Mount Sentinel via Hellgate Ridgeline

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K Williams Natural Trail Area

Mount Sentinel via Hellgate Ridgeline is a 3.1 mile heavily trafficked out and back trail located near Missoula, Montana that features beautiful wild flowers and is rated as moderate. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from March until November. Dogs are also able to use this trail.

Length3.1 miElevation gain1,896 ftRoute typeOut & back
dog friendlyKid friendlyHikingMountain bikingNature tripsWalkingBird watchingrunningForestViewsWildflowersWildlifeRocky
Description
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Getting There

The "M" on the west face of Mount Sentinel has been a Missoula landmark since 1908, when Forestry Club members forged a zigzag trail up the mountain and students carried up stones to shape the symbol of the University of Montana. A hike to the "M" is a favorite Missoula outing for people of all ages. After just a few minutes on the trail, you begin to get a birds'-eye view of the University of Montana. As you gain elevation, the view expands to include all of Missoula, the valley, the Clark Fork River and distant mountains. While the trail is less than a mile long, the hike can be quite strenuous, depending on how quickly you cover this distance. You'll climb a steep, zigzag path with 11 switchbacks and gain 620 feet in elevation. Many local athletes and fitness buffs run the "M" trail as a regular part of their regimen. Most people make the "M" their final destination, but you can continue to climb for about another mile on one of two routes to the top of Mount Sentinel. The view from the top of the mountain is even more exquisite. To the north, across Hellgate Canyon, you'll see Mount Jumbo and the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area and Wilderness. Look for the water lines etched into the slopes of Mount Jumbo by the waters of Glacial Lake Missoula. To the south, you can see the Bitterroot Mountains. From the top of Sentinel, you can retrace your steps to the base of the mountain or follow Crazy Canyon Trail into Pattee Canyon. Hikers and equestrians can also follow the Hellgate Canyon Trail linking Crazy Canyon Trail with the Kim Williams Trail.

Ample parking is available. However, hourly pay is required Monday through Friday between the hours of 7am and 5pm. For rates and further parking information please visit: http://www.umt.edu/police/Parking/Parking%20Information/Visitor%20Parking.php

The trailhead can be found at the east end of the University of Montana campus just off of Campus Drive. The "M" on Mt. Sentinel can be seen and located throughout most of Missoula.

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Reviews (241)
Photos (329)
Recordings (216)
Completed (595)
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chris r
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Hiking

icy

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Mike Tucker
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Hiking

Headed up in the middle of January with wind gusts of over 50mph.. pretty icy on top but still a great climb!

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Colin Beauvais
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Snowshoeing

Great trail! Lots of black ice, however! Bring micro spikes or be very careful!

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Cassandra Durkee
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Hiking
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Daran Thach
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Hiking
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Richard Fricke
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HikingGreat!

It was a fun hike. A lot of people on the trail.

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Mar Mosher
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Hiking

This one was surprisingly strenuous—looking at the rolling hill one would think they’re in for a smooth little hike. Nope! It’s perfectly intense and sunny, making it a bit much on a bright, hot, sunny day. Just bring water and be ready to enjoy!

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lila murphy
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i’d classify this as hard! did take the steepest way up though.

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Joe Kleiber
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Hiking
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Alan Miller
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HikingGreat!

This is a challenging hike. We hiked it starting at 7:30 pm on Friday, September 4, 2020. The temperatures were in the 70s with no wind. After hiking to the “M” we continued up to Mount Sentinel using a route I had not tried before ... the zigzag switchback pattern rather than straight up. We passed by a small mining cave on the way up. The sunset was beautiful and we hiked down from Mount Sentinel on the steep route in the dark. I neglected to bring my headlamp and was grateful that other people had theirs since we needed the light. I also was glad that I brought my trekking poles since the steep terrain can be hard on the knees and the poles helped lessen the possibility of slipping in the dark. All in all a really nice hike for views and for uphill and downhill elevation training.

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David Rodriguez
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Hiking

It was okay. Nothing really to look at but the valley and bugs.

