By: Jeff Mogavero
After a long winter spent scurrying along icy roads and snowy trails, the warm embrace of spring is a welcome phenomena here in Montana. The snow line continues to flee up the mountainsides as temperatures continue to creep higher and higher. The presence of dry ground and dark ribbons of singletrack sends Missoulians flocking to the trails surrounding town. It’s so much fun to go on a run or walk and see dozens of other people out enjoying the sunshine, fresh air, and plentiful miles of trails. Below are some recommendations for keeping our trails in great shape, current trail conditions, and ideas for your springtime explorations!
Note: to stay up to date on current trail conditions, drop by the store for our trail conditions board by the front door!
Trail Etiquette Reminders
1. Stay on trail!!
It’s almost impossible to go out on Waterworks or the North Hills and not run into someone walking in the grass next to a muddy trail. While escaping the mud may seem like a great idea, it destroys the surrounding vegetation, contributes to erosion issues, and creates new trails that become an eyesore. As we like to say, “keep singetrack single!”. If it’s muddy, stay on trail through the mud. If you don’t want to get your shoes muddy, try a different route on a less muddy trail.
Tips for avoiding the mud:
- Go early in the day, when temps are closer to freezing and the sun has yet to thaw out the ground.
- Stick to trails covered in ice/snow and bring traction devices! You’ll get snowy, not dirty, and avoid the crowds too.
- Choose trails that have been snow free for a long time – they’re most likely to be dry!
2. Let others pass
Especially in the time of COVID, passing and being passed on trail warrants respect. The person heading uphill has the right of way. If descending, stop and step off to the side of the trail. Once the person coming uphill has passed you, hop back on trail and continue along. If you come up behind someone, give a hearty “hello!” from a distance so that you don’t startle them. Let them know you’ll be passing, and what side you’ll pass on (“Hi there! Passing on your left!”). Don’t forget to be friendly!
3. Clean up after your dog
We all love having our dog join us on trail. But what we don’t all love is stepping in dog poo or finding those little plastic bags of dog poo plopped along the trail. If your dog goes to the loo, PLEASE pick up the poo! Carry the bag with you and toss it in the trashcan at the trailhead.
Current Conditions Updated 4/5
Overall, expect drier trails at lower elevations. Mid elevations have mud, with snow/ice in shady spots. Higher elevations eventually all have snow/ice. South-facing slopes have dried out quicker. Trails are starting to get good out there as days stay warm!
Snow has just about left the canyon! Most trails are dry, but be ready to get dirty. If you see some charred looking forest, it’s from a recent prescribed burn. Enjoy the campfire smell and lack of smoke :). Expect snow/ice on north facing slopes and in shaded areas. Upper trails by University Mountain have some snow drifts, but they are navigable. The dirt
road that leads up to University still has plenty of snow in the upper reaches. The ridge route to University is doable without traction, but traction will make it much easier. The Barmeyer Loop is mostly clear but does have several icy patches.
The M Trail and fire road are snow-free and mostly mud free. Snow/ice can be found in the trees towards the top of the mountain (on the Boy Scout Trail and between the north and south summits). The ridge trail has a large snow/ice section a few hundred yards below the summit. It is very steep. Use traction or go slowly and carefully, staying on trail. Pengelly Ridge up to the south summit is clear of snow. The Smokejumper trail is icy and snowy enough in its upper reaches that it’s best done going uphill. Traction isn’t necessary, but it is very helpful. Traction IS necessary if going downhill.
The trails south of the summit are clear of snow and ice! They are also mostly clear of mud. North of the summit to the Lincoln Hills Trailhead/saddle is a mix of snow, ice, and mud. The warm weather is eating away at the snow very quickly. Traction could be helpful if you aren’t confident on slippery surfaces. Going uphill on this section is most enjoyable and safest! The trails and two-track on the saddle are in great shape.
The snow has left and trails are mostly mud free! Head out early to avoid crowds. PLEASE STAY ON TRAIL. Waterworks is highly susceptible to trail braiding and erosion. Mornings are the best time to avoid the crowds chasing the warmth of the day.
Conditions are changing quickly as snow and ice melt. Spring Gulch and many of the trails in Sawmill Gulch are still snowy and icy. Rumour has it they can be done without traction, but it is very slow going. Bring along your spikes to speed things up in case you encounter a dreaded ribbon of ice winding up hill. The main corridor is in good shape for a few miles. The trail up to Stuart Peak is still in winter mode. Stuart can generally be done with just a mile or two of snow come mid May. It is snow free in mid to late June.
Mud and dog poop! A reminder to PLEASE pick up after your dog and take the bag with you! Mud down low, but trails drying out fast. The higher up you go, the muddier and then icier the trails will get. Snow up high by the summit. Also expect snow/ice in shadier sections of trail that don’t see the sun much.
Kim Williams Trail:
Aside from a few small patches of easy to navigate ice in Hellgate Canyon, the Kim is totally snow/ice free!
Once Jumbo opens, I am always itching for an excuse to find myself on the top of the mountain! My number one route suggestion for this time of year is a run or hike up to the “L”, heading to the summit if time/ability allows. All of the trails on that side of the mountain are snow free and drying out fast.
If you’re looking for a longer adventure, we’ve got you! Jumbo is nice, but the big views and sun exposure of Waterworks makes me yearn for those rolling trails. My solution? Waterworks + Jumbo, also known as Watumbo! Watumbo is a big, wonderful loop that links together Waterworks, the North Hills, and Jumbo almost entirely on trail. It can range anywhere from 10 miles to 15 miles, depending on how creative you get on the Waterworks trails. If you want to shorten Watumbo a bit, you can cut across the Rattlesnake at the Tivoli trailhead to the Mountain View trailhead for a north loop of 7.7 miles, or a south loop of 7.7 miles (It’s amazing how nicely that works out). If you’re looking for a longer run, give this one a try! It’s best to go clockwise so that you can walk up the snow/ice on the north side of Jumbo. Once that snow melts, the route is phenomenal in either direction!
Purple: Full Watumbo route (~10 miles, +2,370’)
Blue: Cutoff for shorter Watumbo (North and South are both 7.7 miles)
Make your way from Greenough Park up to the top of the Waterworks Hill. Enjoy the view and keep going, turning right at the fence line. Head down the switchbacks and turn left to follow the power lines in the North Hills. Take the “sunset loop”, sticking to the highest trail/two track. Take your last right and head towards the trailhead. Descend about 1/4 mile before taking a left on single track. Take this to Duncan Drive. Take a left and enter the trails again, heading over the squishy bridge. Take a left after the bridge, then your first right to cross the Rattlesnake Canyon on trail. Stay on trail after crossing Rattlesnake Drive. Pick your poison of trails/dirt road that take you up to the Lincoln Hills Trailhead. Hop on trail there and head up the backside of Mt. Jumbo. Take in the views on the summit then head down towards the “L” and back to Greenough Park. Have fun!!