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Montana Birding and Nature Trail
Discover the Nature of Montana...

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Rattlesnake National Recreation Area & Wilderness

A walk on the wild side of the city

Missoula's backdoor wilderness harbors bountiful wildlife, from dippers to mountain goats

 
Rattlesnake National Recreation Area & Wilderness

Field Notes

Rattlesnake Creek is the heart of this 61,000-acre National Recreation Area and Wilderness. At the trailhead, you can find a half-dozen butterflies including western tiger swallowtail and green comma.. As you walk along the trail, you can hear Hammond's Flycatchers, Townsend's Warblers, and Stellar's Jays. In June, if you walk about two miles up stream, you'll see a mossy ball wedged onto the cliff face on the eastern edge of Rattlesnake creek. Wait patiently and you might see an American Dipper pop out of the creek with caddisfly nymphs held tightly in her bill. SheĦll soon fly up to the nest to feed her chicks. If you venture high up the drainage, rocky cliffs shelter mountain goats and bighorn sheep. Both black bears and mountain lions are seen here. In the Rattlesnake Wilderness, youĦll find high-mountain lakes and meadows. The wilderness boundary starts about five miles from the trailhead.

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Conservation

The snow-capped mountain peaks, crystal lakes and springs feed into Rattlesnake Creek. The wilderness and national recreation area protection helps to ensure that there will continue to be clean water for everyone, including trout. The Rattlesnake also holds excellent spawning habitat for native westslope cutthroat and bull trout. Unfortunately, the Mountain Water Company dam prevents fish access to the upper 15 miles of Rattlesnake Creek. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and other natural resource agencies and groups installed a fish ladder at the dam to help adult trout reach the upper Rattlesnake.

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Cultural Link

You can still see remnants of the apple orchard and outbuildings scattered throughout the lower portion of the Rattlesnake from early settlers who homesteaded the upper valley. The Rattlesnake National Recreation Area and Wilderness Act passed Congress in 1980. The Act proclaimed that a portion be managed for recreation, water quality, and wildlife habitat, and that the remainder be managed as wilderness to protect its "wilderness characteristics."

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Viewing Tip

The wildlife viewing is great year-round. Migratory songbirds are abundant in spring and summer. In summer, you can see more than 30 species of butterflies during a half-mile hike. Western larch and cottonwoods turn golden in October.
Are there rattlesnakes in Rattlesnake Canyon? Probably not, but you could find a rubber boa and, certainly, common garter snakes.

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Helpful Hint

Please follow the Rattlesnake RNA and Wilderness guidelines so that user conflicts are minimal. That includes dogs on leases for the first three miles, no dogs in Sawmill Gulch, mountain bikers yield to walkers and horses. For more information, check out the bulletin board at the trailhead. When it snows, cross-country ski tracks led you into a piecefull, snowy wonderland.

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Getting There

From Broadway Avenue, drive four miles north until you see the sign for the Rattlesnake NRA.

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Contact

Lolo National Forest, Missoula Ranger District, Building 24, Fort Missoula, Missoula, MT 59804, (406) 329-3750.

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Facilities

parking, restrooms, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, tent camping and fishing.

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Species of Note

  • American Dipper
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Nashville Warbler
  • Hammond's Flycatcher
  • Black bear
  • Bull trout
  • Glacier lilies
  • Mountain goat
  • Butterflies: Lorquin's admiral, satyr comma, pale swallowtail
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