Outdoor October

A Four-Day (or One Day) Trek Through the Rattlesnake

October is a great time to be outdoors. The nights are cool, the days warm. An early frost usually deals with most bugs, the air is smoke-free, and the stars shine brightly. And people usually have to drive hundreds of miles to reach wildernesses such as what is in our backyard—the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area and Wilderness. This (suggested) four-day hike will take you 21 miles east to west through this nearby recreation area.

Start at the West Gold Creek trailhead on the east side and hike four miles through forests and around Prim Lake to Rattlesnake Creek, where you’ll find a major two-track road up the valley a short distance to a pleasant meadow with a couple of camping spots. The deciduous foliage here is rich with fall colors and is a nice place to kick off your boots.

The day’s adventure can end there (by hiking out). But it doesn’t have to.

After getting a good night’s rest, hike 5.2 miles to Carter Lake and then on to Warden Lake. The shoreline and area around Carter Lake doesn’t provide any places to pitch camp, but it’s a nice locale to rest and eat lunch before venturing one mile farther to Warden Lake. This stretch involves a 400-foot gain in elevation but you’ll be rewarded with better camping and, at the west side of the lake, the scenic ridge wall of Mosquito Peak. A map check reveals at least 40 lakes in the area around McLeod, Mosquito and Stuart peaks, some small and unnamed but they are there for the adventurer.

The day’s adventure can end there (by hiking out). But it doesn’t have to.

From Warden Lake, hike 2.6 miles to Twin Lakes, an elevation gain of 1,100 feet, during which time you’ll reach the high ridge above McCarthy Lake, west of Stuart Peak. You can see vast areas west into the Missoula Valley and to Lolo Peak. To the east, there are views into the Swan Range, to the north the Mission Mountains.

The day’s adventure can end there (by hiking out). But it doesn’t have to.

Only 9.1 miles and a loss of 3,550 feet in elevation separate you from civilization. From Twin Lakes, hike out to the Ravine Creek trailhead at Grant Creek.

The day’s adventure is done, which means it’s time to start planning the next one.

Before embarking into the wilderness, it’s advisable to check with local agencies for information about the area. Visit the Lolo National Forest website at FS.USDA.gov/lolo or call the Missoula Ranger Station at 406.329.3814.