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3. Missoula

A beautiful fall day in Montana with the Bitterroot Mountains in the background.
The Bitterroot Mountains, part of the Rocky Mountains, are a large range in Montana, with the tallest summit, Trapper Peak, at 10,157 feet.

Missoula is probably the most diverse and open town in Montana. While in some towns you might feel a sense of roughness and reserve, Missoula is known for being friendly, inviting, and welcoming.

The Missoula area houses over 15 crags, the best ones being Bitterroot Mountains, Lolo Pass, Rattler Gulch, and Alberton Rest Stop. All are within 20 min to 1 hour of driving.

Bitterroot Mountains

Bordered by Clark Fork and Salmon River, the Bitterroot Mountains span over 4,000 square miles across Montana and Idaho. Accessed out of Hamilton, the common climbing drainages include Blodgett Canyon and Mill Creek.

Expect 1,000-ft walls of granitic gneiss within an hour from the parking lot. This type of rock almost reminds one of granite, though its metamorphic history gives it a lighter grayish color with plenty of pockets and slopers.

The routes here are 10 – 12 pitches long and mostly suited for the 5.10 – 5.12 climber. Bring some gear, since the cracks are discontinued and most climbs are a mix of sport and trad. Vertical to overhanging terrain with alpine views ensures an intense, cinematic climbing experience.

One of the area’s more accessible climbs is the Shoshone Spire, only 30 minutes away from the parking lot. With its 800 vertical feet, phenomenal spire-like top out, and 5.8-rated South Face, it makes for an unforgettable adventure. For those who don’t know, Shoshone is the name of an Indigenous tribe that is spread over the mid-west and west coast of the US.

Lolo Area

The same rock formation is presented in a single-pitch setting and some more intense glacial imprint. The climbs follow slopers, edges, cracks, and huge pockets. Routes here are 50/50 sport and trad, with grades varying between 5.6 and 5.12, though the majority are in the 5.10 range.

Alberton Rest Stop

Located on the Clark Fork River and a 30-minute drive from downtown Missoula, this area is very beginner friendly. You can access many of the routes from the back and set up a toprope. The sandy beaches along the river provide a relaxed atmosphere and plenty of room to spread out. It can be pretty hot in the summer since the crags are south/southwest-facing, but a cool down in the river is always an option.

Rattler Gulch

Limestone crimping at its finest, with some slab climbing and jugs sprinkled throughout. This crag is a favorite for the sport climbers in town; grades vary from 5.8 – 5.12, with a focus on 5.10 – 5.12. This band of Madison limestone is classic in its uplifted and 180°-rotated layer, which is a very striking feature in the landscape.

Other things to do

On a rest day, make sure to explore the town and visit one of its many cafes, concerts, or even take on Brennan’s Wave, a man-made wave on the Clark Fork River downtown. Glacier National Park is a 2.5-hour drive away and Flathead Lake just 1.5 hours, in case you get an itch for some beach time.

About the author
Mountain Guide and Co-Owner of Beartooth Mountain Guides and 57hours Guide Education Fund Recipient

Anju is an AMGA Assistant Rock Guide and Apprentice Alpine Guide. She runs with her partner Beartooth Mountain Guides located in Southern Montana. She is passionate about making the outdoors accessible for underrepresented groups in a supportive and empowering way. Originally from Germany, she has lived in Turkey, Chile, and the US and loves to connect her climbing pursuits with traveling.

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