Crazy Canyon – An Easy Climb in Nature’s Cathedral

Publisher’s Note: Over the next few weeks Make It Missoula will be publishing the writings of University of Montana students enrolled in Nadia White’s autumn semester 2014 Adventure Writing class. Each student was assigned a Missoula area trail to explore and write about. Read more about Nadia White, this assignment, and the University of Montana School of Journalism’s Adventure Writing class. Enjoy!


I decided to hike Crazy Canyon with a friend in early Fall. We jumped in my Subaru and drove up Pattee Canyon about 3 miles to the trailhead and parking lot. This mildly difficult trail offers views of Pattee Canyon and the amber designs the Western larch painted across the forest in autumn. Although this is a popular hike, we didn’t see another person, which only added to the beauty of the trail.

As we made our way up the reasonable slope, my friend and I barely spoke; instead, we listened to how genuinely quite it was. There was nothing to alert me to any human presence. All I heard was the occasional birdcall and the rustling of the trees, which sounded like waves breaking on a beach. The forest in Crazy Canyon is well maintained; it is healthy and not choked by fuels.

I’m forestry major and the one thing all of my professors told me is that a forestry degree can ruin the outdoors for you.  In some ways they’re correct, I was trying to identify trees the entire time, to my friend’s delight, but I don’t think I could ever get tired of nature.


The view is good as you’re walking up the mountain but it’s even better once you get to the summit and are able to look out across Missoula and out across the Clark Fork and Bitterroot valleys.  John Muir compared nature to the grandest cathedrals and with good reason too.  From the summit of Mount Sentinel, I looked out across that distance and could felt that the sky was a ceiling and the mountains walls that surrounded us.

This whole experience reminded me why nature is important to me. It’s a place where I can reflect. Being human, all too often we separate ourselves from nature, but the reality is we are part of nature, too. I find my spirituality in nature. I find an intrinsic beauty in nature. It is important to me simply because it exists. But it also allows me to experience something larger than myself, it binds me to other people and the planet and I know if I listen it can teach me how to live a more fulfilling life.

Many people think the salvation of mankind lies in a religious text, but I would argue that our salvation lies in nature. Nature is important to me because I am a part of it and whatever befalls it will befall me, and everyone I know. We are all connected.


From the summit, we had two choices: turn around and head back to our car or follow one of the many other trails up to the top of Mount Sentinel and down the M trail. We chose the latter and agreed to go back and get the car later.  Coming down the mountain we saw the high water mark of Ancient Lake Missoula, glacial lakes that drained long ago. Looking around the valley you could see the rings of old shores the lake had carved out. They were visible reminders that natural forces were creating this valley long before us. They will continue to sculpt it long after we are gone.


Crazy Canyon


Click to go to interactive map

Distance one way to summit: 2.9 miles

Total Elevation Gain: 1,258 feet

Trail Difficulty: Moderate

Trail Surface: Packed earth

Description: Crazy Canyon is part of the Pattee Canyon recreation area. The area comprises shaded picnic spots, and many foot, horse, bicycle and cross-country ski tails. The area has a long rich history. It was a route used by the Salish and Nez Perce to avoid the Blackfeet. The CCC made the first picnic areas in the 1930s; it was a military timber reserve and target range, then part of the Missoula National Forest (today’s Lolo National Forest).

Directions to the trailhead: Travel 3.1 miles up Pattee Canyon Road from its intersection with Higgins Avenue; the signed trailhead is on your left.


Early_MM_SelfieBlurryCharles Early is a freshman forestry major. He was born and grew up in Singapore but moved to Missoula from Prosser, Wash.