For information, maps, and advice about traveling in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, contact one of the ranger stations monitoring the wilderness. In the Lewis and Clark National Forest: Rocky Mountain Ranger District, 1102 Main Ave. NW, Box 340, Choteau, MT 59242 (tel. 406/466-5341; www.fs.fed.us/r1/lewisclark). In the Flathead National Forest: the Glacier View and Hungry Horse Ranger Districts, 8975 U.S. 2 E., Hungry Horse, MT 59919 (tel. 406/758-5376). In the Swan Lake Ranger District, 200 Ranger Station Rd., Bigfork, MT 59911 (tel. 406/837-7500; www.fs.fed.us/r1/flathead). In the Lolo National Forest: Seeley Lake Ranger District, HC 31 P.O. Box 3200, Seeley Lake, MT 59868 (tel. 406/677-2233; www.fs.fed.us/r1/lolo). In the Helena National Forest: Lincoln Ranger District, 1569 Mont. 200, Lincoln, MT 59639 (tel. 406/362-4265; www.fs.fed.us/r1/helena). The Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation, P.O. Box 190688, Hungry Horse, MT 59919 (tel. 406/387-3808; www.thebmwf.org), is a good resource as well.
The most popular destination in the Bob is the Chinese Wall, a striking rock formation that stands more than 1,000 feet tall and stretches for 22 miles through the wilderness on the western boundary of the Sun River Game Preserve. One of the more well-traveled trails and easy accesses to the Chinese Wall is along the South Fork of the Sun River on the Holland Lake-Benchmark Trail . From the east, reach the Chinese Wall by taking Trail 202 at Benchmark for 5 miles to Trail 203, then continue on this trail for roughly 11 miles before taking the Indian Creek Trail, Trail 211, to the south end of the Chinese Wall at White River Pass, elevation 7,590 feet. The Chinese Wall is unmistakable and is one of the most recognizable geologic formations in Montana. The USGS topographical maps for the trip are Slategoat Mountain, Prairie Reef, and Amphitheatre Mountain.
The high meadows at the base of the wall are very fragile, and overnight camping is prohibited along the base between Cliff and Salt mountains, so plan your trip to allow time to reach a camping area away from this section of the wall.
Towering peaks run great lengths through the Bob and stand as some of the tallest, and certainly the most dramatic, sites in the northwest part of the state outside Glacier National Park. Holland Peak, just north of Holland Lake on the wilderness area's western boundary, is a spectacular 9,356-foot giant that can be seen from afar but cannot be accessed directly. A short day hike is available from the Holland Lake Lodge into the wilderness to Holland Falls. The distance from the trail head to the falls is only about 1.5 miles, an easy hike with only 240 feet of elevation gain. This trail is designated for hikers only; bikes, horses, and other pack animals are prohibited.
Once inside the wilderness area, Big Salmon Lake is a wonderful destination for photographers, capturing the length and the beauty of Holland Peak's east face. To reach Big Salmon Lake, take Trail 42 from the Holland Lake Lodge on the west side of the Bob to Trail 110. It's a very long day hike, and a reasonable 2-day hike through the Swan Range to Big Salmon Lake.
Located one-third of the way in on the Holland Lake-Benchmark Trail (a 60-mile trail across the midsection of the Bob that, following a series of shorter trails, takes roughly a week to traverse), Salmon Lake is simple purity without sight or sound of civilization. This trail also runs just south of the Chinese Wall.
North, in the Great Bear, is the impressive Great Northern Mountain. This 8,705-foot peak towers over the northeast part of the Great Bear Wilderness and can be viewed from many different points along the roadsides near the wilderness areas. You'll need a couple of vehicles if you don't have someone who can pick you up where you exit the Bob at the end of your journey. Park at Holland Lake if you plan on making it your terminus, or at Benchmark, west of Augusta, if you plan on ending there.
