Montana Backpacking in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness

The rugged Bitterroot Mountain Range straddles the Idaho/Montana border just to the south and west of Missoula, Montana. It forms the eastern portion of the vast Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, and provides the setting for our wonderful “Peaks, Lakes and Big Trees of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness” guided backpack trip.  We run this guided Montana backpack trip each July, and this year, the dates are July 8-13. This relatively unknown mountain range is as rugged and wild and beautiful as any mountainous area in the U.S. south of Alaska, with the only qualifier being that grizzly bears no longer roam this lake-strewn granitic wilderness. Yet, few people outside of Montana and Idaho know much about the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.

Which is why we rarely fill this wonderful trek — if folks only knew what a great place for backpacking it is! Big naked walls of granite rise above dense forests with huge trees and lush mountain meadows. Every few years, there is a massive bloom of spectacular “beargrass”, which is actually more important as food for elk than bears. Moreover, it isn’t a grass; rather, it’s a member of the lily family (so it should be called “elk lily”). Throughout the Bitterroots, roaring streams define the spectacular mountain canyons, and the sub-alpine high country cradles hundreds of clear and icy lakes and ponds. The fishing is great, too (please let us know in advance if you plan to fish, and if so, be sure to secure a Montana fishing license). This guided backpacking trek includes a mix of hiking on well-maintained trails combined with a nice dose of off-trail hiking across the higher, more open sub-alpine terrain.

Bring a spare camera battery; you’ll need it! The scenery is unmatched. And the Bitterroots also support deer, elk, moose, mountain goat, black bear, gray wolf, mountain lion, bighorn sheep and more. Due to the rugged terrain and areas of dense forest, the animals aren’t always easy to spot (as in the more wide open terrain of Yellowstone, for example), but it is a great feeling to ponder the wildlife that no doubt sees you, as you mosey down a trail in the wild and uniquely beautiful Bitterroot Mountains along the western border of our home state of Montana. Don’t miss the opportunity to explore this wonderfully wild place!

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