Trip Number: 12186A
Staff: Stephen Brown
- Capture superb camera-clicking views in the Bitterroots during four
classic day hikes and a three-day backpack
- Camp beside a sublime alpine lake and summit the crest of the rugged
border between Idaho and Montana
- Savor fresh food and other luxuries at our secluded, car-accessible
- Trip transportation, including rides to all trailheads (No rental car
- All food and kitchen equipment
- Permits, fees, and topo maps
Unfortunately, this trip has been cancelled. If you
have questions, please
Photo: Phil Snyder
Discover the rugged beauty that intimidated Lewis and Clark on their journey
through the Bitterroot Mountains in 1805. The 2,000 square miles of the Selway-Bitterroot
Wilderness along the Idaho and Montana border is one of the largest designated
wilderness areas in the United States and lies within four national forests.
It is a vast, wild land of high ridges, lake-filled basins, and densely forested
slopes. Hidden valleys filled with larch, old-growth cedar and fir provide natural
habit for plentiful but rarely seen wildlife, including elk, deer, antelope,
moose, wolves, black bears, and mountain lions.
Edges of the wilderness are close to trailheads that are accessible by car,
making the Bitterroots a day-hiker's paradise. Sample some of the best trails
in this world-class wilderness on four challenging and rewarding day hikes to
overlooks, summits, and high mountain lakes. We complete our week by hiking
deeper into the wilderness on a three-day backpack to remote Bryan Lake at the
foot of the towering crest of the Bitterroot Range.
Base camp is a secluded, vehicle-accessible campground. A grocery store and
hot showers are nearby to add convenience and comfort to the outing. The grocery
store allows us to enjoy fresh foods in our base camp menu. The cost of the
trip includes van transportation, eliminating the need to rent cars. Participants
will be shuttled to and from the base camp and trailheads. Hotel shuttles serve
the Missoula airport.
Terrific hikes, good food, and unforgettable scenery are the winning elements
that comprise the Best of the Bitterroots.
Photo: Phil Snyder
At our base camp for the first four days of the trip, we'll have a canopy-covered
kitchen, picnic tables, potable water, pit toilets, wood for nightly campfires,
and plenty of shade for tents. On a typical day in base camp, the coffee will
be ready by 7:15 a.m., with breakfast of juice, fruit, and an entrée
(e.g. eggs and scones, breakfast burritos) served by 8:00 a.m. A ride to the
trailhead and a few hours of hiking take us to a peak or remote glacial lake,
where we'll enjoy the beauty of the wilderness and a tasty lunch. We try
to be back at the trailhead by mid-afternoon, leaving time to relax in camp
before dinner. At mid-week, we'll take advantage of a local athletic club
for a refreshing hot shower. As the stars appear each evening, a campfire (conditions
permitting), hot drinks, and good conversation will warm our spirits before
we climb into cozy tents to fall asleep to the murmur of a nearby stream.
The rhythm of the three-day backpack is similar, except the middle day is a
layover day. In addition to an optional hike to a nearby mountain pass, the
layover day is designed for relaxing, exploring, or enjoying quiet personal
Day 1: The trip begins at 9 a.m. in Missoula, Montana, with
a short orientation, followed by a drive of some 30 miles to our campground.
After getting organized, we'll drive to the first trailhead for a three-mile
(distances are round-trip, unless noted) hike to an overlook with dramatic views
of the Bitterroot Range, especially Bear Creek where we will be backpacking
later in the week. Following this introduction to the Bitterroots, we'll head
back to camp for dinner and other evening activities.
Day 2: For our first full hiking day, we do a 10-mile leg
stretcher following Canyon Creek and climbing about 2,200 feet to Canyon Falls
and Canyon Lake for lunch.
Day 3: A scenic drive takes us to the edge of the wilderness
at the ridgeline separating Idaho and Montana. This eight-mile hike crosses
the state border twice in each direction, and leads to Fish Lake, a "high-altitude
jewel," according to guidebooks. On the way, we will pass Lower Bear Lake
where moose sometimes are seen browsing.
Photo: Phil Snyder
Day 4: Today's hike is short, strenuous and steep. The goal
is Little St. Joseph Peak, a granite outcropping 9,000 feet high with panoramic
views that make the uphill effort worthwhile. The trail climbs 3,000 feet in
about 2.5 miles (one way), requiring cross-country travel the last half mile
and bouldering the last 50 feet to get to the top. It will feel like we're having
lunch on top of the world. An optional hike is possible for hikers who desire
a less strenuous hike without bouldering. We'll get back in plenty of time to
relax and get organized for tomorrow's backpack.
Day 5: The Bear Creek Trail, our 8.5-mile hike to Bryan Lake,
is a stream-side path with small waterfalls and cascades. We follow the middle
of three forks and eventually emerge at Bryan Lake, our home for the next two
nights. Bryan Lake is a picture-perfect cirque protected on the south by a 1,000-foot
wall, and on the west and north by equally impressive cliffs rising to high
Bitterroot peaks. Our backpack nights are illuminated by the nearly-full moon.
Day 6: This is a layover day at Bryan Lake, featuring an optional
three-mile hike to Bear Creek Pass at the top of the Bitterroot Divide to soak
in remarkable vistas surrounding the Idaho-Montana border. A scramble up Sky
Pilot Mountain is also an option. The afternoon is free to enjoy the lake and
to explore this wonderful location.
