The Rattlesnake Mountains are a small, u-shaped mountain range just north of Missoula, MT. This range is located in the Lolo National Forest, with part of the range in the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area and Wilderness, and a portion of the range in the Flathead Reservation.
The Rattlesnake Mountains form the northern vistas for the Missoula Valley. They are a rugged mountain range known for their scenic peaks, pristine mountain lakes, lush forests, and diverse wildlife.
Portions of the Rattlesnake Mountains were once a prime location for logging activities in Montana. Today, particularly in the Wilderness areas, areas that were once heavily logged are now returning to a more natural forest condition.
Many locals in Missoula utilize the Rattlesnake Mountains for recreation due to its close proximity to town, and a wide range of recreational activities.
Rattlesnake Mountains Statistics
- Highest Elevation (ft/m) – 8,620 feet (2,630 meters)
- Most Recognizable Peak – McLeod Peak
- Season (when can it be accessed) – All Year
Rattlesnake Mountains Recreation Activities
There are plenty of recreational activities available for locals and visitors to the Rattlesnake Mountains.
With portions of the range located in the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area, you’ll find plenty of designated trails, camping, hiking, and biking opportunities, as well as plenty of other outdoor recreational activities.
Despite much of the Rattlesnake Mountains being a designated wilderness area, hiking is a very popular recreational activity in the range.
The portions of the Rattlesnake Mountains located in the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area have a well-established trail system, and you’ll find numerous trails located in the Rattlesnake Mountains near Missoula.
Within the Wilderness Area, hiking is one of the only available recreation activities allowed, making this an ideal place to escape the crowds near Missoula and enjoy some peace and quiet while hiking through this beautiful mountain range.
Mountain biking is a very popular recreational activity in the Rattlesnake Mountains, particularly in the National Recreation Area and in the hills north of Missoula.
The rugged Rattlesnake Mountains make a great area for single-track riders that are looking for a bit of challenge.
Many of the trails in the Rattlesnake Range offer great opportunities for technical riding, and fun downhill runs.
Fishing in the Rattlesnake Mountains is another popular recreational activity. With Rattlesnake Creek passing through the National Recreation area, there are plenty of nice spots to try your hand at fly-fishing in one of Montana’s blue-ribbon trout streams.
The Rattlesnake Mountains are also dotted with over 50 alpine lakes that are home to a variety of native fish species. Fishing is not allowed in the Rattlesnake Wilderness area, be aware of marked boundaries.
Anyone wanting to fish in Montana and the Rattlesnake Mountains will need to acquire a Montana fishing license. They can be purchased on the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks website.
The Rattlesnake Mountains are home to a very large and growing Elk population. The area Elk herd spends summers in the Rattlesnake Mountains and winters in the foothills near Missoula.
This herd has grown too large for its range, so the Rattlesnake Mountains have an extended elk hunting season. For more information on hunting in Montana and the Rattlesnake Mountains, visit the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks website.
The Rattlesnake Mountains are home to the Montana Snowbowl ski area.
This small ski area in the southwest portion of the Rattlesnake Mountains is a popular place for locals to enjoy downhill skiing in the winter and a range of summer activities including mountain biking, hiking, frisbee golf, and zip-lining.
Ski season starts in late October and runs through early May, depending on snow conditions.
Rattlesnake Mountains Trail Routes
Though considered to be a fairly remote and small range, the Rattlesnake Mountains have plenty of great trails for hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians.
Since portions of the Rattlesnake Mountains are located in the National Wilderness Area, if you are biking, make sure to be aware of your location, biking in the wilderness areas is prohibited and can result in a significant fine.
This is the longest trail in the Rattlesnake Mountains and wanders through the Wilderness area. The trail is a 34-mile out and back with approximately 2,818 feet of elevation gain.
While the complete trail is quite the distance and is popular with backpackers, many people enjoy using portions of the trail for easy day hikes. The trail is built on logging roads so it is wider than others through the recreation and wilderness areas.
There are also numerous small trails that lead off of the Rattlesnake Trail that offer nice hikes to some of the Rattlesnake Mountains’ many alpine lakes.
Sawmill Curry Gulch Loop
This trail is a popular day hike for wildlife watching and wildflowers. The loop is a nice 5.2 miles long, making it the perfect length for a leisurely day hike.
Sawmill Curry Gulch trail only has 862 feet of elevation gain over the length of the trail, making it a relatively easy hike, and is a popular trail for families with children.
This hike is very popular on weekdays, so for a more peaceful experience head out on this trail, mid-week.
Another great day hike and one that is located a bit closer to Missoula is the Saddle Trail. This short, 4.3-mile, out and back trail has nice rolling hills that wander through lush forests and wildflower meadows.
This trail only has 636 feet of elevation gain so it is another easy hike that is popular for families with kids.
The Stewart Peak trail is the best way to cross from the Recreation Area to the Wilderness. It isn’t the most exciting trail in the area, but it does offer some decent views and a more quiet experience than other trails in the area.
Because this trail crosses into the designated Wilderness Area, you’ll not find bikes or horses on this trail, which is a bonus for many hikers.
The Stewart Peak trail is an 18-mile out and back trail with approximately 4,389 feet of elevation gain. This trail is relatively difficult thanks to the strenuous uphill climb into the wilderness.
Marshall Canyon Loop
If you love wildflowers and hiking, the Marshall Canyon Loop is a perfect hike. This 8.8-mile loop trail is fairly challenging, with some decent climbs that will get your heart pumping.
This loop trail is the most popular trail in the Rattlesnake Wilderness Area for wildflower viewing, so during peak wildflower season, this trail can be very busy.
This loop is also popular with mountain bikers, so be aware of your surroundings and make sure that if you are hiking with your dogs, they are leashed for their safety.
Sheep Mountain trail is perhaps the most difficult trail in the Rattlesnake Mountains and the Rattlesnake Recreation Area. This 14.7-mile point-to-point trail takes you through some of the most scenic parts of the recreation area.
This trail is not as well-maintained or traveled as others in the range, making the hike challenging from time to time. There are also some substantial climbs on this trail, making it pretty strenuous.
This trail is best for experienced hikers and backpackers. Also, this trail is often inaccessible into June, due to snow, so there is a small window of time that this trail can be accessed.