Mission Mountains Wilderness


Mission Mountains Wilderness
Ducharme Lake in the Mission Mountains Wilderness

The Mission Mountains Wilderness contains 73,877 acres that run for about 30 miles along the crest of the rough and broken Mission Mountains on the eastern edge of the Flathead Indian Reservation. This is the ancient hunting, fishing and vision quest grounds of the Flathead and Pend Oreille Indians. The first recorded exploration of the Missions by white Americans didn't happen until 1922, and they immediately recommended that the area be classed as a Primitive Area. Congress designated the Mission Mountains Primitive Area in 1931, and expanded it in 1939. It became the full-fledged Mission Mountains Wilderness in 1975.

This is a countryside of ragged, year-round snow-capped peaks, small, active glaciers, alpine lakes, crystal clear streams, big slabs of boulder, open alpine meadows, and large talus slopes below vertical granite walls. The northern portion is more heavily timbered and less rugged but sees fewer visitors than the lake-filled area in the south. The lakes are where the fish are, and around them you'll probably find bald eagles. Mission Mountains Wilderness also has a good population of deer, elk, moose, mountain goats, mountain lions, gray wolves and grizzly bears.

There's about 45 miles of maintained trails, usually just for backpackers because the terrain tends to be too steep and rugged for horses. Because of the relative steepness and the ruggedness of the terrain, none of the trails in Mission Mountains Wilderness is rated easy. Most of the backpacking trails are in the southern portion of the wilderness, close to, and leading to, the lakes. Some of the lakes are stocked periodically with cutthroat trout.

The entire western and southern boundary of Mission Mountains Wilderness is against the boundary of the Flathead Indian Reservation. There is tribal wilderness on their side, too, but you'll want a permit from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes before you go there. Main hiking access to the Mission Mountains Wilderness is via trails and old logging roads that lead west from Montana Highway 83.

Photo of Ducharme Lake courtesy of Brent Shultz