Stuart Peak Trail is a 18.5 mile lightly trafficked out and back trail located near Missoula, MT that features a river and is only recommended for very experienced adventurers. The trail is primarily used for hiking, horses, and mountain biking and is accessible from June until September. Dogs and horses are also able to use this trail.
The Stuart Peak Trail will take you all the way to the Rattlesnake Wilderness, which is the turn around point for mountain bikers since bikes are not allowed past this point. The climb is long and strenuous, but mountain bikers will enjoy the downhill on the way back. It's worth noting that this trail does not offer much scenery, but what it lacks in scenery, it definitely makes up with the fun factor.
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!
I have done this hike twice now and it is an amazing hike it is a hard hike. the first time I hiked it we did it as a day hike it tools us 11 hours to go to the peak and back. We did this hike in June of 2011 and there was a ton of snow still up top. There are huckleberry patches on the way up so male sure to grab some when there in season. We say to black bears on are way out so be wear this is bear country. The second time we did it was following summer in August. We went back to twin lakes behind Stuart peak an camped for a night and hiked out the next day. This hike is fun but hard an views from the top are amazing!
I hiked this trail in early May and it was still very snowy. I was post-holing a bit and the trail was a little difficult to find at times. The views from the peak with snow all around were gorgeous and it was definitely worth the long hike. I saw a ruffed grouse displaying near the trail.
The only way to be truly satisfied by this excursion (in my opinion) is to make it all the way to the top of the peak. Yes, you DO have to ditch your bikes (just hide them in the brush) before making your ascent, and yes the climb is moderately difficult at times. But near the summit, the forest suddenly fades away and your views are fantastic! Visiting the lakes on the other side requires little effort for extra fun, and the fishing is decent. Great camping too! Check it out!
My first choice of trails were in the Rattlesnake Trail System which offers a great network of trails for every level of experience.
Trailhead is easy to find, and there are maps (free) at the trailhead. There were numerous vehicles at the trailhead, but once a short distance from the trail head, I did not see many people at all.
These trails are shared with hikers and horses, so caution is always needed.
I started this ride at 10.30am on a Tuesday, the weather was ideal and the trails did not seem to be too busy. The trails I opted for started off on an easy level double track. After about 0.5 miles I veered off onto a singletrack, from this moment on, it was just myself on the trail.
The first 3 miles was easy going on a steady climb, and had more of a XC feeling. After the 3 mile point the trail suddenly changed, and really started to climb, still manageable but it did start busting my lungs.
While climbing I was getting pretty hyped about ride back, which was 100% downhill on some fantastic singletrack, all in all about 8 miles of sweet downhill. I followed the Stuart Peak Trail all the way to the Rattlesnake Wilderness, which is the turn around point, as bikes are not allowed past this point.
The ride back to the trailhead following the Stuart Peak Trail was FUN, FAST and FURIOUS!! sweet singletrack with enough clearance to be able to Open Up
All in all, this trail does not offer much scenery, but what it lacks in scenery, it definitely makes up with the fun factor.
Traffic on Trail : 2 hikers on singletrack, numerous near Trailhead
Wild Life : lots of deer ( did see steaming bear scat)
Scenery : Not very scenic
Other : Free map at trailhead, Trails are VERY busy during weekends
My Trail Rating : 7.5 / 10