The Salish Mountains are a relatively small range that take up a triangular section of northwest Montana. This range is not as dramatic as some of the other ranges in northwest Montana, but it is a great place to enjoy outdoor recreation.
Much of the eastern border of the Salish Mountains lies on the west side of Flathead Lake, one of Montana’s largest natural lakes. Looking across the lake, the Salish Mountains rise up from the valley as simple, rounded summits covered in trees.
This range stands between 3,600 feet and just less than 7,000 feet in elevation. While the peaks in this range are not as tall, the Salish Mountains offer lush forests and scenic views.
The range is named after the Salish Indians who lived in this range, long before European settlers came to Montana. The Salish were known to be honest and peaceful people that were friendly towards the settlers.
Today, the southern end of the Salish Mountains is home to the Salish and Kootenai Confederated Flathead Reservation.
Salish Mountain Range Statistics
- Highest Elevation (ft/m) – 6991 ft (2131 meters)
- Most Recognizable Peak – McGuire Mountain
- Season (when can it be accessed) – All Year
Salish Mountains Recreation Activities
The Salish Mountains were once busy with logging activities, but as the logging industry moved from the area, many of the logging roads and trails have become great recreational amenities in the Salish Mountains.
The low elevation of the Salish Mountains makes it a great place for visitors to explore and enjoy many of the area’s recreational activities without the added challenge of high altitudes and rugged mountain peaks.
Hiking is probably the most popular activity in the Salish Mountains. There are many miles of hiking trails that you can access in the Salish Mountains.
Some of the most popular hiking and backpacking adventures in the Salish Mountains are to the fire lookout stations in the area. Fire lookouts were built in the 1920s and 1930s and were important for the early detection of wildfires.
Today, most of the fire lookouts have been destroyed by fire or have been replaced by airplane or satellite monitoring systems. In the Salish Mountains, there are a few remaining fire lookouts that you can hike to that are still operational.
Additionally, there are 84 peaks in the Salish range, and many have trails to their summits. Adventurous hikers may want to take a couple of days and summit one or a few of these 84 peaks.
Many of the hiking trails in the area are also open to mountain biking, so if you are looking for a faster way to the summit, check to see if your favorite trail is open to mountain bikes.
The Salish Mountains are home to some great rock-climbing opportunities. The Salish Mountains offer two climbing areas that are popular for locals and visitors alike.
These two areas offer plenty of challenges for experienced climbers, yet also have routes that are perfect for beginners.
Stone Hill Rock Climbing Area is located along the shores of the Koocanusa Reservoir. The climbing area is accessed along Highway 37 near mile marker 51. You’ll find climbers here most months of the year, with the exception of November through January when the area is mostly covered in snow.
Stone Hill has over 500 designated routes, most of them rated 5 and above, and are most suitable for experienced climbers.
However, there are some great beginner-rated routes that are perfect for those new to climbing. New climbers should utilize a climbing guide to help them find the best routes.
Check out Rock Climb Montana for information on guided climbing trips on Stone Hill.
There are plenty of established routes in this climbing area, as well. Many are permanently bolted, for easy access.
With the Salish Mountains covering parts of two National Forests, there are plenty of places to camp. The Forest Service has 13 easily accessible campgrounds to enjoy within the Kootenai and Flathead National Forests.
Most of the forest service campgrounds in the Salish Mountains are accessible to campers and RVs, however, you’ll find that most do not offer hook-ups. You may find some forest service campgrounds with water available, but don’t expect electric or sewer hook-ups.
If you are looking for RV campgrounds, you’re in luck in the Salish Mountains. Being so close to Glacier National Park, the area has plenty of full-service RV campgrounds that you can plug into.
Many of the Forest Service roads that cross the Salish Mountains make for great snowmobiling in the wintertime.
If you are looking for something more adventurous, the Salish Mountains are crossed with old logging roads that are perfect for wintertime snowmobiling.
Many of the larger communities around the Salish range have snowmobiling outfitters that you can work with to rent equipment or for guided snowmobile tours, and adventures that will take you off the beaten path.
Snowmobilers in the Salish Mountains will need to be mindful of areas that do not allow motorized vehicles. You’ll want to check Forest Service maps before heading out to ensure that you do not cross into non-motorized areas.
The Salish Mountains are dotted with alpine lakes that are perfect for fishing. Most of the lakes in the Salish range are home to cold water fish, particularly trout.
Many of the smaller lakes in the Salish range are quieter, and you’ll find them to be a little less overfished than the larger lakes in the range.
Some people also fish at Lake Tally which is the deepest lake in Montana, but it isn’t as popular, or as productive a fishing lake.
The Salish Mountains are home to a number of wildlife species that are exciting to see or look for when you are out hiking, biking, or snowmobiling.
