easy walk

Not all of Missoula's trails are vertical. If you feel like going on a nice mellow stroll, there are several paved and unpaved paths that will get you out for some exercise but won't make you strain. 

1. Maclay Flat

Miles: 1.25 mile and 1.8 mile loops, unpaved

Elevation gain: None

Dogs: Leash required; pack out waste

For an easygoing outing beyond the city limits, try the trail at Maclay Flat. The path is wide, level and surfaced to accommodate wheelchairs. It takes you along the Bitterroot River and through adjacent meadows, with some great views of mountains around Missoula.

You can learn a lot along the way: Interpretive signs describe the river system, wildlife, vegetation and archaeology of this area.

A cut-off trail gives you the option to go 1.25 or 1.8 miles.

Traveling in a clockwise direction, you pass huge cottonwood and ponderosa pine trees. Be observant and you may see evidence of porcupine and beaver.

About a third of a mile down the trail, you’ll come to a flat grassy area along the river – a good picnicking spot. There are also some fishing spots along this stretch of the river.

You have an excellent chance of seeing bald eagles, osprey, blue herons, mallards, red-tailed hawks and white-tailed deer at Maclay Flat. At the southern edge of the meadow, along the irrigation ditch, listen for the songs of meadowlarks and look for red-winged blackbirds. Depending on the time of year, you can see a variety of wildflowers and other plants.

The parking area, and trailhead are a short distance from the road up Blue Mountain. To get there, go about two miles south of Reserve Street on U.S. Highway 93, turn right at Blue Mountain Road (County Road No. 30) and travel for about 1.5 miles. You’ll see the parking area on the right. 

You can also approach from the north on Blue Mountain Road. From this direction, the trailhead is about two miles south of Maclay Bridge. The the parking area is on the left.

You’ll find accessible restrooms at the parking area. There’s also a river access that leads to the Bitterroot River. Note that horses and bicycles aren’t allowed on these trails, and you must keep dogs on a leash to protect the wildlife.

2. Kim Williams Nature Trail

Miles: 2.5, unpaved

Elevation gain: None

Dogs: On leash within 300 yards of trailhead and where posted

Take a walk, run, bicycle ride or horseback ride down the Kim Williams Nature Trail, the easternmost segment of the riverfront city park and trail system.

Named in remembrance of Missoula naturalist Kim Williams, the trail follows the old Milwaukee Railroad grade through a 134-acre natural area in Hellgate Canyon. It’s a good example of a “Rails to Trails” project – an abandoned railroad right-of-way converted to a trail.

The Kim Williams Trail is a good choice for people with small children and those not interested in or capable of a strenuous outing. You’ll find plenty to enjoy along the way. The river is to the north, Mount Sentinel towers above you to the south, and diverse riparian plant communities provide valuable wildlife habitat.

Unless it's the weekend or after 5pm, UM parking restrictions apply, so pay close attention to signs. There are a few public parking spots and restrooms at the M Trail Parking lot on Campus Drive.

3. Main Rattlesnake Travel Corridor

Miles: 15 (the first two are suitable for baby strollers), unpaved

Elevation gain: very little for the first two miles; 1,248 feet overall (from 3,850 feet to 5,098 feet)

Dogs: From the southern national forest boundary north past the main trailhead to milepost 1.7, there are seasonal restrictions on pets: Dogs are not allowed from Dec. 1 to Feb. 28; dogs must be leashed from March 1 to Nov. 30.

If you’re looking for easy access to the Rattlesnake, this is an excellent choice. The route has no official trail name but is commonly referred to as the “main travel corridor.” It’s actually an old farm-access and logging road (Forest Road No. 99) that has been closed to public travel by cars and other motor vehicles since 1984.

Expect to encounter other people along the corridor: It’s a favorite of hikers, bicyclists, runners, equestrians and others. Many other Rattlesnake trails connect with this main artery, so there are plenty of opportunities for exploration and loop hikes.

The trail is on a wide, gentle grade that runs parallel to Rattlesnake Creek. Although the water quality in the creek looks good, beware: It’s a source for the Giardia parasite, so don’t drink it unless you boil it first. The creek is a reserve source of municipal water for Missoula, so it is especially important to protect water quality. Use the toilets along the main corridor (at the trailhead and about 1.5 miles in) or bury human waste 200 feet from the stream.

The travel corridor begins at the main Rattlesnake trailhead, on Sawmill Gulch Road just west of Rattlesnake Drive. To get there, go four miles north of the intersection of Interstate 90 and Van Buren Street/Rattlesnake Drive.

4. Big Sky Horse Park perimeter trail

Miles: 1.7 miles, unpaved

Elevation gain: none

Dogs: No restrictions; pack out waste

Humans and their dogs are welcome to walk or run the wide, flat gravel trail that forms the border of the 90-acre Big Sky Horse Park in the center of town kitty-corner to Big Sky High School. Although there may be riders on the trail, horse traffic is slim - riders stick mainly to the arenas and courses in the park's center.

Enjoy 360-degree views of the Missoula valley. Meadowlarks are plentiful in the the spring. 

You can park in the little league lot at the intersection of Spurgin and Tower or at various breaks in the fence on North and 37th Avenues. Unless you are a member of the the Big Sky Horse Park, you will not be able to access the main entrance on North Avenue. No restrooms.

