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HILARY HESKETT

Originally used by the Nez Perce and Salish tribes to avoid Blackfeet warrior attacks in the nearby Hellgate Canyon, Pattee Canyon still provides sanctuary to harried Missoula residents. Even if your hair isn't at risk to scalp collectors, you may still want to use the 27 miles of trails open year-round to hikers, bikers, dog walkers, horseback riders, and cross country skiers.

Trail access points are numerous, with the major jumping off point at the Crazy Canyon. The trail complex leads to the southwest ridge of Mount Sentinel before a steep climb to the 5,185-foot summit. From there, you could retrace your steps back to the trailhead or connect to the “M” trail, descending directly down Sentinel to the University of Montana campus. Or, descend the north face of the hill into Hellgate Canyon, meeting up with the Kim Williams Trail.

Just a short way up the road from Crazy Canyon, the Sam Braxton trail complex (highlighted by an easy to moderate 3.4-mile loop with a 350-foot elevation gain) weaves through thick stands of western larch and ponderosa pine. The Meadow Loop complex, on the northside of Pattee Canyon, is also an option. It used to be an Army firing range. The 2.2-mile loop only has an elevation gain of 100 feet.

Many of these trails make for unique mountain biking though the shaded, heavily timbered area. Just stay on-trail and the construction of jumps is prohibited. Strong riders can follow the Crooked Trail back to town and avoid the paved road.

Pattee Canyon also serves as home to an 18-hole folf course in the summer. Thick trees make for a technical course. It’s one of the most popular folf layouts in Missoula, so be prepared to wait in line for the first hole, especially after five o’clock on a weekday.

And when it’s time for a forest repast, Pattee has an extensive picnic area, with paved loop roads, picnic tables, fire rings, grills, trash receptacles, and accessible toilets. Overnight camping is not allowed. Group picnicking is also available, with parking for 50-200 people, but reservations must be made first.

During the winter, the Missoula Nordic Ski club grooms six miles of trail for skate-skiing and classic striding. The Southside ski trail is especially popular. With only 100 feet of elevation gain over 2.4 miles, the trail’s an easy one. If you’re looking for a challenge, try skiing off the beaten (or groomed, I should say) path near the main loop. Dogs are not allowed on the groomed trails during the winter, keeping the surface pristine.

To check snow reports, click here.

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