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

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St. Mary's Peak

Alpine Wilderness

Hike to a peak in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness

Nine miles round trip, this wilderness adventure offers up-close views of alpine wildflowers, butterflies, and birds

St. Mary's Peak Site Map

Download Printable Version of Site Information

Field Notes

Enter a whitebark pine forest of twisted snags and living trees. In late summer, Clark's nutcrackers pluck and cache the oil-rich whitebark seeds in clearings for later harvest - and in turn help plant new trees. Above treeline, hike the trail through an alpine wildflower garden to the rocky summit and active fire lookout. Watch for alpine birds like gray-crowned rosy finches and American pipits. Golden eagles and peregrine falcons soar by at eye-level. Alpine butterflies sip nectar from phlox. Enjoy endless views of rugged mountains of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.

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Habitat Link

Whitebark pine trees live only at high elevations. Their seeds offer critical foods for wildlife, like the Clark's nutcracker, red squirrel, and grizzly bear (not found here now - but in the Glacier and Yellowstone ecosystems). However, whitebark pines across the West are in trouble from an introduced disease called blister rust. Researchers are identifying which trees appear resistant to the disease, collecting those seeds and hand planting seedlings.

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Cultural Link

The fire lookout at St. Mary Peak is still used today, a reminder of an era when the Forest Service posted hundreds of fire lookouts across the west. To the Bitterroot Salish, this peak was sacred and a place for Vision Quest.

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Viewing Tip

Alpine wildflowers are fragile. Please stay on the trail and leave the flowers on the stem. Watch for penstemons, kittentails, stonecrop, and alpine forget-me-nots. Bring a wildflower field guide.

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Helpful Hint

St. Mary Peak is snow-covered until summer - your best bet for a hike to the summit is late June through September. Be prepared for inclement weather. Hiking early in the day is the best way to avoid afternoon thunderstorms (late summer). The trail is moderate, but the elevation gain is 2500' so allow a full day. Bring food, plenty of water, and mosquito repellent.

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Getting There

From Highway 93, 3.6 miles south of Stevensville turnoff, take the Indian Prairie loop to the west. Follow USFS signs to the trailhead, 12.5 miles up a winding, dirt road. Please drive carefully and stay to the right around curves. The parking lot has room for 10+ cars, but can be full on weekends, so plan to come early on those days. Hike 4.5 miles to the summit and fire lookout.

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Contact

Bitterroot National Forest, Stevensville Ranger District, 88 Main St., Stevensville, MT 59870; (406)777-5461

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Site Information

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