Montana Outdoors

June 29, 2008

The longest three mile trail in Montana (Part 4)

This will be the last post in this series: after all, how much can be said about a three mile trail?

The Clark Fork of the Columbia River flows in a northwesterly direction for about three hundred miles from its source in the Deerlodge National Forest at the Continental Divide near the town of Butte Montana then takes a sharp turn to the right and and flows for twenty one miles due east before it again turns toward the northwest. This short east – west section is referred to as the “Cutoff”, probably because it’s a shortcut from the Bitterroot Mountains on the west, through the Coeur d’Alene Mountains to the Cabinet Mountains on the east, and there is a road which follows the river, Montana Highway 135.

As you travel downstream through the Cutoff you travel through a deep canyon where, to the right is the high ground of the South Siegel – South Cutoff roadless area (13,473 acres) and the North Siegel roadless area (9,208 acres). To the left is the Patrick’s Knob – North Cutoff roadless area (16,969 acres). About half way through is the trail head for USFS trail 205 which runs almost due north for (the Forest Service says) three miles through the Patrick’s Knob area at one of it’s narrowest points, from the river at an elevation of about 2,500 feet to the high ridge at about 5,000 feet just west of Patrick’s Knob Peak . (After hiking the trail myself, I came to believe that the person who declared it to be three miles has never even seen the trail, much less hiked it.)

The following photos will, I hope, give the viewer a little of the flavor of this particular trail and the beauty of the roadless area it traverses and a glimpse of what it’s like to hike through true wild country. It is only one of many such trails in many roadless areas, all of which need our protection if they are to continue to exist.

The trailhead at Montana Highway 135

Trailhead for USFS trail 205

An early part of the trail, perhaps a half mile from the trailhead.

On trail 205

From about a mile up the trail facing east along the Cutoff with the North Siegel roadless area in the background,

From trail 205

and from the same spot, facing south with the South Siegel – South Cutoff roadless area in the background.

From trail 205

A section of the trail itself about three fourths of the way to the top (It’s a good idea to pay attention to the blaze marks through here),

Trail 205

and, from about the same place, a view back down to the Clark Fork and Highway 135.

From trail 205

At the top edge of the roadless area and the top end of the trail is, what else, a road. In this case it’s called The High Ridge Road and also the eastern trailhead of the CC Divide Trail, USFS trail 404.

High Ridge Road

From the high Ridge Road facing north, Baldy Mountain in the Baldy Mountain roadless area can be easily seen ten miles beyond the small town of Plains, Montana along the Clark Fork which at that point is again headed northwest.

Baldy Mountain from the CC Divide

The previous photos were taken on the ascent. I also took a few on the hike back down.

A quarter of a mile behind this rather obscure trail marker at the top end of the trail (with my pack hanging on it)

Trail marker for the top of trail 205

is this trail sign, the only one to be found on the entire trail.

Trail sign for trail 205

A mile or so from the top, where the trail takes a slight jog to the west is a nice view of the Bitterroot Mountains about thirty miles to the west,

Bitterroot Mountains from trail 205

and in a place where the only relatively level part of the trail occurs is a nice section of open forest which I’ll bet is a favorite feeding area for the local ungulates (deer, elk, moose and Bighorn sheep).

Along the trail

Half way back down is this pretty view of the Cutoff and North Siegel beyond it,

From trail 205

and the trailhead at the bottom, after seven hours on this six(?) mile hike is a welcome sight.

Bottom trailhead for trail 205


  1. Great post and pictures. Those green mountains and blue skies this time of year are so pretty.

    That stretch along the Highway 135 cutoff is one of the prettiest places in Montana. (Shhh. Don’t tell anyone.)


    Comment by Patia — June 29, 2008 @ 9:19 pm

  2. Yes, the whole Cutoff is pretty, but I’m afraid the secret is out. I rode over it today on the ‘Wing and the traffic was pretty heavy. Lot’s of folks on their way to Glacier, I think. Happily though, traffic on the trails hardly exists.


    Comment by montucky — June 29, 2008 @ 9:48 pm

  3. The wife of my art swap partner has just hiked the Continental Divide trail from Canada though Glacier park. I forwarded your blog link to them. This is the closest I will come to seeing this…..hiking through your virtual representation of this beautiful country. I really enjoy it.


