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Trail Well Traveled – 8/18

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 sends us on a long journey from home – but not without purpose. Just across the border from Idaho in far southwest Montana, Deadman Lake is about the only part of the state where you can enjoy the full eclipse – so if you can afford to make the trek we encourage you to do so!

Deadman Lake #91

A nice overnight backpacking trip in the Italian Peaks Proposed Wilderness in the southernmost point of Montana

Round Trip: 16 miles

Total Elevation Gain: 1,096 feet

Directions: From Missoula, head east on I-90 like you are headed to Butte, but just before Butte you’ll take I-15 south. Head through Dillon, and then about 45 miles past town you’ll take Exit 23 at Dell.


Turn right at the bottom of the off-ramp and then take an immediate left onto Westside Frontage Road. About 1.5 miles down you’ll come to Big Sheep Creek Road – turn right (west) here.

Follow Big Sheep for 18 miles – and when it branches, take the left fork towards Nicholia-Deadman on FR 3927. Stay on the road until you see Nicholia Creek Road, and then follow that to the lake.

We highly recommend you check out a map before setting out on your journey.

What to expect: This hike covers about one-third of a 23-mile lollipop-shaped loop through a lush valley with views of the Italian Peaks.


Starting at Deadman Lake, hike south upstream following a dirt trail that at times is faint and grown over. After taking the lefthand branch early on, hike into the valley surrounded by high, cavernous cliff faces following the sometimes dry creek bed through meadows and old lake basins. Take this path for around 6 miles and then the trail begins to take a slight dip into the trees on the righthand side. Continuing for a couple hundred meters look for the sub-trail branching across the river and up the hillside to the left.

This branch was a little bit difficult to find even with a trail map; look for the branch just south of the mountain with an eastern cliff face. Once on this trail, there are a couple switchbacks to the top of the hill. This climb is the most difficult part of the hike. Around a mile after taking the sub trail, cut down on the other side of the hill to a small but oasis-like Divide Creek Lake.

A good camping spot is only another half mile up on a peninsula overlooking the way you just came from and there’s a great view of the geologically interesting mountain line to the Southwest. The trail is rough but this view of Italian Peak is definitely worth packing in to see at sundown. If you can filter some water I would suggest hiking up to Italian Peak from this side. There is also a view of Scotts Peak just across the Idaho border if you get up a bit higher.

Note: Instead of finishing the 16 miles remaining in the loop after hiking back down the hillside, you can hike out the way that you came.


Learn more about this trail, file your own trip report and photos, or check out some other great hikes at hikewildmontana.org. 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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