PATTEE CANYON NORTHSIDE TRAILS
Miles: Variable, less than 1 mile to more than 3 miles
Elevation gain: 100 feet (from 4,100 feet to 4,200 feet)
For an easygoing outing on relatively level terrain, try the area just north of Pattee Canyon Picnic Area. Here, a network of unsigned trails traverses meadow and forest land, all close to the Picnic Area.
History lovers may take special interest in the meadow. From the early 1920s until 1940, it was the site of an Army firing range for soldiers at Fort Missoula. You can still see earthen-mound firing lines that run north-south through the meadow. At the meadow's west end, there's a larger earthen mound backed by a wood retaining wall the target butt. Look for soldiers' names carved on this wall.
Meadow Loop Trail, one of the most popular routes, skirts the meadow's southern edge and continues north through the woods, a 2.2-mile loop hike or bike ride.
In winter, Meadow Loop Trail is a 3.2-mile cross-country ski trail, the extra distance added by the need to ski in from the locked gate to the Picnic Area. Missoula's Nordic Ski Club maintains this trail and others that run through the Picnic Area.
For a shorter trip, winter or summer, follow one of the pathways through and around the meadow. For a longer trip, look for an unmarked trail at the meadow's northwest corner. It connects with Crazy Canyon Trail to the top of Mount Sentinel.
The Picnic Area is just off Pattee Canyon Road, 3.6 miles up from its intersection with Southwest Higgins Avenue. In summer, park at one of the group picnic sites (open from 8 a.m. until dark). The road into the Picnic Area is closed in winter, but you can park at the end of the pavement on Pattee Canyon Road.
Small groups may use any of the area's 22 family picnic sites free of charge. If you have a party of more than 10 people, you must reserve one of the three group picnic sites ($25 fee). Phone the Missoula Ranger District at 329-3814 to reserve a group site.