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

Trails and Maps


Waterworks Hill

Tiny and tough wildflowers put on a spectacular show

This is the best place to see an "alpine," cushion-plant community within minutes of downtown Missoula.

Waterworks  Hill Site Map

Field Notes

The hills north of Missoula may seem barren, but this exposed ridge with its shallow soils harbors unique, cushion plant communities. You'll find a plethora of colorful wildflowers such as the rare, white Missoula phlox, pink Douglasia, royal blue lupine, and sunshine yellow dog's tooth groundsel. These species are well adapted to harsh conditions, similar to those in the alpine. As you take the trail up the ridge, scan the grassland for Western Bluebirds, Western Meadowlarks, Savannah and Vesper Sparrows. In the winter, from Waterworks Hill you can often see elk on the top and western side of Mt Jumbo.

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The unique ridge-line habitat supports “alpine" cushion plants, which grow at an unusually low elevation. The low-growing plants on the wind-swept ridgeline are well-adapted to droughty conditions caused by shallow, well-drained rocky soils and nearly constant wind, both from the west and through the Hellgate Canyon to the east, which reduces the amount of available water. Just off the ridge, youˇll find grassy hillsides and a woody draw in the Cherry Gulch area to the east that shelters a few cottonwoods and shrubs.

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Cultural Link

Waterworks Hill harbors not only a rare plant community, but also acres of noxious weeds including spotted knapweed, leafy spurge, and dalmatian toadflax. The city of Missoula adopted a weed management plan for Waterworks Hill and other open space parks, which focuses on ways to reduce noxious weeds through education and control actions including biological agent control, domestic sheep grazing, herbicide treatment, and hand pulling.

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Viewing Tip

Make sure to climb up the ridge in May and early June to see the spectacular wildflower show. On the trail, if you walk up and over the ridge to the north and descend to the east through Cherry Gulch, you may see the family of red foxes that call the gully home.

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Helpful Hint

The trail is steep at the start, but well worth it. It can be windy at times. The views of Missoula and the surrounding mountains will amaze you. This site is well used by hikers, wildlife watchers and dog walkers. An information sign and map at the trailhead explains which part of the trail is city property and which part is located on private land covered by a conservation easement held by a local land trust, Save Open Space.

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Getting There

From Broadway, turn north on Madison Avenue, turn right at Greenough Drive. You'll find the dirt road to the parking area on the left, just a little way past the Highway 90 underpass.

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Missoula Parks & Recreation
100 Hickory Street
Missoula, MT 59801

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parking, hiking trails.

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Species of Note

  • Missoula phlox
  • Bitterroot
  • Lupine
  • Red fox
  • Bull snake
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • Western Bluebird
  • Western Meadowlark
  • Vesper Sparrow
  • Grasshopper Sparrow
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