Mission Mountains Wilderness
Located in the Flathead National Forest in Montana.
The Mission Mountains Wilderness is on the Swan Lake Ranger District of the Flathead National Forest in northwestern Montana. The Forest Service manages it as part of the National Forest System. Officially classified as Wilderness on January 4, 1975, the 73,877 acre area is managed in accordance with the Wilderness Act of 1964. The Mission Mountains run along the east shore of Montana’s Flathead Lake.
When to Visit – Most people visit the wilderness between July 1 and October 1. Snow-filled passes and high streams make earlier travel difficult and hazardous. High lakes do not open up until early or mid-June.
June is normally a wet month. Snow still covers high, shaded basins and surrounds trees.
July, August, and early September are dry months. Daytime temperatures are the 80-90 degree range. Showers are frequent. Nights are very cool. Snow occur at any time. Heavy snow generally occurs in late October and early November.
If you are a skier or winter camper, late February through May provide the best snow conditions and longer days. When planning an extended backcountry trip, be informed of potential avalanche conditions.
Trails – There are about 45 miles of maintained Forest Service system trails in the Mission Mountains. Most trails are better suited to hiking than horseback riding because of rugged terrain.
Travel is primarily by foot with some horseback use. Mountain bikes, hang gliders, motorized trail bikes, motorcycles, three and four wheelers, and snowmobiles are not permitted. Few of the trails can be called easy. Some are especially difficult because of steepness. You should be an experienced hiker to travel cross country and should possess map reading and compass skills.
Throughout the Mission Mountains you will find old Indian and packer trails. These are usually steep and difficult to follow. They are suitable for only the most experienced horse users or backpackers.
Access Points – The major access points into the Mission Mountains Wilderness from the Swan Valley: Glacier Creek, Cold Lakes, Piper Creek, Fatty Creek, and Beaver Creek. Other access points from the Swan Valley include Lindbergh Lake (south end trail reached by boat), Jim Lakes, Hemlock Creek, Meadow Lake, and Elk Point.
There are also three major access points from the Salish & Kootenai Indian Reservation side of the Mission Mountains. Access through tribal lands requires a permit. These permits may be purchased at major sporting goods stores in Missoula and the Mission Valley or through the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Recreation Department in Pablo, Montana, phone (406) 675-2700.
A major portion of the Mission Mountains is suitable for backpacking only. Travel is strenuous, but it has many advantages: independence and self-sufficiency, opportunities for solitude, and you’re more carefree when backpacking.
DAY HIKES: The Mission Mountains has several hikes ranging from 1 1/4 miles to 6 miles (one way) which can be completed in a day. You will carry less on your back and travel more easily.
BACKPACKING: Backpacking requires careful planning. Proper equipment, with maximum utility and minimum weight, will make the trip easier. The most important items will be your pack, sleeping bag, and foot gear. Take only what you need. A pack that is too heavy can spoil your trip. A pack without adequate food, clothing and shelter can be equally disappointing and unpleasant.
Flathead Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake in the western United States. Lying in the Flathead Valley of Northwest Montana, the lake is more then 300 feet deep and extends north and south some 28 miles and is seven to 15 miles wide.
As you drive and drive on the roads that hug Flathead Lake’s shoreline, (US Highway 93 on the west and Montana Route 35 on the east) it’s hard to believe manmade dams that are so common in the Pacific Northwest didn’t create it. Rather, the lake is a fortuitous product of the activity of ice-age glaciers, and is fed by the Swan and Flathead Rivers.
All manner of water sports are enjoyed upon its 200 square miles of surface. Several state parks and lakeshore communities have boat launches and marinas on the Lake.
You can avail yourself of a boat tour or rent one of the many types of watercraft including canoes, kayaks, windsurfers, hydro bikes, sailing and fishing boats. Serious anglers can arm themselves with heavy-duty equipment and probe the 300-foot deep Flathead Lake for trophy Mackinaw. Lake trout, salmon, perch, pike, bass, and whitefish are found in the Flathead area’s many lakes.
Locals know summer has arrived when a steady stream of traffic starts to build on the secondary roads. So in peak season expect to share your enjoyment of the Flathead Valley with many others, although the mountains still offer room to get-away if you are willing to exert yourself.
The National Bison Range was established in 1908 and is one of the oldest Wildlife Refuges in the nation. The Range is about 25 miles south of Montana’s Flathead Lake.
A large portion of the 18, 500 acre Range consists of native Palouse prairie; forests, wetlands, and streams are also found here providing a wide range of habitats for wildlife. Elk, deer, pronghorn, black bear, coyote and ground squirrels are just some of the mammals that share the area with 350 to 500 bison. Over 200 species of birds also call this home including eagles, hawks, meadowlarks, bluebirds, ducks, and geese.
The National Bison Range
Fees are charged during the summer (mid-May to late October). The Range is part of the U.S. Fee System and accepts Golden Passes and Federal Waterfowl Stamps. Pay fees at the Visitor Center.
The Range is closed at night. Check the Contact Us page for current hours.
