Trails and Maps
You could spend all day on the trails on Mt Sentinel, but two trails you shouldn't miss are the "M" trail and the Kim Williams Trail. Named after a beloved author and naturalist, the Kim Williams Trail follows the old Milwaukee Railroad for 2.5 miles through a 134-acre natural area in Hellgate Canyon. Scan the steep rocky slopes to the south for Red-tailed Hawks, Cooper's Hawks and an occasional Prairie Falcon. Pikas, chipmunks and ground squirrels find safety in the rocky talus slopes. Nashville Warblers nest nearby. This is one of the best places to see cordilleran Flycatchers in Missoula. You'll see Ospreys, Great Blue Herons, and Common Mergansers hunting for fish in the Clark Fork River. Red-winged Blackbirds defend the river willows.
To get great views of the Missoula Valley and the University of Montana, you'll need to zigzag up the "M" trail, a Missoula landmark. Along the way, you'll see grassland birds such as Western meadowlark and Savannah Sparrows. Lazuli Buntings and Calliope Hummingbirds defend their nesting territories perched at the tops of serviceberry and chokecherry bushes in the woody draws. Look for small herds of mule deer grazing on the mountain face, especially in winter.
You'll find a rich grassland community dominated by bluebunch wheatgrass, and rough and Idaho fescue on the western face of Mt Sentinel. Look for needle and thread, and June grasses mixed with wildflowers such as clarkia, yellow bells, and arrowleaf balsamroot. Weeds have been a serious problem for the grassland communities. The city of Missoula and the University of Montana's Integrated Weed Management Program has made inroads on this problem. Look along the "M" trail switchbacks to see how well the efforts of volunteer weed-pullers have made to the trail.
Mt Sentinel is a cornerstone of the open space lands in Missoula. Through the efforts of Five Valleys Land Trust, Lolo National Forest and the city of Missoula, we now have public access to 475 acres on the southern portion of the mountain, which connects to Pattee Canyon National Recreation Area.
The Salish and Nez Perce on their way to hunt bison had to travel through Pattee Canyon to the south or up over the Mt Jumbo saddle to the north to avoid attacks by Blackfeet who guarded the eastern route through Hellgate Canyon. You can see the signature of the 1985 fire, fire-killed trees and shrub fields, which started at the base of Mt Sentinel and burned up and over Hellgate Canyon.Back to Top
Any time of the year is great for hikes on the Mt Sentinel trails; however, the "M" trail does get icy in winter and very hot on summer afternoons. Spring and summer offer the best bird-watching opportunities.Back to Top
Parking at the University can be a challenge. There are four, free spaces available at the "M" trail parking area and metered parking is available next to the University Center.Back to Top
Take Sixth Avenue to the University, by the Field House turn right onto Campus Drive, which circles the east edge of campus and leads to the "M" trail parking area.Back to Top
University of Montana
Division of Biological Sciences
University of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812
City of Missoula
Missoula Parks & Recreation
100 Hickory Street
Missoula, MT 59801
parking, restrooms, hiking.Back to Top
Species of Note
- Calliope Hummingbird
- Cordilleran Flycatcher
- Clark's Nutcracker
- Swainson's Thrush
- Nashville Warbler
- Vesper Sparrow
- Bullock's Oriole
- Red Crossbill
- Mule deer
- Western tiger swallowtail