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

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Maclay Flat Nature Trail

Key to wildlife diversity is water

This site's mix of wetland ponds, and cottonwood and ponderosa pine forest along the Bitterroot River makes it a year-round haven for wildlife watchers.

 
Maclay Flat Nature Trail

Field Notes

Anytime of year, you will find abundant wildlife in this cottonwood and ponderosa pine forest along the Bitterroot River. Easy walking trails and scenic beauty, also makes this place wonderful for family outings. In winter, look and listen for the staccato drumming of Pileated Woodpeckers, the piping of Pygmy Nuthatches and tooting of northern Pygmy owls. In summer, the dogwood and willow are full of Black-headed Grosbeak and yellow Warblers. Both Calliope and Rufous hummingbirds nest here. The open grasslands attract wood nymphs, tiger swallowtails and orange ringlet butterflies. Be sure to check the ponds in spring for Red-winged Blackbirds, Wood Ducks, Wilson's Snipes and Sora Rails.

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Conservation

The Bitterroot River begins 100 miles south of here in the heart of the Bitterroot Mountain Range. It runs into the mighty Clark Fork less than a mile to the north. In this stretch, the river runs wide and shallow with extensive gravel bars, which are nurseries for tiny cottonwood trees and willows. Cottonwoods seeds can only germinate on open, sunny gravel bars within reach of water. Riparian and wetland areas typically support more species of breeding and migratory birds than any other habitat in the West, even though they account for less than 1% of the landscape.

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Cultural Link

Up until the last half of the 1900s, Salish families camped in the Maclay Flat area to gather the roots of the bitterroot flower, which at that time was in great abundance. In May, when the bitterroots budded, the women would dig up the roots. They would immediately peel the root, and then bury the rest of the plant back into the hole. Usually, the plant would survive to bloom again.

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Viewing Tip

A walk along the trail will take you to the edge of the Bitterroot River. Scan the trees for Osprey, Bald Eagles, Belted Kingfisher and Tree Swallows. Western painted turtles have been seen digging their nests in the sandy bank. On warm summer days, you may see red-sided garter snakes basking on the trail.

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Helpful Hint

A level, graveled two-mile-long, loop trail winds through the area. The first section is 1.25-miles long and features 16 interpretive trail signs. The best time to see wildlife is in the early morning hours. The trail is also popular with joggers and dog walkers. Dogs must be leashed. Bicycles, horses and all motorized vehicles are not allowed on the Maclay Flat Trail.

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Getting There

From the stoplight on Highway 93 just south of Missoula, head north on Blue mountailn Road 2 miles to a signed parking area. Back to Top

Contact

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

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Facilities

parking, interpretive trail, toilets, river access

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Species of Note

  • Wood Duck
  • Bald Eagle
  • Northern Pygmy Owl
  • Vaux's Swift
  • Sora Rail
  • Wilson's Snipe
  • Pygmy Nuthatch
  • Calliope Hummingbird
  • Western painted turtle
  • Red-sided (common) garter snake
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