Western Montana is rich with places to get outside and enjoy open lands. From extensive trail networks to river accesses to backcountry adventures, there's something for everyone. These diverse places are under the care of a collection of local public, state, federal, tribal, or private land managers. It's always a good idea to read up on current local restrictions and closures before you venture out.
Five Valleys got its start in 1972 by helping to create the Kim Williams Trail and has since helped to protect many of the open spaces in the Missoula area. Today, most of those community open space are now under City of Missoula management. The City has an extensive Parks, Open Space & Trails Map available for online viewing. These maps can also be purchased at Currents for $4 each. Five Valleys projects that the City now manages include:
Waterworks Hill - Peschel Conservation Easement (map)
The Mount Dean Stone project, led by Five Valleys, began in 2014 and is still in progress. The northern half of the mountain, including the Barmeyer Trail and Sousa Trail are now under management of the City of Missoula (see above). A majority of the southern half of the mountain is under management of The Nature Conservancy and includes several access points to this rugged and scenic side of the mountain. In between, Five Valleys is developing the nicknamed "High, Wide, and Handsome Trail" and the House of Sky Trail, which, when complete, will unite trails across the complex. Learn more about the once-in-a-generation Mount Dean Stone project.
"High, Wide, and Handsome Trail" (under development)
House of Sky Trail (under development)
Inez Creek Trailhead & Legacy Point (map)
Little Park Creek Trailhead and Miller Creek Universal Trail (map)
Once a local ski area, Marshall Mountain has evolved into Missoula's premier mountain biking hot spot. Five Valleys owns 140 acres between the ski base (which is privately owned and open to the public without reservation) and the summit. Partnering with local mountain biking advocacy and trail building nonprofit MTB Missoula, Five Valleys' portion of Marshall Mountain now hosts over six miles of trails. Check out MTB Missoula's Ride Guide for the most up-to-date trail reports on Marshall.
Running right through town, the Clark Fork River is the lifeblood of Missoula, and Missoulians love their river. The Three Rivers Collaborative, of which Five Valleys is a member, recently put out a River Guide & Map that is available online and free at retailers downtown (and at the Five Valleys office).
A day on the river is fun any time of year, but the Clark Fork, like all bodies of water, is not to be underestimated. Recreate safely and respectfully by knowing where you are going to put in and pull out, wearing personal floatation devices, and making sure to have plenty of fresh water and sun protection.
Just upstream, the Rock Creek Confluence, owned by Five Valleys, offers access to the Clark Fork and world-famous Rock Creek. The property also hosts a 1/3 mile universal trail, great wildlife viewing, and a place where students of all ages can learn about conservation and land restoration. Learn more about the Confluence or how to get there (map).
The Alberton Gorge, on the Lower Clark Fork River about a half hour west of Missoula, is one of western Montana's natural treasures. Here, sheer canyon walls fall into the roaring Clark Fork, which dances among the rocky, rapid-filled waters below. If whitewater rafting or kayaking is your thing, Alberton Gorge is for you. Five Valleys helped to protect this landmark in the 1990s and early 2000's, so that future generations could enjoy it in perpetuity. Visit local outdoors retailer The Trail Head's access guide for information on how to get to the Gorge.
North of Missoula lies the breathtaking Mission and Jocko Valleys and the Flathead Indian Reservation. Home to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, the Tribes manage their lands for use by tribal members, as well as hiking, fishing, camping, and bird hunting the public. Recreation Permits are required. However, due to COVID-19 recreation on the Flathead Indian Reservation is currently closed to non-tribal members. Learn more about the CSKT's Natural Resources Division and where to purchase a Recreation Permit.
The Missoula area is surrounded on nearly all sides by the 2 million-acre Lolo National Forest. National Forests offer a great variety of opportunities to get outside and connect with western Montana: front and backcountry trails, river and creek accesses, campgrounds, historic lookout towers, winter sports, cabin rentals and more. Visit the Lolo National Forest webpage to start exploring this great natural, public resource.
Montana boasts 55 incredible state parks, many of which are in western Montana. In addition to state parks, Montana FWP manages hunting and fishing permitting in Montana and state wildlife management areas. Learn more how to purchase a State of Montana fishing or hunting license.
Now, more than ever, spending time outdoors provides respite, a place to connect, and the space to nurture our health. Moderate activity, and time spent in nature, can help boost your immune system, as well as your mental and emotional health.
Under State of Montana COVID-19 guidelines, small-group outdoor activities are still permitted, provided they follow social distancing and personal hygiene protocols. Help keep yourself, and your community, safe and healthy by following these guidelines when using opens spaces or trails:
· Get outside, enjoy our open spaces, soak up the health benefits of fresh air and sunshine.
· Follow the CDC’s guidelines on personal hygiene prior to and after visiting open spaces.
· Maintain at least 6 feet of space between you and other users. Take extra precautions at trailheads.
· Consider wearing a cloth face mask to reduce the risk of exposure.
· Follow local rules, restrictions and closures.
· Prepare for limited access to public amenities like restrooms. Pack in, pack out - this includes dog poop bags!
· Help keep trails intact – embrace the mud, don’t forge new trails.
· Go out if you are feeling ill, or if someone in your household is ill.
· Recreate in groups. If you must, keep it to a few members of your own household. Don’t crowd the trail if you are in a small group.
· Visit already crowded open spaces. If a trailhead or park is already seeing heavy use, explore a new area or come back another time.
· Don’t travel – recreate as close to home as possible.
· Avoid dangerous activities that might lead to injury or hospitalization. Help our healthcare providers by playing it safe.
Header photo by Athena Lonsdale