Mission Mountains Wilderness
There are mountains than there are the mountains of the Mission Mountain Wilderness, whose profile cuts through the landscape with such a sharp edge that even the Tetons would be jealous.
- Watch soaring bald and golden eagles glide through the sky.
- Cast away for the allusive cutthroat in Turquoise and Cold Lake.
- Check out the 1,000 ft cascades of Elizabeth and Mission Falls.
- Escape the city for a week in the heart of this wild wilderness.
The Mission Mountain Wilderness designated in 1975 and located in northwestern Montana, covers 73,877 acres. Combine that with the adjacent 89,500 acres, set aside by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, that make up the Mission Mountain Tribal Wilderness and you have one of the most remote areas in the west.
No foothills lead up to the mountains, creating a dramatic visual effect as dozens of peaks abruptly cut through the landscape with heights that reach up to 9,280 ft at Mc Donald Peak. Snow fields cover the Mission Mountains nearly year round feeding the highest density of glacial lakes in the Northern Rockies.
With incredibly steep terrain and a small window of optimal weather, late July to October, the Mission Mountain Wilderness is not for the fair weather recreational explorer. The landscape dares to compete with the likes of Glacier National Park, minus the hoards of tourist.
For those that dare to venture in, the Mission Mountain Wilderness will exceed all expectations with its crystal clear alpine lakes, jagged, glacier studded peaks, and an abundance of wildlife. This area gives new meaning to the 'Wild, wild, west!”
The Mission Mountain Wilderness is located approximately 80 miles north of Missoula. Between Missoula and Kalispell, access to the area can be reached from Hwy 93 or 83 via forest service roads.
The Mission Mountain Wilderness is managed by the Swan Lake Ranger District of Flathead National Forest.
In addition, the western and southern side of the Missions run adjacent to the Mission Mountain Tribal Wilderness, managed by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes. No permit is needed for the Mission Mountain Wilderness but one is required for any hiking on tribal land.
Flathead National Forest
659 Wolfpack Way
Kalispell, MT 59901
The Mission Mountain Wilderness is open year round, but generally most accessible July 1st to Oct.1st. It is not uncommon for snow to be present until the end of June.
The tribe does close 12,000 acres of the Mission Mountain Tribal Wilderness from July to October to help protect the grizzly bear from displacement.
With so much land under protection, one would imagine this majestic place would be a hikers paradise. In reality, there are only 45 miles of trails available with non that loop together for a decent circuit. The hikes are steep and rugged, but worth the pain.
No motorized or mechanical vehicles, that includes bicycles, are allowed in the wilderness. Even if it was permitted even Lance Armstrong would find the climbs too treacherous.
The song of the common loon may accompany you as you hike through the Missions. Keep your eyes open for grizzly and black bears, mountain goats, and the occasional wolverine. Hiking in the Mission Mountains promises to be a leg burning experience but one that is sure to be masked by the stunning surroundings.
With a steep gradient, most trails are too much for even a sturdy four leg horse to handle. But for those that boast serious experience, saddle up and give it a try.
The cutthroat thrives in the frigid, glacier lakes of the Missions. Test your luck tempting the trout, but make sure to get a permit from the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks first.
Escape the chaos of the city and spend a couple days communing with nature. Watch where you pitch your tent, no camping is permitted near Glacier, Turquoise, and Upper and Lower Cold Lakes. The Mission Mountain Wilderness map is a clear reference for camping guidelines and trails.
Within the National Forest you will be able to test your aim as you hunt for big game. Season and permit information is available from the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks.
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