Camping is not allowed on the Range.
The best place to start your visit is at the Visitor Center. Here you will find informative displays and handouts, restrooms, videos, a bookstore, and staff to answer your questions. Pay entrance fees here. For more information about the Bison Range and other activities in northwest Montana, consider purchasing a copy of the Flathead Lake Vacation Guide.
Prairie Drive/West Loop: a 5-mile gravel road that travels through the flats. It is open to trailers and large RVs. It goes by the Bison Display Pasture. Plan for 1/2 hour. Open year round.
Red Sleep Mountain Drive: a 19-mile, one-way, gravel road which gains 2,000feet. There are many switchbacks and 10% grades along the drive. No trailers or vehicles over 32 feet are allowed on this drive. Allow 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Open mid-May to late October. (Check the Contact Us page for current information.)
Walking Trails: Hiking is limited on the Range to a few short walking trails. A mile-long Nature Trail is located at the Picnic Area and 1/4-mile Grassland Trail is at the Visitor Center. The 1/2-mile Bitterroot Trail and 1-mile High Point trail are both located off the Red Sleep Mountain Drive. Walking away from your vehicle is prohibited except for these designated trails. For a complete listing of trails around Flathead Lake, see the Go Hike With Mike Trail guide.
The National Bison Range: Picnic Area
The Range has a picnic area near Mission Creek. There are tables, grills, water, and accessible toilets. A covered pavilion is available on a first-come, first-served basis. There are no garbage cans, so please pack out all trash.
How to get here:
From Missoula: Travel north on US Highway 93 to Ravalli, turn left(to the west) on to State Highway 200, travel approximately 5 miles to the junction of Highways 200 and 212, turn right(to the north) and travel approximately 5 miles to the entrance of the Range at Moiese.
From Kalispell: Travel south on US Highway 93 or State Highway 35 to Polson, then travel Highway 93 through Pablo and Ronan to the junction of Highway 93 and State Highway 212, travel 12 miles (through Charlo) to the entrance of the Range at Moiese.
From the west: Travel Highway 200 through Dixon to the junction of Highways 200 and 212, turn left(to the north) and travel approximately 5 miles to the entrance of the Range at Moiese.
Visiting Montana. We provide information and content for folks who are visiting Montana. Thank you for visiting our site. Many years back the Flathead Lake Vacation Guide was written to provide tourist with the information they needed while visiting Montana.
This Vacation Guide contains most every public access point around The Lake. Public and private fishing and camping areas. So if you are looking for public or private campgrounds around our Lake, this vacation guide has the information you will need to plan your Montana vacation. See what is included, and Read the booklet Table of Contents.
Since that time we have created many websites and informational guides to assist visitors on what to see, and what to do.
Visit Montana’s Flathead Lake Website to purchase your guide today. montanasflatheadlake.com . Montana’s Flathead Lake Vacations are better with our downloadable guide. The guide includes restaurants, hotels, motels, vacation rentals, boat rentals, water craft rentals as well as public and private campgrounds. It is the most complete vacation information about Flathead Lake. Purchase your copy today!
At $4.99 the Booklet costs less then a Subway® sandwich you can buy in Bigfork or Polson. So this will insure you have the information you need to have a Great Montana Lake Vacation. Purchase your booklet using our Pay-Pal option knowing your information is safe and secure and we will see you on the Lake!
For easy download, the vacation guide booklet is available for your tablet or smart phone. So spend less time wondering what to do and more time doing it!
Here is a list of some topics covered in the Flathead Lake Vacation Guide.
Visiting Montana, THE FLATHEAD LAKE VACATION GUIDE
The Go Hike with Mike Trail Guide contains most every trail head around Flathead Lake. The guide includes trails as far north as Polebridge.
It also contains the Hungry Horse recreation area, the Swan Front and Swan Valley to the east. To the north the guide contains trail head and campground information around Tally Lake.
The trail-guide contains detailed information about each trail. Content comes from Fish Wildlife and Parks, as well as 20 years of hiking and walking in the woods.
Looking for a great trail in Flathead National Forest, Montana? The Go Hike With Mike Trail-Guide contains most all of them in northwest Montana. Trails include trail running trails, mountain biking trails and just great hiking trails.
Ready for some hiking? There are 30 moderate trails in Flathead National Forest ranging from 1.8 to 23 miles and from 3,034 to 7,421 feet above sea level. Start checking them out and you’ll be out on the trail in no time!
Hiking Trail Guide
It doesn’t matter if you are a novice hiker or you love a challenge: Jewel Basin has a hike for you. You’ll discover 15,349 acres of wilderness, 27 lakes and nearly 50 miles of hike-only trails.
The Jewel Basin is located just outside of Bigfork in the Flathead National Forest. To access the trailhead from Bigfork, take Hwy 35 north to Hwy 83. Head east on Hwy 83 to the junction of the Echo Lake Road. Head north on Echo Lake Road about 3 miles to junction with the Jewel Basin Road (No. 5392). Follow this road approx. 7 miles to the trailhead.