MAIN RATTLESNAKE TRAVEL CORRIDOR
Elevation gain: 1,248 feet (from 3,850 feet to 5,098 feet)
Dogs: From the southern national forest boundary north past the main trailhead to milepost 1.7 and on Ravine Trail 34, there are seasonal restrictions on pets: Dogs are not allowed from Dec. 1 to Feb. 28; dogs must be leashed from March 1 to Nov. 30.
If you're looking for easy access to the Rattlesnake, this is an excellent choice. The route has no official trail name but is commonly referred to as the "main travel corridor." It's actually an old farm-access and logging road (Forest Road No. 99) that has been closed to public travel by cars and other motor vehicles since 1984.
Expect to encounter other people along the corridor: It's a favorite of hikers, bicyclists, runners, equestrians and others. Many other Rattlesnake trails connect with this main artery, so there are plenty of opportunities for exploration and loop hikes.
The trail is on a wide, gentle grade that runs parallel to Rattlesnake Creek. Although the water quality in the creek looks good, beware: It's a source for the giardia parasite, so don't drink it unless you boil it first. The creek is a reserve source of municipal water for Missoula, so it is especially important to protect water quality. Use the toilets near the trailhead or bury human waste and tissue well away from the stream.
Throughout the main valley and Spring Gulch, you can see evidence of homesites established more than a century ago and vacated in the 1930s. Look for building foundations and old orchards with a few scraggly apple trees remaining.
You have a good chance of seeing mountain goats on cliffs above Rattlesnake Creek at Franklin Bridge, about eight miles up the trail. Elk Meadows, at the 12-mile point, is a popular destination for horseback riders. There's forage here, and you can easily make day trips into the wilderness.
The road ends at about the 15-mile point, but several connecting trails will take you farther into the Rattlesnake Wilderness. Remember that bicycles are prohibited in the wilderness.
The travel corridor begins at the main Rattlesnake trailhead, on Sawmill Gulch Road just west of Rattlesnake Drive. To get there, go four miles north of the intersection of Interstate 90 and Van Buren Street/Rattlesnake Drive.