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Trail Well Traveled – 6/29

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, we feature an easy day hike that features the complete package: gorgeous views, the sounds of running water and birds busily chirping, and the aromas of the high mountain evergreen forest.

Sawtooth Lake Trail #1195

A family-friendly day hike that climbs gently to a scenic alpine lake surrounded by 10,000-foot peaks.

Roundtrip: 7.4 miles

Elevation Gain: 1436 feet

Directions: From Missoula, take Intersate 90 east towards Butte – but then depart onto Intersate 15 south a few miles before you reach town.

Continue down I-15 to its junction with Highway 43, where you’ll head west (left) to the Wise River and the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway, which runs south along the river. Enjoy the beautiful drive down this 38-mile stretch. Just past Elkhorn Hot Springs is the turn for the Sawtooth trailhead (at Clark Creek). Turn left here and follow the signs about 3 miles to the parking area.

What to expect: The first 1.3 miles of the hike were the site of the Hidden Lake Fire of 2003. The fire burned for 5 months up to an elevation of 8,000 feet. Recovery is well underway allowing you to experience nature at work as you trek through lush meadows of new growth and many three to six foot (or more) tall healthy lodgepole pines growing eagerly in the purple and pink fireweed meadows in ample fashion.

The trail follows Clark Creek adding the sounds of flowing water along the way, adding nicely to the hiking experience. The creek supports grassy, lush meadows bursting with color.

The upper 2.4 miles of the trail are wooded and rocky, allowing for a complete Pioneer Mountains hiking experience featuring both meadows as well as wooded terrain. The trail is a single track, moderate rate of climb route with a few sections of easy to follow switchbacks as the trail climbs to the high mountain lake nestled among the rocky surrounding peaks at about 8500 feet elevation. There are exposed rocks in the trail, but the footing is good. The width of the trail is ample for horseback travel. The total elevation gain is just about 1500 feet.

The hike to the lake is the complete package of views, sounds of running water, birds busily chirping, and the aromas of the high mountain evergreen forest.

Goat Mountain at 9,096 feet is on the southwest side of the lake; Sawtooth Mountain at 10,127 feet is to the east; Highboy is southeast at 10,431 feet. There are several other peaks at 10,000 feet plus rounding out the bowl holding Sawtooth Lake.

There are several established campsites at the lake with existing rock fire rings. The ruins of an old cabin can be found on a slight rise at the lake.

A plane crashed into the east end of the lake years ago and some parts can be found here and there. The bulk of the aircraft that did not get salvaged slipped deep into the center of the lake and cannot be seen.

The south edge of Sawtooth lake runs along the base of Goat Mountain. The shoreline along this edge can be walked through the large boulders, but care must be take as the footing can be challenging.

Return to the Trailhead the same route.

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 9:45 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!

-Zeke Campfield

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