Montana Outdoors

July 8, 2008

Penrose Peak, Part 3

The beginning of the trip.

I will post quite a few of the photos I took on this hike in order to give a good idea of what the whole area looks like and what one sees while walking through it. There are great views available just about everywhere. I think it will be best to post the photos in groups of eight or so per post and therefore I will do a series of posts.

In the very early 1900’s, a fire lookout was built on the top of Penrose and trails were developed for the use of pack strings to take the necessary materials for it’s construction up to it and then to carry up provisions for the person manning the lookout during the summers. They are still called “pack trails”, but my observation is that they are hardly ever used except for the first mile or so by hunters in the fall season. (Horses leave behind calling cards that will last for several years but I have found very little evidence of horse travel on any of them, however all of the trails are extensively used by wildlife: for example, bear sign was visible literally everywhere along my nine mile hike including one huge pile of scat left by a Grizzly just below the peak.)

There are several routes one might take take to get to the peak. One is by USFS trail 385 from the east, a distance of about 6 miles. I hiked part of that trail last summer and found it to be quite pretty for the most part although the first mile or so is quite aggressive. Another is by using USFS trail 398 which I have not visited. It looks to be about a five mile shot and it has to be a very aggressive trail, starting at about 2,800 feet. A third is by taking USFS trail 385 for a couple miles from the CC Divide pack trail 404 west of the peak.

If you are interested in hiking this area, please refer to the Lolo National Forest map which shows road and trail numbers, copies of which are available at ranger stations within the forest, or they can be ordered from the Lolo National Forest website: a link to their site is on my right sidebar. There are also some excellent maps available online at a terrific website, (I will also be posting a number of photos on that website.) The trails however are seldom used and poorly marked except for the very old blaze marks that are essential in a good number of places in order to be able to find the trail at all.

I chose a to take fourth route which is quite a bit longer but I have found it to be very scenic. I have hiked the first part of it many times. It is about 9 miles long and provides many great views into the roadless area and also looks out over the Clark Fork valley and into the Cabinet mountains on the other side of it. This route starts by taking USFS road 7581 from the valley at Swamp Creek for ten miles until it is gated off and motorized travel of any kind is thereafter prohibited. After the gate (at about 4,700 feet), the old road is excellent for hiking and after about 6 miles you will arrive at its intersection with USFS trail 385, which is where I spent Sunday night at a little over 6,000 feet. I have posted many photos in previous posts which were taken from that trail.

The first six photos in this post were taken along the drivable part of the road before the trail head. In my opinion it’s a beautiful road! (You can ignore this part if you don’t care for Indian Paintbrush.)

The road isn’t overly wide, but it’s very rocky and doesn’t wash out during bad weather.

USFS road 7581

Indian Paintbrush along USFS road 7581

Along USFS road 7581

Along USFS road 7581

Indian Paintbrush

Indian Paintbrush along USFS road 7581

The gate entering the non-motorized area and the beginning of the hike at 4,700 feet.

USFS road 7581 at the non-motorized area

Situated at about the 3 mile point is one of my favorite viewing locations at an elevation of about 5,500 feet and offers the first look at Penrose Peak (the one on the far left with the sharp point, and yes, it really is that steep when going up to it) and the other tall peaks in the roadless area.

The peaks of the Cherry Peak roadless area

This photo shows the northwest slope of Sacajawea Peak and is a representative picture of the forest in that immediate area.

North slope of Sacajawea Peak

My next post will cover the rest of the hike to my camp spot and the start of the trail to the peak.


  1. What a view! It would be so cool to camp here.


    Comment by scienceguy288 — July 9, 2008 @ 7:37 am

  2. Ohh, I can see why that’s one of your favorite viewing locations! So gorgeous!

    Do you hike alone? It’s definitely my preference to do so, but so many people (particularly people here in the big Eastern Megalopolis) are so frantic about bear encounters that they’ve made me nervous. Not so much about seeing a bear, which would thrill me beyond *words*, but about seeming like an idiot for hiking alone.


    Comment by Sara — July 9, 2008 @ 7:39 am

  3. Scienceguy,
    It’s a great area for primitive camping all right. One of my favorite places.


    Comment by montucky — July 9, 2008 @ 11:14 am

  4. Sara,

    I always hike alone except during hunting season when I will sometimes go out with an old friend. It’s a personal choice and there are certainly many reasons why not everyone should hike alone in Montana’s back country. I have a lot of experience and outdoor skills and am very self reliant and those are the most basic requirements.

    In the wild country of Montana, bears can possibly be something to contend with, especially in areas where there are Grizzlies present. They are not usually plentiful and are pretty shy, but they are also unpredictable. Interestingly enough though, the only conflict I’ve ever had with a bear was about 5 years ago and that was with a Black bear and I’m sure the .357 that I always carry saved my life that day.

    I’ve done some study recently though that has led me to believe that a good bear spray is probably the most satisfactory and reliable safeguard, quicker acting even than my magnum and I am going to purchase some. A bear’s sense of smell is huge to him (about 100 times more powerful than ours) and a dose of pepper spray properly applied is instantly devastating to him.

    I certainly don’t want to frighten you but just advise you to be aware of the possibilities and know what you will do well in advance of possibly having to do it. Last year I can remember seeing only one bear and I saw that one from the Jeep. This year so far I’ve encountered two and was able to get quite close to one of them and yes, I consider that a real thrill and a wonderful experience. If I was really concerned about the danger I probably wouldn’t be spending every possible moment out in the back country.


    Comment by montucky — July 9, 2008 @ 11:47 am

  5. You haven’t frightened me at all, Montucky, and in fact you’ve given me confidence that with proper preparation (bear spray :D) I can hike alone as is *definitely* my preference.

    Thank you so much!


    Comment by Sara — July 10, 2008 @ 7:49 am

  6. Your wildflowers just leave me breathless Terry, I will trade you mine for yours for just a season..What do you say ?? 😉


    Comment by Bernie Kasper — July 10, 2008 @ 3:40 pm

  7. I don’t think I want to trade, but there’s plenty here for all of us. I wouldn’t mind borrowing your Columbines though!


    Comment by montucky — July 10, 2008 @ 4:19 pm

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