Keep your eyes open for elk, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, bears, moose, deer, along with plenty of small animals like rabbits, marmots, gophers, and chipmunks.
As the Salish is home to bears, if you are recreating in the backcountry of the area, make sure that you have educated yourself on recreating in bear country, and do include a canister of bear spray in your pack.
Skiing is another one of the very popular recreational activity in the Salish Mountains. The range has two downhill ski areas as well as a cross-country ski center that you can enjoy while visiting.
Whitefish Mountain Ski Resort is the largest of the two downhill ski areas in the Salish Range. Located North of Whitefish and Whitefish Lake this ski area is a typical ski resort with all of the amenities. It has a range of ski runs for beginners to experts.
If you want a less busy ski experience in the Salish Mountains, head south toward Flathead Lake and try your skis on at Blacktail Mountain Ski Area. T
his smaller ski area has only 29 runs, most of which are suited for moderate to experienced skiers. This ski area is unique in that its lodge and parking area at the top of the hill instead of the bottom.
Salish Mountains Trail Routes
McGuire Mountain Trail
The McGuire Mountain Trail is one of those trails that you spend a lot of time driving to, for a relatively short hike. However, this hike is well worth the drive, as the views along the trail are exceptional.
To access the trail, you’ll travel on Highway 37 along Lake Koocanusa, to just about 5-miles south of the Lake Koocanusa Bridge where you’ll turn off the highway onto Sutton Creek Road.
From the trailhead, you’ll enjoy a 6-mile out and back hike that is fairly easy, with only 1,600-feet of elevation gain. The trail passes through a lot of clearcut areas that are hard to enjoy because of the loss of vegetation, but the clearcut areas offer a ton of great views.
The top of the trail rewards you with the McGuire Mountain fire lookout, which can be rented and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Sylvia Lake Overlook
This hike starts at the Sylvia Lake Campground and is a short 5-mile out and back hike. The trail is pretty open, with minimal forest cover.
The trail is also pretty rocky, so you’ll want to have good hiking shoes to explore this trail. The total elevation gain of this trail is 1,000 feet, with the highest point on the trail at 5,900 feet.
Lupine Lake Trail
This is one of the prettiest trails in the Salish Mountains, and it is also one of the more popular, so expect to see plenty of people along the way.
This is also a multi-use trail so expect to encounter bikes and horses. The trail starts off with a steep decline that leads to an overlook of a waterfall on Griffin Creek.
You’ll cross a neat log bridge (with handrails!), and then from here, you climb into lush lodgepole forest. When you get to the lake, enjoy a picnic lunch and look for loons, bald eagles, and moose.
The total hike distance is 5.5-miles, out and back, with a tiny 900-foot elevation gain.
Lost Trail Wildlife Refuge
There are no designated trails within the Lost Trail Wildlife Refuge, but the area is open to hikers that are willing to wander the roads that remain in the refuge.
One of the more popular hikes in the refuge is along the South Pleasant Valley Road, which provides a nice 3-mile walk past vernal lakes.
The refuge is home to a very large herd of elk, and hikers in this area will be rewarded with plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities.
Meadow Peak Lookout
This is another trail that isn’t really a hiking trail. The Meadow Peak Lookout hike is a good walk along an unmarked and rarely used Forest Service road. The road takes you to the Meadow Peak fire lookout.
The partially restored lookout is accessible to the public and from the stairs, you’ll have some of the most outstanding views of the Salish Mountains, Cabinet Mountains, Glacier National Park, and even southern Canada.
The walk to the lookout is 5-miles, out and back, with a hefty 2,100 feet in elevation gain.
At the lookout, you’ll find picnic tables and a pit toilet. The trail also passes near Lake McGregor and the Lake McGregor Campground.
Murr Creek Canyon Trail
A peaceful 9-mile round-trip hike on a rarely used trail, Murr Creek Canyon trail wanders you through meadows and along Murr Creek where you’ll climb high enough to enjoy views of Murr Canyon.
There are a few waterfalls along the trail, and if you’re willing to do a bit of off trail hiking, the waterfall at the east end of the trail is easily accessible.
If you’re looking for a great trail that is both kid and dog friendly, then you’ll want to try the Serenity Falls trail. This short 1-mile hike takes you down a short, but steep trail to Serenity Falls and its unexpectedly dramatic gorge. The falls are on the Little Bitterroot River.
The area around the falls is great for a picnic lunch or a nice spot to stop and have a snack. If you’re feeling brave, you can scramble down from the trail to the bottom of the falls. There’s a great swimming hole here.
The falls and river can be very fast-moving during spring runoff so use caution if you are visiting early in the spring.