The upper Bitterroot has reserved some of the best recreation for those willing to drive the extra miles to get there.
You can grow hoarse talking about the hiking possibilities in the Bitterroot Range, but probably the most astonishing ascent of the entire range is the climb up Trapper Peak. At 10,157 feet it’s the highest mountain in the Bitterroots, but it’s only a moderately difficult eight-mile round-trip day hike. The trailhead is reached by following West Fork Road, MT 473, at Connor. Once you pass the Trapper Peak Civilian Jobs Corps Center, go almost seven miles to the signs pointing to the Trapper Peak trailhead. Switchbacks take you most of the way up the back of the mountain, but there’s enough slogging left to satisfy more energetic hikers. If you do only one ascent in the Bitterroots, this should be it.
If a day on the mountain isn’t possible for you, then enjoy the other end of Trapper Peak at Lake Como. This lake just west of Darby is nestled in a valley rimmed by the most unrestrained peaks in the Bitterroots. It should be no surprise that other people know of Lake Como (the Italian Lake Como is its namesake and chief rival in beauty), and don’t expect to be the only camper at the lake. There’s good trout fishing but too many speedboats to make it a bucolic getaway. There’s an easy eight-mile loop trail around the lake. Watch for Lake Como signs five miles north of Darby.
Another good but slightly longer day hike will take the curious to Overwhich Falls, which drops 200 feet along the wall of the Continental Divide near Lost Trail Pass. It’s about six miles in, but after following the switchbacks up to the trailhead, it’s fairly easy going. From the Indian Trees Forest Service Campground, follow the signs for Road 729 to Porcupine Saddle. From the trailhead, the trail follows Shields Creek to the falls.
Just across the road from Lost Trail Hot Springs, Nee-Me-Poo Trail traces the route of the Nez Percé on their 1877 flight from the U.S. Army. This section of the trail heads uphill through an open ponderosa pine forest past views down the Bitterroot Valley to Gibbons Pass, six miles from the road. It’s a pleasant hike with a day pack filled with trail mix and water, but it’s hard to hike this route without imagining what it would be like to walk it with family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors of all ages, pursued by the U.S. Army.
A good West Fork hike starts from the Sam Billings Campground and sticks pretty close to aptly named Boulder Creek for the four-mile trip to Boulder Lake.
© W.C. McRae & Judy Jewell from Moon Montana, 7th Edition