Because of its proximity to Missoula, Lolo Peak is one of the most-climbed peaks in the Bitterroots. Unfortunately many fail to reach the peak’s highest point on the south summit (9,139’). Most stop at the rock shelter on the north summit (9,096’).
The easiest way up this peak begins at the official Lolo Peak Trailhead on Mormon Peak Road. Since that road is closed between December 1st and May 15th each year, skiers use the Mill Creek trailhead (6.5 miles farther west on U.S. Highway 12).
Most hikers use the long-established and very obvious route (Class 1 and 2) up the east ridge through one of the nicest growths of Alpine Larch anywhere. Intrepid climbers, who prefer point-to-point routes, first climb Sweeney Peak then follow the long connecting ridge to Lolo’s south summit. This climbers’ route includes fun Class 4 and low Class 5 climbing with sections of airy exposure.
Skiers, who love Lolo’s many backcountry runs, begin hiking from the Mill Creek Trailhead. Depending upon their choice of ski descents, they either join the standard trial up the east ridge or approach from the west over Lantern Ridge.
The Bitterroot Resort has proposed building the largest ski area in the country in the wilderness study area on the peak's northeastern face, but those plans have not received the required approval from the U.S. Forest Service.
Boasting 85km of groomed cross-country skiing, Lone Mountain Ranch offers a comprehensive resort experience that includes lodging and fine dining. Expect to pay a $20 daily trail fee. Look for the signs about four miles up Lone Mountain Road from the junction with U.S. Highway 191.
The highest point on U.S. Highway 12 between Missoula, Mont. and Lewiston, Idaho, Lolo Pass (elev. 5,235') offers multiple recreation opportunities. In the winter, it's a popular snowmobiling and cross country ski destination, with miles of groomed trails. Backcountry skiers also enjoy the surrounding terrain.
In the summer, rock climbers head to the nearby Crystal Theater, while the numerous logging roads in the area give off-roaders lots of room to explore.
Note that a parking pass, available at the Lolo Pass Visitor's Center , must be purchased during the winter months. You can visit the Clearwater National Forest's official Lolo Pass Web page here.
Lewis and Clark Caverns, one of the largest limestone caverns in the Pacific Northwest, is also Montana's oldest state park, and one of its most elaborately developed, with a visitor center, interpretive displays, and cabin and tipi rentals. Shower facilities, an amphitheater, food concession, gift shop, educational programs and guided tours are available during the summer months.
The 2,920-acre park accommodates activities from hunting to hiking, and provides foot access to the Jefferson River, but the star attraction is the cavern itself. The 160-acre underground site was discovered in 1892, and declared a national monument in 1908, though the cavern wasn't fully surveyed until 1911. Improvements to open the caverns to tourists were accomplished largely by the Civilian Conservation Corp during President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. The caverns were transferred to state management in 1937, and opened as Montana's first state park in 1941.
Lewis and Clark never actually saw the caverns, which take their name from the fact that the site overlooks about 50 miles of the explorers' route along the adjacent Jefferson River.
The caverns, decorated with colorful stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and helictites, were formed by the dissolving action of acidic groundwater percolating through beds of Madison Limestone during the ice ages. Now lit and traversed with staircases and walkways, the caverns offer an accessible underground wonder, and a unique challenge for photographers. Schedule about two hours for the tour.
Congress designated the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness in 1975. Over 920,000 acres of the wilderness area coincide with Montana's Gallatin, Custer, and Shoshone national forests. Just over 23,000 acres of the wilderness lies in Wyoming. The Absaroka-Beartooth, just north of Yellowsyone National Park, is considered an integral part of the 20-million-acre Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
The wilderness consists of two distinct mountain ranges. The Absaroka, named for the Crow people, is the more fertile range, densely forested with spruce, fir, and pine, and frequented by bighorn sheep, mountain goats, elk, deer, moose, marmots, coyotes, wolves, black bears, grizzlies, and Yellowstone cutthroat trout. Fauna thins out in the higher-elevation Beartooth Range, which features treeless plateaus, steep canyons, small alpine lakes, and Montana's highest point: 12,799-foot Granite Peak.
The Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness's 700-mile trail system is most often accessed via the Beartooth Highway, US 212, from Red Lodge or by forest access roads off of US 89 south of Livingston.