Fall is my favorite time of the year, so it only makes sense that I am always looking for ways to get outside and enjoy the crisp weather and beautiful colors. The best way to accomplish this is to lace up your hiking boots and head out to one of the many day hike destinations that Missoula offers. I want to tell you about a few of my favorite trails and wilderness areas to visit this season.


  1. Mount Sentinel


The first trail up Mount Sentinel to the area that the "M" would later occupy was cut by forestry students in 1908. In 1909, the junior class constructed the first "M" at the top of that trail with whitewashed rocks.In 1912, the freshman class constructed a small white "M" of wood. This "M" stood upright on the face of the mountain and cost $18 to build.The wooden "M" was destroyed by wind in 1914, replaced, and then wrecked by wind again. In 1915, a new "M" made of whitewashed rocks was constructed 200 feet above the original "M" site.A concrete "M" measuring 125-by-100-feet was built in 1968 at a cost of $4,328. The concrete structure was built because it was no longer feasible to maintain the old, rock "M". This concrete "M" is still located on Mt. Sentinel today.


  1. Waterworks Hill


The best part about this hike is that you can bring Fido along, as this is a dog friendly walk along a treeless ridge. The reason I say “walk” is because I consider this hike more leisurely than exercise. Even though this hike offers beautiful views of the fall colors and wonderful sights of the valley year round, the very best time to visit the hill is in the spring, when it is covered in bright wildflowers. The round trip of Cherry Gulch Loop is 2.2 miles and takes approximately 1 hour to complete. To reach the trailhead, start at the intersection of Broadway and Madison, in downtown Missoula. Drive north on Madison to Greenough Drive, then take the first left after crossing I-90 and continue up the road to the signed trailhead.


  1. Rattlesnake Wilderness


If you are familiar with the Missoula’s Rattlesnake recreation area, you will already be aware that there are numerous trailheads to conquer. Of all the choices, my favorite is the ever challenging Stewart Peak trail. This hike is not for the faint of hearts, as I would place it in the long and strenuous category. Stewart Peak holds the title for Rattlesnake’s highest peak at 7, 960 feet and possesses some of the best views of the Missoula Valley and surrounding peaks. The distance of the loop is a total of  20 miles and can easily take 10 to 12 hours. So, while I wouldn’t necessarily consider this one a day hike, it can be done. However, you will probably enjoy this hike more if you can make a weekend of it and camp overnight before making the descent. To get to the trailhead from Missoula, take Van Buren east and drive 4.5 miles up Rattlesnake Drive to the main trailhead. This trail starts from the main trailhead and branches off at the ½ mile mark.


Whether you want to take a short hike on your lunch break or plan to make a weekend of it, you can find a local hike that works for you and your fitness level. Now that the weather is mild and the smoke has cleared out for the most part, make some time to get out and enjoy the outdoors right off your back doorstep. Before we know it,Missoulawill once again be engulfed by frigid weather and a bunch of snow.

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