Miles: 3.5 miles on Reservation Divide Trail; 2.2 miles on Sleeping Woman Trail
Elevation Gain: Reservation Divide Trail, 1,836 feet (from 6,158 to 7,994 feet); Sleeping Woman Trail, 2,296 feet (from 5,698 to 7,994 feet)
On Missoula's western horizon, a lone mountain rises to a delicate, symmetrical point. This is Cha-paa-qn (it's Salish for treeless peak or shining peak), on the boundary of Lolo National Forest's Ninemile Ranger District and the Flathead Indian Reservation. The area's many interesting features make it a prime destination for a day trip.
It's less than a one-hour drive from Missoula to the historic Ninemile Ranger Station and Remount Depot. Here, you can learn about a fascinating chapter of Forest Service history: how mules were used, and continue to be used, to fight forest fires and accomplish backcountry work.
Be sure to stop at the Ranger Station's Visitor Center and historic buildings. You can take a self-guided tour with a brochure/map available at the visitor center.
From the Ranger Station, you can drive 10 miles up Edith Peak Road (Forest Road No. 476) to the Reservation Divide trailhead. This trail is only 3.5 miles long, and it's a relatively easy hike.
The trail does not climb directly to the summit of Cha-paa-qn, but you can scramble over rocks and boulders to the top. You'll enjoy a great view in all directions from this pinnacle. The Mission Mountains and Flathead Reservation are to the north and west, and you can see east and south into the Frenchtown, Missoula and Bitterroot valleys.
You have a good chance of seeing wildlife. Red-tailed hawks, golden eagles and other birds of prey are common along the divide, as are pikas, small mammals that inhabit the talus slopes above timberline (listen for their peculiar squeaks). Depending on the time of year, you can also see beargrass and a variety of wildflowers and pick some huckleberries.
Sleeping Woman Trail (No. 707) is a shorter but steeper route to Cha-paa-qn. The trailhead is on Forest Road No. 2178, about 11 miles from the Ranger Station. This 2.8-mile-long trail connects with the Reservation Divide Trail.
A third route, up Kennedy Creek Trail (No. 746), is about eight miles long. The Kennedy Creek trailhead is about 14 miles from the Ranger Station on Road No. 5507.
Other points of interest in the vicinity include Lolo Forest's Grand Menard picnic area and disabled-accessible interpretive trail, an old CCC camp site and Kreis Pond, a good swimming hole on a hot day.
From Missoula, the Ranger Station is about 23 miles west on Interstate 90, then 4.5 miles north on Highway 10 and Remount Road.