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Trail Well Traveled, 4/20

Welcome to the Trail Well Traveled!

Each Friday, in partnership with Montana Wilderness Association we will feature a new western Montana trail and then give you some helpful details and tips to get on your way!

This week, Craig’s found a trail that meets both our appetite for adventure as well as our appetite for, well, carbs …

Copper City

Wander the roads through this wide open landscape flush with early spring wildflowers.

Roundtrip: 6.5 miles

Total Elevation Gain: 1,330 feet

Directions: From Missoula, head west on I-90 through Bozeman just past Three Forks to Exit #274 for Highway 287 (which leads to Helena). There you’ll turn north – but not without stopping for a cinnamon roll or two at Wheat Montana’s bakery at the intersection. Climb the hill about 4.5 miles and then, about a half-mile after Jim Dolan’s hillside horse sculptures, turn right onto Copper City Road. Go through the first dip in the road and then when the road turns south you’ll park on the large, flat dirt area to the right.

What to expect: Copper City was once the site of an enthusiastic scramble to mine copper. Someone discovered a boulder of copper there but, alas, it ended up being the only piece of metal to be found. Now the area is owned by the BLM, with a few mining claims in the midst of it – as well as the rotting remnants of buildings and concrete structures.

Today it’s just a great place to meander along the roads, trails and ridgelines to enjoy early spring wildflowers.  The views overlook Wheat Montana’s fields to the west and the Three Forks valley where the Jefferson, Madison and Gallatin Rivers prepare to converge. In the distance are numerous ranges: the Bridgers, Gallatins, Spanish Peaks, Tobacco Roots, Elkhorn Mountains, Pioneers, Gravelly range, Big Belts, Absarokas and Horseshoe Hills.

After parking your vehicle, continue to walk the road as it dips down into a gully and around two old buildings.  Continue uphill, past a concrete silo in another mining claim.  At this point, it is possible to stay on that same road, which eventually leads to a steep climb up the ridge ahead; however, the easier route requires taking a right fork, heading toward the fence, then northeast along the fence line until the road leads gradually up along the ridgeline.

The road peters out along the ridgeline.  There is another section of BLM land to the northeast, but to follow this route go off trail east, then follow the next ridgeline south.  Before reaching the highest peak, head west again, down into the gully, finding more trails to lead back to the fence line.

Follow the original route back, or take the trails just inside the fence line back west and southwest, until you reach the gully with the two buildings in it.  Head back up the gully and up the road to the parking area.

Note: Aside from the route shown on the GPS track, there are many other roads crisscrossing this area.  Since there are virtually no trees, it’s easy to spot the roads and figure out how to return to your vehicle.  Feel free to explore!

Learn more about this trail, file your own trip report and photos, or check out some other great hikes at And don’t forget to tune in to the Trail 103.3 each Friday at 9:50 am for the next featured trail and your chance to win!

Big thanks to Rangitsch Bros RV for sponsoring the Trail Well Traveled. Proudly serving Missoula for over 56 years, whatever camper best suits your needs Rangitsch Bros has got it!

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