SPRING GULCH - STUART PEAK TRAIL
Miles: 12 (7 miles to wilderness boundary)
Elevation gain: 3,838 feet (from 3,700 feet to 7,538 feet)
No dogs are allowed in the area Dec. 1-May 15. During the remaining months, dogs must be on a leash from the confluence of Spring Creek and Rattlesnake Creek to
Another popular Rattlesnake route, Stuart Peak Trail, branches off the main travel corridor at about the half-mile mark. For the next three miles, you follow an old farm lane along Spring Gulch. After a winding, steep climb for another four miles, you reach the wilderness boundary, near Stuart Peak.
At 7,960 feet, Stuart Peak is one of the Rattlesnake's highest points, offering great views of adjacent peaks and the Missoula Valley. There's no designated trail to the peak, but you can reach it by traveling cross-country for about a mile. From this vantage point, you can drop down to Twin Lakes or get back on the trail and head farther into the high country.
The trail continues northward past the Lake Creek drainage, which contains six lakes, and then descends past three more lakes into the Wrangle Creek drainage, where it joins the main travel corridor 15 miles for the trailhead.
Most of the high-country lakes have been stocked with cutthroat trout. However, there are no fish in Twin Lakes or Farmer's Lakes.
You'd be wise to carry plenty of water on this hike. It's demanding, and you can't always count on finding water along the way. If you do drink surface water, the Forest Service recommends that you boil or filter it first.
And please, tread lightly in this unique area. Because of its proximity to town, the Rattlensake receives a lot of use. Try to camp where there are established fire rings, pack out all that you carry in and be courteous to others you might encounter on the trail.