Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness, Montana

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Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness

The Anaconda Pintler Wilderness, one of the most pristine and least explored wilderness areas, is tucked away in southwestern Montana and boasts over 250 miles of striking glacial formations, flora and fauna. Read More

  • 158,615 acres of pristine wilderness just waiting to be explored.
  • Tease the trout as you fish the crystal clear streams of the Anaconda Pintler Wilderness.
  • The Anaconda Pinler Wilderness draws it's name from the dominant Anaconda Mountain Range and from Charles Ellsworth Pintler, a settler who arrived in Big Hole in 1885.

Overview

Crystal lakes of sapphire, pristine mountain streams, jagged peaks, glacial basins and over 158, 615 acres of pristine wilderness all come together to create the Anaconda Pintler Wilderness. Designated in 1964, this wilderness area in southwestern Montana, is flanked by the Sapphire Mountains to the north, Big Hole Valley to the south and straddles the Anaconda Range.

The best part, other than the heavily used 45 mile portion of the Continental Divide trail, this wilderness remains virtually untouched by curious hikers. The trout are just waiting to be tricked into dining on one of your flies and the peaks begging you to add them to your bagged list. Don't forget to keep an eye out for the abundant wildlife which includes bears, elk, mountain lions, moose and over 13 different types of raptors.

In addition to wildlife, the Anaconda Pintler Wilderness offers a wide spectrum of vegetation.  As you climb from the valleys up to the peaks you will witness the effects of glacial formation and more recent changes due to fire,  as well as the many different ecosystems within the wilderness.  Enjoy open fields of lupine and indian paintbrush and forests of aspen, lodgepole pine and douglas fir.

Elevation ranges from 5,000 ft to 10,793 ft at West Goat Peak. You will find a handful of peaks over 10,000 ft that you can summit without the use of technical equipment. Set up a base camp and make it a weekend expedition or greet the sun and make your summit in a day. Either way, the views from the top will leave your mouth a gape as the pure beauty of nature rests below you.

Location/ Directions

Encompassed with the Bitterroot National Forest and Beaverhead-Deerhead National Forests Anaconda Pintler Wilderness has many different management bodies.  Luckily, that does not hinder access, which is very easy.  Below are three access pionts to get you started. 

  • Starting in Hamilton for northern access, drive south on US Hwy 93 for three miles then head east on MT Hwy 38 (Skalkaho Road). Take this for 20 miles to Skalkaho Pass. Continue east and take the first right. The Sapphire Crest Trail 313 trailhead is a quarter mile up the road. Note: Hwy 38 (Skalkaho Road) is closed in the winter.
  • Also from the north, starting from Philipsburg head south on MT Hwy 1. Turn right onto MT Hwy 38, heading west to Skalkaho Pass. Turn left about a half a mile before the pass. The trail head is a quarter mile up the road. Note: Hwy 38 is closed in the winter.
  • From Anaconda, eastern access point, take MT Hwy 1 west for 10 miles to Spring Hill. Turn south on Twin Lakes Creek Rd (FR 5131). After 3 miles, turn left on FR171. The national forest boundary is half mile up the road. From here Trail 44 will take you up to the Twin Lakes Creek drainage.

If you have questions, need assistance, or would like to purchase maps, there are three ranger station.  Below are the locations with corresponding phone numbers.

Beaverhead- Deerlodge National Forest
www.fs.usda.gov/bdnf

  • 300 Forest Service Road, Wisdom, MT 59761  (406) 689-3243
  • 65,600 Montana Hwy 43, Wise River, MT 58762  (406) 832-3178
  • 88 Business Loop, Philipsburg, MT 59858  (406) 859-3211

Bitterroot National Forest
7338 US Highway 93 South, Sula, MT 59871 (406) 821-3201
www.fs.usda.gov/bitterroot

Fees/Cost

There is no access fee.

Activities

With over 250 miles of pristine wilderness at your finger tips the options are abundant. To reach some of the deeper, more solitary parts of the wilderness you may want to jump on horseback or plan on spending a couple days backpacking. The rainbow and cutthroat trout that call the rivers and lakes home, may be ready to take a nibble of your nymph. Looking to mount a bull Elk over the fire place this year? You found the place for pristine hunting.

Be forewarned the Anaconda Pintler Wilderness receives much more snow then surrounding areas. Expect snow at higher elevations until late July. July and August are prime weather months for this area, but as all mountain weather is concerned, be prepared. Snow and rain can strike with little warning.

Hiking
Numerous trail heads spot the Pintler Wilderness. Take the time to stop in one of the ranger stations to chat with the ranger and pick up a map. After all, they know the area best. There is a trail registry at all trail heads. Make sure to fill this out just in case. Many trails can be found around the campgrounds.

  • East Fork Trails: This trail will take you to Starr Falls. Another multi-day hike or keep it short for day hiking. Burned in 2000 this hike will show you examples of forest rejuvenation after a burn. From hills of wildflowers to small lodgepole pines looking to reestablish their population.
  • Pintler Loop: Accessed from Philipsburg, this 24 mile strenuous loop takes you through the heart of the Pintler Wilderness. Perfect for a three day backpacking adventure or do a segment of this trail for a day hike. The elevation gain is minimal at roughly 3,000 ft.

Fishing
Some of the most pristine fly fishing in the world is found tucked away in the Anaconda Pintler Wilderness. Don't forget your fishing license! Many rivers and streams flow out of this area, so pick whichever one suits you.

  • The upper lakes Seymour, Edith, and Johnson are very isolated and great fising holes.
  • Big Hole River runs right through the heart of this wilderness area. Look for fishing access signs. Beware of mosquitoes, the Big Hole River Basin is known for an over abundance of these little blood suckers.

Horseback riding
A chance to get deep into the Anaconda Pintler Wilderness. Closely view wildlife from your horse.

Camping
Designated campsites can be found throughout the wilderness area. There are view cities of substantial size nearby, so buy your supplies in advance. The town of Sula is nearby and has basic ammenities. When in the back country, you may camp anywhere. No permit necessary. Remember to 'leave no trace' and take precautions when cooking so as not to attract wildlife.

Cross Country Skiiing
As with hiking, many trails can be found starting around the campgrounds.

Hunting
Hunting is permitted within the Anaconda Pintler Wilderness. You must first purchase a permit. Elk are the most sought after, but deer hunting is also popular. Check Montana state regulations for seasons and guidelines.

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