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 one lucky listener some cool goodies to help them embark on their journey!
Willow Creek to the Palisades, Trail #300
A surprising gem in the Sapphires, with views to the Bitterroots and beyond!
Roundtrip: 9 miles
Elevation Gain: 2973 feet
Directions: From Missoula, head south on US 93 and take the turnoff into Corvallis. Continue east on Willow Creek Road through the blinking yellow light and after 2.2 miles turn right to STAY on Willow Creek Road (Careful! This turn is easy to miss, and if you stay straight the road changes to Coal Pit Road!) Continue down Willow Creek in paved form as it winds through farms and home sites and then continue another 4.5 miles after it turns to dirt. You’ll come across a hairpin switchback – at the switchback turn right (somewhat straight) and drive the final .2 miles to the small trailhead.
What to expect: From the trailhead, follow the old road bed for the first half mile, which is wide and flat but growing in with vegetation. The trail largely follows the stream, though there are few stream access points. Just after one of the better stream access points, the trail crosses into an open wetland with views of the Palisades – rocky cliffs above the lush wetland.
After ducking into the forest once again, and crossing the creek once more, the trail climbs more steeply up long switchbacks. At points the trail touches open scree fields, which provide excellent resting points with views of the Bitterroot Mountains. At 4 miles, and having climbed 2,500 feet, the trail arrives at a pass.
At the pass, turn left (north) onto Palisade Trail #44. This trail can be tricky to find in the meadow. If you lose it, walk to the top of the rocky outcropping, where you’ll see more clearly that the trail continues into the woods just to the right (east) of this rocky outcrop. The trail follows the top of the ridge another half mile to an obvious rocky scree pile, which is the summit. Stay on the trail around the bottom of the scree slope until you reach the shoulder. From here, there’s a trail to the right that leads to the top of the summit.
From the summit, vast 360-degree views take in the Mission Mountains, Swan Range, Quigg Peak Roadless Area, Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness, the Sapphires Wilderness Study Area, and all of the Bitterroots from Trapper Peak to Lolo Peak. Alpine larch and beargrass just below the summit add to the scenic vista. Debris and rock construction from an old lookout are still visible at the top.
Throughout the trail, a wide variety of spring wildflowers adds color to the hike. In the lower sections of the trail, spring wildflowers include lupine, bleeding heart, and arnica. Up higher, paintbrush, shooting stars, phlox, larkspur, and forget-me-nots create a symphony of color.
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!