continue up #906 for 7.4 miles to the Crystal Lake Trailhead sign on the right.
Hemlock Lake Trail #607, Hemlock Peak Trail #515
Hemlock Lake Trail #607 (4.2 miles) begins at the end of FS #9576 and ends at the junctions with Hemlock Peak trail #515 (3.7 miles to Hemlock Lake.) Mountain biking is allowed for the first 1.8 miles, but only hiking and horse packing after that.
To get to the trailhead, from Hwy 83 south of mile marker 38, turn west on Kraft Creek RD (FS #561) and drive 6.5 miles to FS #9576. Turn right, cross over the bridge, and drive past the first trailhead to the right. Keep going up a rocky road for one mile to the next trailhead.
Glacier Creek Trail #690 to Glacier, Cresent and Heart Lakes
To get to these lakes, drive to the end of Kraft Creed Rd #561 to the Glacier Creek trail FS#690. Follow Trail 690 as though you were heading to Glacier Lake through mature forest for one mile. At that point you will be at the junction of #690 and Trail #742. Stay to the right on #690 and start heading up eight switchbacks to the upper trail junction. At switchback #5 there is a rock outcropping that offers outstanding views of Glacier Lake and its surrounding peaks. The trail here is steep, so watch your footing.
At the upper trail junction of #690 and #708 (to Turquoise Lake), stay right on #690 and follow through dense forest and huckleberry patches to Crescent Lake. From Crescent Lake take in the views of the surrounding mountains and continue on up to Heart Lake. The Glacier Creek trail is 4.6 miles from the trailhead to Heart Lake.
There are several restoration areas along this trail– please respect closure signs and no camping areas. There is a bathroom at the trailhead.
Owl Creek Cabin and Packer Camp, the Holland-Gordon Trail #35 and the Sapphire Trail #120
The popular Owl Creek Packer Camp is 70 miles north of Missoula or 7.5 miles south of Condon on Montana Hwy 83. It features a corral for 12 horses, but no more than four people are allowed to use the rustic one-room cabin. Camping is first-come, first-served with eight campsites available. The corral must be reserved. The trailhead is located across the road from the camp.
The road is plowed to the cabin in the winter. Accommodations for $30/night include sleeping bunks with mattresses, a wood heat stove, electric lights, a small electric range, pots, pans, and dishes for four. The cabin has no running water, but there is potable water outside available from mid-May through mid-November. Winter renters need to bring their own. There is an outhouse nearby.
To get there, follow Hwy 83 to mile marker 35 where you will turn east on Holland Lake Rd #44. Go 2.5 miles and turn right on Owl Loop Rd #10121 to the camp. The Owl Creek Packer Camp entrance is on the right. Turn at the entrance and continue straight through the camp to the cabin. There is no sign for the cabin, but it is the only structure in the camp.
The Holland-Gordon Trail #35 is heavily used by outfitters and stock headed into the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Be aware there is an uphill/downhill policy to minimize conflicting traffic: uphill traffic before noon and downhill traffic after noon. The 28.9 mile trail starts out flat then starts to climb along the hillside above Holland Falls. The trail does not provide a view of the falls.
The trail to Upper Holland Lake is 4.2 miles long and climbs 2,100 feet. Please note that there are several spurs along the route as weel as an overflow trail to aid in passing, so it may be difficult to follow the correct path. Luckily, no matter which path you follow, they all seem to end up back on the correct trail which continues past the lake, turns south, and climbs through Gordon Pass.
The Sapphire Trail #120 is also sometimes called the Sapphire-Smokey Trail. It is 8 miles from the junction with the Holland-Gordon Trail #35 to the junction with the Big Salmon Trail #110. The first part is a steep ascent from Holland Lake to a high plateau. Then the trail winds through bedrock mounds, passes a side trail down to Sapphire Lakes, and arrives at the junction with Holland-Sapphire Trail #48. It then climbs a pass, passes Necklace Lakes, and meets the Big Salmon Trail #110.