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Bob Horn
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Hiking

Great evening for a hike. Lots of bugs but otherwise good condition.

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Joe Kerley
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Hiking

If you can do the math you’ll understand this climb is pretty unforgiving. Couple that with very few shady spots and it’s a bit of a challenge for someone moderately out of shape. The hellbone ridge is the hardest path up, so don’t be afraid to take the long way ‘round and save your glutes a bit. Great territorial views all the way up. I stopped for shade like I stop for gas in MT; fill up when you can because you don’t know when the next chance will come.

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Ryan Whedon
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Hiking

Great hike, fairly straightforward but definitely not a moderate hike at all. This is almost all an elevation hike but totally worth it if you push through and make it to the top. Tackle this in the morning and not in the afternoon like I did! Not too busy on a Wednesday afternoon and everyone was friendly on the trail. Definitely would do this again, just in the morning! Bring a hat, water and a bucket of sunscreen as there’s no shade on this trail.

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Kelly Eaton
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Hiking

I feel violated, my friends. No one ever told me one could go on a hike, paraglide from the summit, land on an island of a nearby river, then inflate the tube you carried with you and float the river back to your truck. Why is this not a pastime mandatorily taught to people in our public education system? The world could be a better place. But I digress. The hike is pretty. Stunningly so every time you look behind you and see Missoula sprawling in the distance, a magnificent blend of industry, suburb, and agriculture, all cupped within golden rolling hills (maybe someone calls them mountains). I suspect this hike would be significantly more beautiful in late May or early June when I imagine the endless fields of flowers to be in full bloom. Not so mid August. It was probably the endless burning of a pitiless sun that cuts the flowers' will to vibrance short. It nearly cut my will to summit short. Take this hike early in the morning (at least during summer). Future you will be grateful. The hammock was a spectacular hit this session. I highly recommend. You won't find an opportunity till near the summit, but the view is worth an hour or two while you read a book or jam some tunes.

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Alyssa Coleman
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Hiking

Crowded up the M, then it gets less crowded and steeper to the peak. Great views, not much shade, lots of options to extend the hike on different trail loops.

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Phalcon Parker
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Did this hike a couple weekends ago. There is a big parking lot at the trailhead. Pretty steep switchbacks up to M, but don't be fooled, life gets harder after that. There is an alternate way up, which I ended up taking as I descended. If you want the easier route ascending: the trail eventually Ys, take a R towards the woods (I'd rate moderate), or stick L to tackle the much steeper grade (I'd rate hard). Overall, beautiful day and a beautiful trail.

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Walt S
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Hiking

Fun switchback trail to the "M" and then a more strenuous haul to Mount Sentinel. Altogether 2.5 hours roundtrip. Great views of Missoula and surrounding valley, as well as nearby forrest, along the way. Lots of loose gravel and rocks in some steep parts, but just take it slowly. No shade for most of the hike.

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Matt R
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Hiking

7/12/2020 Hike: My last day in MT, so I took a break from the Bitterroots to check out the L & M. Hiked up Mount Jumbo first, then walked over to hike up Mount Sentinel. This is a tough climb, gaining nearly 2000 ft in 1.5 miles. Should be rated hard. After the summit, I jogged back down the more gradual trail to the south instead of trying to scramble back down the steep decent that I came up.

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Michael Hens
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HikingNo shadeRocky

This ain't no joke, granted I'd been living at sea level my whole life up until less than a week ago. Definitely humbled me for my first real hike. I'll give it another go for sure once I'm use to the lack of oxygen.

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Brenda Gescher
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HikingNo shadeRocky

We did the 3+ mile ridge line loop. It was quite strenuous but very doable. You should wear a hat and bring water. Saw many dogs on trail. Bring water for dog too. If in Missoula you gotta do it!

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karlee ketelboeter
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HikingRocky

Rocky, not a lot of shade, great views of the city and surrounding mountains. Lots of wildflowers in bloom right now.

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Scott Luneau
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HikingMuddyRockySnow
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Brandon Scott
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HikingIcyMuddySnow
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