The Blue Mountain Recreation Area is one of Missoula’s most diverse spaces for recreation. Used by equestrians, cyclists, hikers, geocachers, trail runners, ATV and motorcycle enthusiasts, disc golfers and dog walkers, this 5,500-acre playground is part of the Lolo National Forest and exhibits a successful collaboration between public land managers and Missoula recreationists.
Topped by its namesake peak, Blue Mountain, there is a wide array of interconnected trails and Forest Service roads that will take you meandering through some beautiful scenery and epic rides.
And since Blue Mountain accepts so many forms of recreational uses, different sections, trails and roads have accompanying classes of use, so please pay attention to what recreation is allowed where you may be playing, and always be courteous to other users.
Originally called “Es nin paks” by the Nez Perce and Salish, which means “crooked trail,” Pattee Canyon’s extensive network of paths make it a top destination for Missoula recreationists year-round. However, its proximity to town, especially to the University district, makes it perfectly suitable for a morning mountain biking jaunt or afternoon attack ride.
Whether you choose to bike the almost-four steep miles of roadway from the bottom to the top of Pattee Canyon Road, once you are in the 3,200-acre Recreation Area, you can begin any number of rides on the 27-mile trail system. Of course, bicycles are restricted to designated trails, and off-trail riding and the construction of jumps are prohibited, but taking any one of the rides below will help you hone your riding skills and maximize your enjoyment of Missoula’s south-side playground.
Heavily timbered, Pattee Canyon offers ample shaded riding opportunities in the heat of Missoula’s summer, as well as the chance to “lose yourself” in the Zen of riding your own favorites loops among the giant pines. In fact, when the U.S. Army built Fort Missoula in 1877, they cut some of the area’s largest trees in Pattee Canyon for its construction. Even today you can find the brethren of these fallen behemoths in the Pattee Canyon Recreation Area. The real fun of biking in this unique part of Missoula is exploring and creating your own favorite mountain bike rides.
The Rattlesnake National Recreation Area and Wilderness is Missoula’s own 60,000-acre backyard. It’s open to hikers, backpackers, horseback riders, hunters and mountain bikers. A complete and thorough network of trails allows users to “mix-and-match” a series of rides of varying difficulty, but it is best to get to know a few of the key rides in this area before striking out on your own.
You can pick up a map at the Rattlesnake Recreation Area Trailhead, also known as part of the “South Zone,” which includes a piece of nearby Sawmill Gulch. Using a map, you can plan for an overnight trip, but remember that camping is not allowed within a three-mile radius of the main trailhead and bicycles are not permitted within the Wilderness Boundary.
Keep an eye out for deer, elk, moose, mountain goats, black bears, beaver and dozens of different bird species.