While everyone else is driving south for 10-12 hours to ride this off season, G-Money, Beth, and I go north. With the low snow and early spring temps we had this year, most of the trails in the Missoula area are wide open and riding great. Also, it’s only 6 hours away plus I’ll take 60 degrees and a shady forest ride over 85 in the wide open desert any day.
Never having ridden in Missoula we did some searching on the internets before heading up and found a site that had quite a bit of useful information called Mountain Biking Missoula. Along with having several of the popular area rides mapped with descriptions, including an inner city brewery tour, they also have some info on lodging and the local bike shops . Once there we looked up one of those shops called The Bike Doctor and stopped in to see what they suggested. From their recommendations and what we read on the web, we ended up at the Rattlesnake Canyon area. The options for mountain biking there seemed pretty endless but we soon learned that having a dog cuts those options in half.
Not knowing our way around the area very well we decided on a pretty straight forward looking out and back trail called Stuart’s Peak (aka: Trail #517). This trail in total is 12 miles long with with an 3,800′ elevation gain, the highest point of which is at Stuart’s Peak at about the 7.5 mile mark. The first part of the trail was deceptively easy. It was wide, straight and mellow climbing for 3.5 miles or so, the rest of the trail more than makes up for that. The grade gets gradually steeper as you ascend and doesn’t let up. There are also several sections of rocks and roots crossing the trail that you have to hike up, these end up being really fun on the downhill though. It goes on like this for a couple miles and you begin to wonder if they believe in switchbacks in Montana. Not long after that thought you come across your first of several switchbacks, although these don’t seem to lessen the grade of the trail at all.
On a side note, we’ve learned that G-Money can only keep up for 8-10 miles before she’s had enough mountain biking for the day, so at the 5 mile mark we had to turn around. Even from that point the downhill was ridiculously fun. Think Ferrins times two minus half of the switchbacks. Super fast, really smooth, enough features to keep you on your toes. From the look of the map you can either head up this to the top and turn around, continue on to the 12 mile mark where the trail joins another that leads back to the trailhead, or take one of several turn-offs along the way to make a loop of varying distances. Any way you end up going is sure to be scenic and fun on the way out.
As for the rest of Missoula, it’s a college town so there’s usually lots going on. They have plenty of shopping, restaurants, bars, and a decent music scene. Another highlight is the number of craft breweries they have in close proximity to each other, 6 in total. If you don’t have time to take the whole tour (see above link), at least make a point of heading out to the Big Sky Brewing Company’s Taproom. While you can’t buy a pint there you can get free ~8oz samples of everything on the menu and buy or fill your own growler to go. The other must stop is the Flathead Lakes Brewing Company’s Pubhouse. The brewery is located elsewhere but the beer and the food are delicious and make a perfect post ride meal.
It’s always nice to get away for a while, relax, see new places, ride new trails, but it’s always even better coming back home to the Tetons. Looking forward to seeing what else is riding and getting some new trail maps up on the site.