Rattlesnake Wilderness, Montana

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Rattlesnake Wilderness

Boasting 32,976 acres of protected land, you need not travel far to find the wonders of the Rattlesnake Wilderness Area, as it lies just four miles north of Missoula, MT.

  • 32,976 acres of wilderness just four miles from Missoula.
  • Bag a peak by climbing McLeod Peak, 8,620 ft.
  • The Rattlesnake Wilderness Area protects the municipal watershed of Missoula.
  • Elk, mountain lion, deer, and a plethora of song birds call this home.


Established in 1980, the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area and Wilderness (RNRAW), with its close proximity to Missoula is the urban dwellers wilderness playground. To reach the Rattlesnake Wilderness you must first pass through the day use dominated and heavily used three miles of the recreation area.

High into the mountains, this glaciated topography houses small springs and snow melt creeks that flow down to the valley to form the municipal watershed of Missoula. What looks like mild terrain reaches up to peaks, topping out at 8,620 ft McLeod Peak and down alpine slopes covered in lodgepole pine and spruce.

Hike or backpack into the Rattlesnake Wilderness Area to experience a wild that is just up the block, right in Missoula's backyard.


The Rattlesnake Wilderness Area is managed by Lolo National Forest and located in western Montana, just 4 miles north of downtown Missoula.

From Missoula take Van Buren east and drive 4.5 miles up Rattlesnake Dr to the main trailhead. Signs will be posted at the trailhead to lead you into the Rattlesnake Wilderness. Remember, you will have to hike at least three miles into the Rattlesnake Recreation Area to reach the wilderness boundary.

Lolo National Forest
Building 24-A, Fort Missoula
Missoula, MT 59804
Phone: 406-329-3814
Fax: 406-329-1049


Rattlesnake National Recreation Area and Wilderness is an urban wilderness. The Recreation area boasts miles of trails that can often become congested with hikers, joggers, and dog walkers alike. For a bit more solitude, hike the three miles into the Wilderness Area.

Set out from one of the eight trailheads. Don't know where to go? Short hikes, long hikes, in shape, or trying to get in shape, the RNRAW has a trail for you. Check the board when you reach the trailhead and see which hike lures you in.

Looking to get out of the city for a few days, look no further than the Rattlesnake Wilderness. Multitudes of trails will guide you through your multi-day excursion.

There is a ton of biking available in the Rattlesnake Recreation Area, just make sure not to cross over into the border of the Wilderness Area, as biking is prohibited.

Horseback Riding
On the east side of Rattlesnake Creek you will find the new equestrian friendly trailhead. Feeling special, you should, because in addition to the new trailhead there are new horse trails and a horse only bridge, over the creek, just above Stuart Peak/Spring Gulch Trail.

For an easy ride, as you get acquainted with the area, check out the Rattlesnake Horse Trail #517A. This merges with the main Rattlesnake trail after a quarter of a mile. Note: Horses are not allowed on the main trailhead.

The lakes are well stocked and waiting to be fished. Popular hot spots are Little Lake and Worden Lake. Don't think about fishing Rattlesnake Creek unless you intend on walking up past mile marker 6, where fishing the creek finally becomes legal.

Fishing is regulated by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. They also issue permits or go to a local fly shop and see if the locals are willing to let you in on any of their favorite fishing holes.

Hunting is permitted in certain areas of the RNRAW for white tailed deer, mule deer, and elk. To ensure you know all the regulations and have the right permits contact the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Cross-country Skiing/ Snowshoeing
Luckily for cross-country skiiers, the trail from the trailhead to Franklin Bridge, part of the Rattlesnake Recreation Area, is maintained by the Missoula Nordic Ski Club.

For snowshoeing, the hilly valleys and open prairies, leave you plenty of room to bound about and forge your own path. If you have a lot of stamina keep heading north to explore the Wilderness Area.

Snowmobiling is not permitted in the Rattlesnake Wilderness Area.

Fun Facts

Most of the Rattlesnake Wilderness lies within the Northern Continental Divide Grizzly Recovery Project. Sightings are uncommon in the southern regions of the Wilderness but be aware and take precaution when backpacking and properly store your food.

The northern boundary of the Wilderness abuts the South Fork Jocko Tribal Primitive Area. This is considered sacred ground on which only tribal members are allowed. Respect the boundary and do not trespass onto these tribal lands.

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