The southern boundary of the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area and Wilderness (RNRAW) is four miles north of Missoula, Montana. The National Recreation Area (NRA) lies south and adjacent to the wilderness and receives heavy use, particularly in the South Zone, within about three miles of the main trailhead. Far fewer people venture into The Rattlesnake Wilderness which is in the more remote, and northern, portion of the RNRAW. There is a trail that takes off from the main trailhead into the National Recreation Area along Rattlesnake Creek to within three miles of a scenic cluster of high alpine lakes in the wilderness. The elevation varies from 3600 feet at the NRA entrance to 8620 feet on McLeod Peak.
Easy and regular weekend hike with my dog. Very friendly hikers, cyclists and joggers. Wonderful, relaxing spot that is just on the edge of town. Lots of black bears, so keep an eye out. I have seen several hiking in Rattlesnake Wilderness Area, the most curious of them have been three cubs who seemed to try to "play" with my dog. I have heard there are a lot of mountain lions in this area, but I haven't seen one yet. Good day hike if you don't have time for a drive outside of town.
We backpacked up there last weekend. Planned on going to the lakes but there was way too much snow to make it without snowshoes. The hike up was pretty strenuous for a gal that didn't do much for the winter! These hip flexers were screaming... Definitely bring bear mace, this is bear country! We brought two dogs with bells so saw little wildlife, but I did spot a grouse. Got a bit lost when the trail disappeared into the snow, ended up camping with an amazing view of the Missoula Valley. Plan on winter camping if you go this time of year. Bring plenty of fuel to melt snow to filter; there is one stream right before the snow hits, but not more until you get passed the peak (that we saw)... This even wore my Aussie/Border Collie mix out for a couple days!
The possibilities beginning at the trailhead seem endless when you're looking for a day hike just outside of town. There is a lot of traffic, especially on the weekends, but that thins out the further you go. Take your dog, bike, picnic basket, etc. This is a great spot for everyone to experience.