A challenging but rewarding hike to a Bitterroot summit, featuring fabulous views and a working fire lookout. If you go before the 4th of July most years you will encounter a snowfield or two. The panorama from the top is the main attraction.
This may be the easiest way to get to the top of a Southern Bitterroot peak even though it is a strenuous hike. The trail starts at 6850 feet and constantly climbs until you reach the top 3.7 miles later at 9350 feet, a 2500 foot elevation gain. The immediate trail is mostly dry so carry plenty of water for both you and your canine companions.
This trail features three distinct sections. The first is a series of semi-steep switchbacks climbing through forest. In late June and early July there is beargrass in bloom on this stretch. About a mile from the trailhead there is a small spring and a few benches for a quick rest. This is the only water on the trail, and it should be filtered.
About a quarter mile beyond the spring the trail eases just a bit and contours around the mountain to the south. Southern views start to open up on this section revealing distant peaks. At about 2.2 miles the trail enters the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. Not far after the wilderness boundary a side trail drops to the left to reach one of the two small McCalla Lakes a few hundred feet below. The first lake is a nice side trip on the way down if you have the energy, especially if you have a water dog with you. Continuing your ascent, the views just keep getting better, and soon you will catch a glimpse of the lookout, still quite a bit higher than you.
The final section turns back to the north climbing through pine shrubs crowding the trail before breaking out onto exposed rock for the final set of switchbacks up to the summit. On a clear day, from the bottom of the final switchbacks, you can see the Mission Mountains far to the north. Once on top be careful as you and your canine navigate the rocks looking for your lunch spot as there is a very big drop to the west. The views from here are tremendous.