North Hills – Making Peace With the Rural-Urban Medley

Publisher’s Note: Make It Missoula is 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!


There are a number of different places to begin to explore the North Hills. I started at Mountain View Trail, which sprouts off of Duncan Drive. To get to the trailhead you must first go through a residential area. The trail literally starts in someone’s yard.

I grew up in the Flathead Valley, in Bigfork and later Somers. I had Glacier National Park, the Swan Mountains, Seeley Lake, and countless other incredible wilderness areas on my horizons. When I went on hikes there was often no sign of civilization anywhere, just miles of water and greenery. Going on a hike in Missoula is the polar opposite. You can go into nature and go on a beautiful hike in the middle of town or in a cul-de-sac. For me, Missoula is a confusing medley of rural and urban.

Once up and out of the residential area, the trail led up a grassy hill. It isn’t very steep and is made up of switchbacks. Halfway up the hill we could see the residential area, a lovely garden and greenhouse, and both the M and the L. After we climbed to the top of the grassy hill there was a small valley with a set of tracks from vehicles running through it. There was a large fenced area containing three horses and one mini-horse.


Photo by ©Belle Gash-Gilder

My roommate is skittish around horses so she held back while I walked right up to the fence. The largest of the horses came over fence. He was very sweet and allowed me to touch him. He was mahogany with a patch of white on his neck; he was very sleek.

We walked along the fence and called to the other horses. Eventually, the mini horse and another came up to us. The mini-horse was white and black, with splotches of color everywhere and a scraggly mane. He was very nervous and wouldn’t let us touch him, but as long as we kept our hands to ourselves he would come right up to the fence.

The other horse was the most calm, and didn’t really care what was going on around her. After some thought my roommate approached to touch her, They were still and silent. For a moment all fears were forgotten and the horse was just a beautiful creature worthy of admiration. The human and the horse stayed connected for a few beats, then my roommate regained her discomfort and it was time to move on.

Past the horses, we climbed up to the top of Randolph Hill where Mountain View Trail connects to Ridge Trail. My roommate stayed near the intersection taking in the view while I walked further on to the highest point of Randolph Hill. Thick, grey grasshoppers jumped into the air with a burst of noise and fiery wings. I couldn’t take more than a few steps without disturbing a dozen of them.


Photo by ©Belle Gash-Gilder

Once I reached the highest point, a few hundred feet from the intersection, I could look out and see the railyard and a good portion of the city. The sky was clear and the air quiet. The only noise was the mechanical sounds coming from the railyard and the crackling when the grasshoppers took flight.

My roommate and I chatted the whole way down, unlike our silent ascent. When we arrived at her Jeep we saw two fawns in the soccer field across from the trailhead. They were still spotted and starting to turn red. I was within a few feet of them, trying not to startle them as they casually munched on the green on the field.

They looked at home and we felt more comfortable in our surroundings that we had as we started our hike. It felt as though seeing Missoula from Randolph Hill, in the cool, quiet air, had suddenly made it feel more like home and less like a temporary place to be. We were able to see the strange city in the beautiful, autumn light and accept the mish mash of rural and urban life as ours.


North Hills via Mountain View Trail


Click on map to go to interactive Google map

Round Trip Length: 2.2 miles

Total Elevation Gain: 450 ft

Trail Difficulty: Easy with mild elevation gain

Trail Surface: Packed dirt, single track.

Directions From the intersection of Broadway and Madison, drive north on Madison to Greenough Drive. Continue on Greenough until it becomes Duncan Drive, the trailhead will be on your left, immediately after Highland Drive on the right.


Gash-Gilder_MM_SelfieIsabella Gas-Gilder grew up in the Flathead Valley exploring all the natural wonders it had to offer. Living in Bigfork provided the perfect setting to embark on childhood journeys. Her favorite things are cats and flannels.