If you begin on the east side, the Holland Lake-Benchmark Trail follows the South Fork of the Sun River on trails 202 and 203 before moving west along Indian Creek on Trail 211. This takes you to the south end of the Chinese Wall at White River Pass. From there, you'll take Trail 138 along the South Fork of the White River until you reach the White River and Trail 112. This trail takes you to the South Fork of the Flathead River at White River Park. Across the river, you'll find Murphy Flats and Trail 263 along the river to Trail 110. This long trail takes you along Big Salmon Lake and the Swan Range, and then to Holland Lake outside the Bob's western boundary.
To reach the summit of Great Northern, you'll have to do some off-trail hiking -- 8 miles, if you make a round-trip. From Martin City, just northeast of Columbia Falls on U.S. 2, take the East Side Reservoir Road (38) for just more than 15 miles to Highline Loop Road (1048). Take this road for just more than a half-mile across the bridge to the trail head. Start along the left side of the creek until the landscape opens up. Trudge up to the ridge, then along it, to Great Northern's summit.
The majestic Scapegoat Mountain is the dominating jewel of the Scapegoat Wilderness Area. Surrounded by cliffs, this 9,200-foot summit is easily the most prominent feature in the southern part of the wilderness complex.
Wildlife abounds in the Bob, with grizzly bears being the most feared and the most difficult to spot. Moose and deer are common. Elk gather each fall for mating at the base of the Chinese Wall in the Sun River Game Preserve on the wilderness's east side. There are lots of birds, including the ptarmigan, a brown quail-like bird that changes the color of its plumage each winter to snow white.
Helpful Tips -- Some things to remember when camping: Before you set out, consult a ranger at one of the district ranger stations mentioned above about distances, the wisdom of your itinerary, and restrictions. You can also pick up a topographical map. Carry plenty of water and water containers. Remember when loading up your pack that this is the weight you'll likely endure for a week or so. Restrictions are few. No vehicles are allowed in the area, including bicycles. To get around in the Bob you either walk or ride on an animal's back. It might also help to remember, too, that hunting is allowed in many areas, making backpacking in the Bob a little less inviting in the fall. Wear bright colors and make lots of noise.
A Recommended Outfitter -- A Montana native, Choteau-based Bill Cunningham has been guiding backpacking expeditions into the Bob Marshall Wilderness since 1973, and that makes his High Country Adventures the oldest backpacking guide company in the country. It's also the Bob's only licensed backpacking outfitter, where there are dozens of licensed horse-packing guides. Cunningham goes on every trip, as does his wife, Polly. The company organizes three or four trips per summer that cover about 10 miles of trail in an average day, ranging from a week to 12 days. Breaking up the hiking are good meals, good company, and a layover day for a little fishing or mountain climbing. Contact High Country Adventures (tel. 406/466-5699; www.hcamontana.com) for reservations. Trips start at $875 per person per week. Rates include shuttle from airport, food, and community gear.
Ericaceae Vaccinium: The Huckleberry -- The key ingredient in everything from vinegar to fudge to jelly beans in Montana's northwestern corner, the wild huckleberry grows in similar climates around the world. In Montana, it was a sweet and tart staple for Native Americans and early settlers, and remains a favorite of the grizzly bear to this day. Humans harvest them from the state's public lands -- the plants can't be commercially cultivated -- and no permit is necessary. Harvest season begins in July at lower elevations (around 3,000 ft.) and continues into September (at elevations around 7,000 ft.). Look for blueberry-like berries on bushes with oval leaves -- and try to resist eating them until the picking is done.
Advice for Day-Trippers -- Day hiking is best done near Holland Lake. Take Mont. 83 south 61 miles from Bigfork, or north 20 miles from Seeley Lake, to reach the Holland Lake Lodge (tel. 877/925-6343 or 406/754-2282; www.hollandlakelodge.com) and the trails. Trail 42 from the north side of Holland Lake connects with Trail 110 to reach the Necklace Lakes just inside the Wilderness boundaries. To reach the Holland Lake Falls and Upper Holland Lake before crossing the Wilderness boundary at Gordon Pass, take Trail 415 a short way until it joins Trail 35. This trail, taken to its end, stretches from the western boundary into the center of the park near the South Fork of the Flathead River (not a day hike). Rooms at the lodge run $145 to $185 per person, double occupancy, all meals included.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.