    Comment by nouveaufauves — June 29, 2008 @ 10:27 pm

  4. Thank you, Nouveaufauves! I appreciate the feedback! If our fire season isn’t too bad this summer, I plan to hike a lot in the back country. This post was a sort of prototype of others I intend to make later.

    My hope is that if folks enjoy seeing what’s out there, they will also be more informed about and interested in protecting what we have left of the wild country.


    Comment by montucky — June 29, 2008 @ 10:38 pm

  5. This has been such a nice series, a virtual hike which I have thoroughly enjoyed taking. Hiking has been a pleasure for me in the past, but my knees have been unhappy of late (I fear surgery may be required). I must content myself for now with vicarious hiking experiences. Thanks for sharing the trail with us. 🙂


    Comment by Tabbie — June 30, 2008 @ 2:09 am

  6. What great photos,… I can put myself there,… and see the mountain man coming down the trail on horseback, a pack horse behind with a load of pelts, and a third horse following with his native wife,…. right out of my vivid immagination!


    Comment by Cedar — June 30, 2008 @ 5:31 am

  7. Thanks, Tabbie! I’m glad you enjoyed seeing that country. I’ll plan to show more of my hikes. I’m sorry to hear about your knees. I was concerned that I might have had that problem too, but so far I’ve been lucky, and I’ve been reasonable careful to try to stay that way. (Lots of hiking, no running.)


    Comment by montucky — June 30, 2008 @ 7:29 am

  8. Cedar, your mental picture is not too far from many real ones from even less than a century ago. I’m going to try to find the remains of an old trapper’s cabin not too far from here that I heard about last winter from an old guy who found it years ago and gave me a fairly good description of its location. It belonged to an old trapper who spent most of his year up there, coming down only for supplies and to sell his furs.

    Many of these trails are quite old, and I’m sure were used during their early years by trappers. I know several that date back to the turn of the 20th century. It’s interesting to me to see the very old blaze marks on some of the trees.


    Comment by montucky — June 30, 2008 @ 7:36 am

  9. Oh, Montucky, I think you’ve expanded my heart again. And totally reminded me of why I’m undertaking this great big move to a whole new part of the country I’ve never lived in. (Though always felt I belonged to.)

    I had a super stressy weekend, and you’ve just made *everything* so much better.

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart!


    Comment by Sara — June 30, 2008 @ 9:03 am

  10. Sara, I certainly hope the move will be right for you! It’s a beautiful country and I find it very soothing to the spirit. Once you begin to feel really at home in the wild country, you’ll never want to go back to anywhere else. On those high trails, I feel a peace that I have found nowhere else.

    I like most to experience the total solitude of a back country trail: that’s what I do. But there is also a huge amount of beautiful country here that’s completely accessible by automobile.


    Comment by montucky — June 30, 2008 @ 3:43 pm

  11. Incredible images and scenery Terry, if I could just talk my wife into becoming a highlander and giving up this flatlander lifestyle 😉


    Comment by Bernie Kasper — June 30, 2008 @ 11:07 pm

  12. I think there should be a natural law that addresses this, something to the effect that “Someone who really loves this kind of country should be able to live here”. And there are those who do live here who really don’t care: what should we do with them?


    Comment by montucky — June 30, 2008 @ 11:34 pm

  13. Ah, my virtual mountain hike for the day. You do a grand job as a stand in, but always wishing I were there in person. Bernie is right about mountain life. Though I love my Wisconsin wonders, they are of a simpler sort and I do wish I could divide my time with some deep, soul stretching wilderness.


    Comment by Bo — July 1, 2008 @ 6:49 am

  14. Yes, there’s nothing quite like being there. I have a couple of chores to complete now before I can reward myself with a 2-day trip into the Cherry Peak area, although I can see the tips of those peaks from my front yard; a little bit the same!


    Comment by montucky — July 1, 2008 @ 8:16 am

  15. Have you ever hiked the whole trail? Looking fir someone who has done the whole trail. I have done sections.


    Comment by Lorraine — August 24, 2015 @ 10:33 am

    • Hi Lorraine,

      Trail 205? Yes, I’ve hiked that a couple of times now. I’ve heard that hunters use the top part of it in the season and some hunt from the bottom. It’s a pretty cool trail though. In fact I was thinking about hiking it again last week but the smoke discouraged me. Maybe when it clears.


      Comment by montucky — August 27, 2015 @ 3:34 pm

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