Anyone looking for some of Northwest Montana’s most impressive views could do worse than head towards the Sawtooth Range. Here is a stretch of landscape where huge peaks allow access to some of the best scenic views the Bob Marshall Wilderness has to offer.
The Sawtooth Mountains have long been held in esteem locally for their majestic beauty and wild qualities, and as the name indicates, this spectacular terrain consists of hundreds of jagged peaks, with more than 40 over the 10,000-feet high mark.
Visitors to the region can explore hundreds of high alpine lakes and tranquil basins, and this impressive landscape bursts with seemingly endless recreation possibilities.
Deep and remote valleys are home to an abundant population of wildlife and many species of fish. It’s not uncommon to catch glimpses of Grizzly Bears, Black Bears, and Mountain Lions in these regions, as well as Bighorn Sheep, Mountain Goats, Mule Deer, and occasionally wolves.
Aside from the wildlife, many visitors come for the scenery or other pursuits like trout fishing, mountain climbing, hiking, hunting, horse packing, and camping.
Most of the range’s peaks consist of ancient Bedrock which runs for miles, and many of the boulders and other terrain are formed from limestone. This is always a prime indicator of fossils and just southwest of the highest peak—Rocky Mountain—in the region of Headquarters Pass is a famous fossil-collecting area.
Some of the most well-known and popular peaks for viewing the surroundings aside from the tallest peak include Mount Wright and Old Baldy, from where you can see the peaks of Glacier National Park and the Eastern Plains.
The small and picturesque Montana town of Choteau in Teton County is nearest to the Sawtooths and it also holds plenty of additional attractions and charm for anyone wanting to visit the mountain range and use the town as a basepoint. You can easily access the Sawtooth Range along Highway 89 from Choteau.
Sawtooth Range Stats
- Approximately 678 square miles
- Highest Peak—9,392 feet (Rocky Mountain)
- Accessible year-round
Recreation in the Sawtooth Range
Within this region, there are close to 50 wilderness trails that cover about 270 miles in all.
Access for much of them means off-trail route finding, and there are a few outdoor rules to consider in areas like this such as no open fires in some high-use areas. Group sizes are also limited in the area to help limit any effects of human impact.
Choteau Ski Area
Teton Pass Ski Area is a popular and affordable, family ski area covering 400 acres. The resort is set right on the edge of the Rocky Mountain Front slightly to the west of the town, and to the east of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area. Skiers here encounter impressive views and diverse terrain including plenty of untracked snow.
With over 40 downhill runs and easy access to backcountry skiing and snowmobile trails, this is a popular and enjoyable skiing option in the Sawtooth region. On top of that, you get zero lift lines, a ski and rental shop, and a large day lodge with a bar and restaurant.
You can get to Teton Pass by turning off Highway 89 about 4.5 miles to the northwest of Choteau getting onto Teton Canyon Road and the last 10 miles will be a bit rough on the gravel road.
The facility usually operates from December through Mid-April, every day between 9.30 am and 4.00 pm.
The Mills Falls Campground is a 4-site campground with limited amenities and no available water. It can be found if you take the South Fork Teton Road and the camping is near the Headquarters Pass Trailhead.
There are a variety of other campgrounds on the West Fork Teton Road, and Cave Mountain Recreational Area, where the Cave Mountain Campground is located. It is also popular and contains 18 sites and better-quality amenities.
The area is signposted by a large sign at a fork in the road, and not too far past this spot you’ll find the 3-site Elko Campground, a small turnoff campground on the right with immediate access to some excellent fishing. At the end of the West Fork Teton Road, is the West Fork Teton Campground, a 6-tent site with limited facilities.
The alpine lakes dotted around the Sawtooths are often nestled between opposite peaks, which enhances the impression of the natural, pristine beauty inherent in the region.
The good news for anglers is that these lakes provide more than decent fishing opportunities as well. The waters are calm and crystal clear, and reportedly fair brimming with species such as arctic grayling, western-slope cutthroat trout, mountain whitefish, rainbow trout, bull trout, and a few others.
The area is also renowned for its excellent fly fishing opportunities such as those found along the Teton River as well as the Sun River, and both of these rivers have their sources within the Sawtooth Range.
Our Lake is just 4km to the north of the Sawtooth Range and there are also many other streams and creeks that feed the mouth of the Teton and Sun Rivers.
Hiking Trails in the Sawtooth Range
As it forms part of the Rocky Mountain Front, the Sawtooth Range offers an amazing route into the Bob Marshall Wilderness, with many of the most popular trails such as the Teton Pass Trail, the Headquarters Pass Trail, the West Fork Teton Trail, and the Birch Creek Trails starting out from this point.
Setting off from the town of Choteau in a northwest direction along Highway 89, after 5 miles or so you should see a turnoff signposted for Eureka Lake Reservoir which you follow for approximately 20 miles looking out for a fork in the road where one sign points towards South Fork Teton Trail and the other towards the West Fork Teton Trail.
The South Fork Teton Trailhead is the one that features sections of the Rocky Mountain Front where Ear Mountain is located along with the Rierdon Gulch Trails. Eventually, you will get to the Headquarters Pass/Hidden Lake trail.
By taking the Headquarters Pass Trail you will find yourself in the ideal spot to attempt a hike to the top of the highest mountain in the area, Rocky Mountain.
Rocky Mountain and Surrounding Trails
Following this trail will take you on a 13-mile hike towards the famous Gates Park where you will head through some pretty rugged yet scenic terrain this way, and if you stay with the route and head in the direction of West Fork Teton Trail you will find yourself with much diversity and choice.
There is a great variety of trails and mountains around this area including the popular and much-visited Cave Mountain. Some of the other trails and mountains along the West Fork route include the Teton Pass Trail, Mount Wright, and the renowned Birch Creek Loop.
The highest point in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area–Rocky Mountain—is, at elevations close to 10,000 feet, obviously a prime target for many climbers and hikers who come to the area.
It’s no mean feat but many adventurers who come to the Sawtooth Range region with hiking and climbing in mind will commonly make scaling this beast a priority. It is doable from a base camp at nearby Our Lake where some hikers will spend a few days so they can attack several of the area’s other peaks.
You can opt for a half-mile route between Trail #165 and Trail #184, gaining close to 800 feet in just over a mile. You will also encounter Our Lake this way in less than a mile, with its three surrounding sides of rocky ridges.
Here you can opt to set up camp near the timberland treeline then set off early the next morning heading due west from the lake.
This route gives you the choice of following one or the other from two easily-navigable trails. If you head towards the north from here you will come to another huge peak by way of Old Baldy, or you can keep going south another 2 miles to reach Rocky Mountain.
Don’t forget–while climbing in these areas keep an eye out for the fossils!
It’s also worth bearing in mind the fact that the Sawtooth Range has unfortunately suffered from large wildfires over the last couple of decades or so.
This means anyone heading out for some serious hiking action might want to consider packing extra water as it tends to be much hotter in some of these areas at certain times of the year and the fire-charred trails provide little shade from the sun.
The charred areas include the Mount Wright region, some parts of Mount Lockhart, the latter half of the West Fork Teton Road, some sections of the Teton Pass Trail, and some parts of the Birch Creek Trail.