Day 7: After an 8.5-mile hike out of these magnificent mountains,
we'll meet for a trip-ending dinner, celebration, and group goodbye in a Missoula
The trip begins at 9 a.m. on Sunday, August 26, in Missoula, Montana, with
a short orientation at a local coffee shop. Hikers then will be transported
to our base camp. The van will be used to shuttle hikers to and from trailheads,
eliminating the need to rent vehicles. Depending on travel schedules, an overnight
stay in Missoula may be necessary the night before the trip begins, and again
on the night the trip ends.
Accommodations and Food
Photo: Phil Snyder
All meals, from lunch on day one to lunch on day seven, are included. Meals
are mostly vegetarian; some will include a meat option. During the first four
days of the outing, our proximity to a grocery store will allow us to enjoy
fresh foods at many meals. The leader will share sample menus with participants
in advance of the departure date and any special dietary needs should be noted
as early in the registration process as possible. Everyone on the trip will
help with cooking, cleanup, and other camp chores.
This trip is rated Moderate+ overall but there are strenuous sections. Participants
should be experienced hikers in good physical condition and must be able to
carry a 30- to 40-pound backpack 8.5 miles on each leg of the backpack. The
weight that hikers are expected to carry on day hikes is minimal.
Although our routes have strenuous and rugged sections, and will reach 9,000
feet, almost all the hiking will be on well-maintained trails. Hiking distances
range from three miles the first day to about 8.5 miles on each leg of the backpack.
Some hikes may include one or more calf-deep stream crossings. One planned day-hike
includes a 3,000-foot ascent in a little more than two miles; a strenuous hike.
Although rated Moderate+, hiking at higher elevations is by nature a strenuous
activity. To tolerate the high altitude and fully enjoy this experience, you
should follow a regular aerobic training program for several months prior to
our trip. You will need lower body strength as well as endurance.
Equipment and Clothing
Photo: Phil Snyder
The Sierra Club provides food, cooking gear, water purification, and a first-aid
kit to be used for emergencies. You are responsible for everything else. The
leader will provide an extensive list of gear to each of the participants well
in advance of the outing. The list will include a large backpack (at least 4,500
cubic inches so that everyone has extra room to carry group food and kitchen
equipment); tent; sleeping pad; sleeping bag rated to 20 degrees F; sturdy,
broken-in, waterproof hiking boots; rain suit; and layers of clothing to keep
warm. Many participants also bring a lighter day pack for day hikes. If you
aren't sure about the suitability of your equipment, contact the leader.
In late August in the Bitterroots, daytime temperatures are usually in the
70s and 80s, but nighttime temperatures could drop below freezing. Expect to
experience cold nighttime and early morning temperatures, so please bring what
you need to camp comfortably. Although rain and snow are possible anytime, this
is a relatively dry season, and snow would be unusual, even in the mountains.
Photocopies of topo maps of the hikes will be provided prior to the trip by
National Forest Service waterproof maps of the area tend to be heavy and are
not required for the trip, but may be interesting as a reference to the area.
You can obtain two contoured Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness maps (North and South)
for $20. Mail, call or email the Forest Service at:
Forest Supervisor's Office:
1801 N. 1st Street
Hamilton, MT 59840, 406-363-7100, 406-363-7116
You can also use this order form for Selway-Bitterroot North and South:
- Steinberg, Scott, Hiking the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness (A Falcon
- Arkava, Mort, Hiking the Bitterroots.
Photo: Phil Snyder
The Greater Salmon-Selway Ecosystem (GSSE), consisting of the Selway-Bitterroot,
Frank Church, River of No Return, and Gospel Hump Wilderness areas and surrounding
national forest lands, is the largest intact, wild ecosystem left in the lower
48 states. The GSSE is home to many endangered species, century-old trees, and
the two longest non-dammed rivers in the country (Salmon and Selway rivers).
Although rarely seen, this is perhaps the last best habitat in the Lower 48
for wolf, bear, elk, moose, puma, wolverine, marten, lynx, and fisher.
Although wilderness areas enjoy the highest degree of protection from development
and resource extraction, surrounding national forests are challenged by calls
for more robust multiuse policies, from logging to mining to farming. We will
explore these trends in one of our campfire talks. Another conservation topic
will focus on the gray wolf, delisted from the Endangered Species List and hunted
in 2009, listed and not hunted in 2010. We'll talk about this volatile issue.
During our week in the wilds we will learn more about and practice Leave No
Trace principles: http://www.lnt.org/programs/principles.php
Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from the Bitterroot National Forest.
See the How to Apply for an Outing section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation Policy.
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
Stephen Brown enjoys exploring wilderness areas of California and elsewhere. He has led Sierra Club backpack, service, and highlight trips in the Sierra Nevada, Utah desert, Montana, the Canadian Rockies, and the Four Corners Ancestral Puebloan cultural region. He is an enthusiastic promoter of the Leave No Trace ethic and is a certified Wilderness First Responder. A fan of biking, day hikes, photography, and world music, Stephen has traveled in Europe, South America, Mexico, and Japan. He now works with a nonprofit organization providing technology support to nonprofits and libraries.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips