Mount Jumbo to Close Dec 1 for Elk Herd Winter Range

The snow has started to fly, and that means it’s time for the Mount Jumbo elk herd to return to their winter range.

Mount Jumbo’s North Zone, from the Saddle Road to the north, is closed from December 1 until May 1. The South Zone, from the Saddle Road south to I-90, is closed from December 1 to March 15. Maps and more information are available on the Missoula Parks and Recreation website. The Saddle Road is located at the north end of Lincoln Hills Drive.

When winter snows deplete forage at higher elevations, about 75 elk move to Jumbo’s lower slopes to feed. To help increase the herd’s chance for winter survival, critical areas of the mountain are closed seasonally to recreational use.

The 75 or so elk that winter on Mt. Jumbo face serious danger. Their chances of survival dwindle if they’re disturbed repeatedly by people and dogs. Elk view people as predators, and run from them. Racing through deep snow takes enormous energy at a time when elk are already stressed by the cold and effort it takes to paw through snow for food. Every time elk have to run away, they deplete the fat reserves they need to survive the winter.


A herd of elk ranges below Snowbowl's alpenglow-bathed slopes. Photo by Paul Queneau.

Mt. Jumbo makes up about two-thirds of the elk herd’s winter range. The remaining range is too small to support the entire herd. The elk migrate from points north in the Lolo National Forest to Mt. Jumbo, their only choice for finding enough grass, shelter, and solitude.

Winter hikers and their canine companions can enjoy the numerous trails, scenic views, and varied terrain on the North Hills, Mount Sentinel, Rattlesnake Greenway, and in the Pattee Canyon, Blue Mountain, and Rattlesnake Recreation Areas. The new Parks and Trails map, available for $4 at Currents Aquatics Center and local retailers, features detailed maps of open space trails. Hikers are reminded to leash dogs where posted and remove their pet’s waste.

Call Missoula Parks & Rec at 721-PARK for more information about winter walking and hiking opportunities, or visit Make it Missoula’s hiking page.