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The best views from Missoula-area mountaintops.

July 21, 2011

First, yes, this is subjective, but now that I’ve climbed every mountain visible from the valley floor, I wanted to throw this out to see what I might have missed (I haven’t done many of the unnamed peaks (e.g., point 7549 west of Stuart), so please respond with any suggestions! And of course, encourage more people to get up to the high special places around here.

I would note all of these peaks are climbable currently without ice gear, except for Lolo, Mosquito and McLeod. The latter two may be possible, but would make for very long hiking days. I also haven’t included the Missions or Swans as they aren’t generally visible from the valley floor.

10) Stark Mountain, reservation divide. Stark is the peak that seems to float from south of I90 to north of I90 when driving west, and is situated on the west side of the Ninemile valley. The hike is steep but straightforward. Views across Ninemile to Cha-paa-qn, Blackrock, Three Lakes and Josephine Peaks are great, and while you can see more mountain ranges from this peak than any other (the usual Missoula stuff, plus north across the Bison reserve all the way to the friggin’ Cabinets on a clear day, and lots more peaks along the ID/MT border to the west. But, you’re a long way away from everything, so you really only get wowed on crystal clear days.

9) Mineral Peak (Rattlesnake). With a restored yet still scary fire lookout on top, Mineral is THE peak to climb up if you want a great view of the Swans and even a few peaks in the Bob. The view south to Sheep is good, but the view west of Stuart is what I really love about this peak. Most of the view to the northeast is nothing but a bunch of forest service roads climbing across open land – a bit of a distraction.

8 ) Mosquito Peak (Rattlesnake) – though higher than Stuart, you’re also closer to McLeod – which blocks most of your view north, obscuring most of the Missions. Stuart’s rough northeast face is interesting from this angle, and the large u-shaped valleys of the rattlesnake are nice to examine. The south and east faces drop quite precipitously and offer incredible views of the lakes just below. The cool stuff is mostly to the south – so bring a polarized filter for your camera.

7) Sentinel – The quintessential Missoula peak, and I love it mainly for the views of the city and Jumbo. But it’s rare to have the summit to yourself for more than a few minutes, especially on weekends. I highly recommend hiking up from Pattee Canyon and watching the sun rise from the top – it’s fun watching the shadows of Woody, Jumbo, Sentinel and the Rattlesnake in general shrink back east as the sun comes up. (And yes, the true summit is actually north of where people hike to, in some trees on a separate ridge – but Sentinel itself is really just a high point on the ridge from University).

6) McLeod – I hesitate to include this, as it’s a pain to get to (long day of bushwacking from the west, or a much longer backpack in for a slightly easier route up the southern basin). The view north is pretty solid – a few high points on reservation land obscure large parts of the valley (making it feel more wild than it is), and the views of the Missions are clear as day. But, you can’t see much of the city from McLeod (and vice versa) – the best way to see it is actually driving north on 93 from Lolo; it disappears by the time you hit the Missoula city limits.

5) Cha-paa-qn (aka Squaw Peak). The most distinct peak in the area also has some of the best views, with a great view of the entire Missoula valley (though everything gets compressed – Jumbo looks teeny from the summit). Like Stark, you can see north on a clear day to the cabinets, and sometimes (others tell me, and it seems reasonable) Glacier. It’s also one of the easiest of these peaks to climb, if you come over from Edith Pass. The scramble may be a bit tough (it’s on rough, broken talus that has some moss that makes it VERY slippery when wet), but you have great views while climbing.

4) Lolo Peak. The other major peak landmark. The highest point is the south summit, which is completely obscured by the north summit – which is lower but still given the official name Lolo Peak. And even THAT is obscured in most areas of the valley by Carlton Point. Regardless, at the highest peak around, you can see lots here you an’t elsewhere – the pyramid buttes, stewart Peak, the Heavenly Twins, the backside of the insanely massive Mount Joseph… it’s worth the hike.

3) Blue Mountain. The easiest of all the peaks to get to, as you can drive up to the fire tower on top (I recommend taking the trail, of course). Manned in summer months, the view is very well-situated and allows you to see everything from the Anaconda-Pintlers to the southeast all the way to the Cabinets and Glacier in the north, and the Swans and Scapegoat Massif are easy to pick out. The ranger manning the lookout (Gene) is very personable – strike up a conversation and bring him some chocolate.

2) Petty Mountain. Petty is a high peak west of Missoula that seems to hold snow for quite some time. Wha? Some of you might be saying. Even those of you familiar with the peak might be surprised by it being this high. It’s not a particularly high mountain (7270′), and quite a few of the ridges around it are around 7000′ and should obscure a lot. So why this high? First is a somewhat unlikely structure (I won’t spoil the surprise). But mainly it’s the view of the Bitterroots. While Lolo obscures the Bitterroots from Blue Mountain, from Petty, you can see the back side of them, and they’re wholly unrecognizable, even though you can basically see all the way to El Cap. Bring a map and see how many you can find.

1) Stuart peak. I so love the view, I was even up there again today just to drink it in on a cloudy day and watch cloud shadows play all over the landscape. There are more lakes visible from the top of Stuart than any other, and the two immediately (and sharply down from the summit) north are outstandingly clear, and blue. And you can see all the peaks of the Rattlesnake, the Missions, the Bitterroots, the Swans, the high peaks in Quigg and Welcome Creek, Sheep, the ninemile divide – what more could you want. Below is a pic from today looking almost due north – the peak in shadow is Mosquito; McLeod rise beyond that, then the Missions (Lone Wolf Peak is the one with the deep snow coulouir) and the Swans.

Don't mind the snow, it'll be gone by... September?

View from Stuart Peak

Not included: Sheep (not visible), Murphy (not visible), University (ugh, beacons!) Black Butte (interesting stuff blocked by Blue Mountain), Jumbo (actual summit hidden from Missoula), Point Six and TV Peak (more towers/manmade stuff), Dean Stone (more towers), Charity Peak (hidden by foothills), Cleveland (not generally visible), Woody (Wisherd Range blocks a lot, so it’s just a view of the hellgate), Bitterroot Peaks south of Lolo (generally not visible).

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 7, 2012 11:14 pm

    Great post! A couple things, however – Murphy peak is indeed visible from the Missoula valley – from the south end. It appears as a sliver of a ridge up and behind Point Six. Look for it while driving into town from Lolo, you can see it from the Axmen South, especially in winter. Also, I’m confused about this statement regarding Mt. Sentinel – “And yes, the true summit is actually north of where people hike to, in some trees on a separate ridge” – I would argue that the true summit of Mt. Sentinel (5158′) IS visible from the valley, and that the highpoint you speak of is actually part of University Mountain. Technically, Mt. Sentinel is just a sub-peak of University Mountain, according to the 1:50K USGS topo. But hey, you bagged them all, and that’s awesome!!

  2. October 7, 2012 11:17 pm

    Oh, wait, you mean Point 5173, to the south of Mt. Sentinel. Yes, it is taller, but according to all topos, Mt. Sentinel is only the point at 5158′.

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