Pets allowed
Allowed
Elevation Gain
4,500.00 ft (1,371.60 m)
Trail type
There-and-back
Distance
14.00 mi (22.53 km)
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Easily accessible from Missoula, Lolo Peak (9,137') is the northernmost Bitterroot Mountain over 9,000 feet tall. The view from the top and Missoula's accessibility make Lolo Peak a bucket-list hike for the region,.

It’s an approximately 13-mile and all-day adventure to reach the summit. Backpacking campsites are also available around halfway to the top. The traditional non-technical hike to Lolo Peak starts with an 8-mile drive on Mormon Peak Road, off Highway 12 from the town of Lolo. This gravel road is suitable for almost every vehicle, though slow speeds should be applied.

The hiking begins with an approximately four-mile climb through a burn area from a 2017 wildfire. The trail climbs just over 2,000 feet within the first four miles and the burn area is very exposed to the sun. Making this climb in the middle of a hot day during summer is not advised. Hiking through the burn area has its advantages if the weather is mild. The undergrowth is significantly growing back in some sections. The lack of foliage also allows big views of the surrounding valley as you climb higher.

Just before the four-mile mark, the trail reaches Carlton Ridge. This flatter track leads to a stunning vista point where hikers get a good look at Lolo Peak. From Carlton Ridge, a connector trail leads down to Carlton Lake.

Carlton Lake is a stunning reservoir at the base of Lolo Peak. This area is excellent for a snack break or to set up camp in nearby backcountry sites. Carlton Lake is also a great place to scope out adjacent Lolo Peak. It pays to take a moment to study topography here because the rest of the route to the top doesn’t follow a designated trail.

Many hikers head along the southern edge of the lake for a southwest approach to the summit. Another option is to head up the granite slabs near the lake’s western edge. Either direction, hikers should be prepared to navigate up the mountain without a clear trail. On the southwest route, occasional rock cairns help suggest a general approach. Good route finding skills keep the scrambling suitable for most experience levels. 

Hikers eventually reach the treeline on their way up to Lolo Peak. While it’s very possible to keep the scrambling under Class II, expect to take significant steps up a talus field to reach the ridgeline and summit. From this route direction, hikers first encounter the south summit of Lolo Peak. While this feels like the true summit, and even has a survey marker indicating so, the actual high point of Lolo Peak is on the north summit.

From the south summit it's a short ridge-walk to reach the north summit of Lolo Peak. A three-sided rock shelter has been constructed near another survey marker to indicate the true summit. The entire Lolo summit ridge provides excellent views of the region. The Bitterroot Mountains stand particularly inviting on the horizon. Missoula can even seen in the distance, given away by the "M" and "L" adorned mountains at the city's edge. 

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Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Spring
Summer
Fall

Parking Pass

None

Open Year-round

Yes

Pros

Summit hike with big views. Inviting alpine lake halfway. Camping and backpacking access.

Cons

Trail runs through significant burn area.

Trailhead Elevation

5,822.00 ft (1,774.55 m)

Highest point

9,140.00 ft (2,785.87 m)

Features

Near lake or river
Backcountry camping
Wildlife
Big vistas
Wildflowers
Bird watching

Typically multi-day

No

Permit required

No

Location

Nearby Lodging + Camping

Missoula + Bitterroot Mountains, Montana

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