5. Ron's Southside River trail system

Orange Street to University of Montana

Miles: 1.5, paved

Elevation gain: None

Dogs: On leash

Thanks to combined efforts of the city of Missoula, the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, the University of Montana and the Missoulian, this stretch of riverfront has been transformed from a railroad and power line right of way to an attractive open-space corridor.

The trail on the south side of the Clark Fork connects some popular community parks and recreation areas. McCormick Park, at the western end of the trail, is a 26-acre city park with a public swimming pool, children’s fishing pond, tennis courts, playground and ball fields. In winter, ice skating is available.

John C. Toole Park, a 12-acre city park west of the Madison Street Bridge, has a 400-meter running track and a large grassy area that’s a favorite spot for tossing Frisbees. You’ll find restrooms in this park. Along the river, look for look at Missoula and a feel for its unique character.

Jacobs Island, just south and east of the Van Buren Street footbridge, is a popular place to picnic or simply lounge. Warm, sunny spring and fall days draw University of Montana students to the grassy banks of this nine-acre city park.

The east end of the island has the Bark Park, a designated area for dogs to play offleash.

Another city park, the Clark Fork Nature Park, has been developed just east of McCormick Park and the Orange Street Bridge. Enjoy the natural vegetation along the trail, but please remember not to trample plants along the river’s edge; they receive a yearly beating during high water. This vegetation is wildlife habitat, so keep your eyes and ears open for beavers, songbirds, great blue herons, and, if you’re fortunate, a bald eagle.

If you take the trail west from McCormick Park, you'll pass Ogren Park at Allegiance Field, home of the Missoula Osprey minor league baseball team. There's a nesting platform for actual osprey easily visible from the trail. A boat ramp signals the beginning of Silver Park, a relatively new park that stretches to the California Street Bridge. A dirt path that branches off from the paved trail just before the bridge will loop you back to the Silver Park parking lot that fronts the boat ramp. This loop might add another mile to your journey.

6. Ron's Northside River trail system

Caras Park to the Van Buren Street Footbridge, paved

Miles: 2

Elevation gain: None

Dogs: On leash

Caras Park, a 15-acre city park downtown along the Clark Fork River, is considered the hub of the Missoula trails network. Here, you’ll find ample parking, restrooms, picnic tables, benches and an outdoor amphitheater for community events – plus ready access to downtown shopping, restaurants and other points of interest.

In the summer, be sure to join the Out to Lunch program held every Wednesday in Caras Park. It’s a weekly Missoula celebration with free music and other entertainment, and a variety of food options available for purchase from vendors.

On the west side of Caras Park, check out A Carousel for Missoula, a hand-carved carousel that was created through the effort of Missoula volunteers, and its companion Dragon Hollow play area.

From Caras Park east to Bess Reed Park, the trail is paved and readily accessible to wheelchairs and people who need a smooth, level surface for walking. Enjoy the close-up view you have of the river along this stretch and, in spring and summer, notice the wildflowers that bloom along the riverbank.

Just east of the Higgins Avenue Bridge, look for the sculpture “Returning” by Montana artist Jeffrey Funk. Children love to touch and climb on Funk’s trio of trout.

There’s a short gap in the riverfront trail just east of Bess Reed Park, but you can easily follow city streets to get back on the trail at Kiwanis Park. From Bess Reed, turn left (north) on Washington Street, then right (east) on Kiwanis Street. This street dead-ends at Kiwanis Park, where you can pick up the pathway on the levee next to the river. You’ll find a picnic area, playground and tennis courts in the park.

The trail follows the levee through Kiwanis Park to a residential area next to the Madison Street Bridge. At this point, you’ll need to make another detour onto city streets to continue east. Go left (north) on Parsons Street to East Front Street. Turn right (east) on Front, continue across Madison Street and pick up the trail near the Van Buren Street Footbridge.

At the footbridge, you can cross the river to the Southside Trail. Note that the Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center is just north of the bridge; inquire there if you need more information.

7. Greenough Park Trails

Miles: 1, paved & unpaved

Elevation gain: None

Dogs: On leash

Forty-two-acre Greenough Park, along Rattlesnake Creek, was donated to the city of Missoula by the Greenough family with the understanding that the area would be maintained in its natural state.

The main trail, a 1-mile paved walking and bicycling path, circles the park, following the creek for part of the way. Footbridges cross the creek at either end of the park. Several unpaved trails branch off the main loop to take you through the woods and along the creek. Bicycles aren’t allowed on these unpaved trails.

Thick, riparian vegetation makes Greenough Park a great place to watch birds within city limits. You can see common resident birds such as the downy woodpecker, dipper and mountain chickadee as well as red-tailed hawks, black-chinned hummingbirds, green-winged teal and other summer residents. Occasionally, you’ll see great blue herons and screech owls.

To the west of the footbridge in the southern part of the park, you’ll find picnic tables and benches along the creek. There’s a group picnic area on the east side of the park off Monroe Street.

8. Playfair Park trails

Miles: 1.4, unpaved

Elevation gain: Little

Dogs: On leash

Playfair Park has a series of looping trails, 1.75 miles in total, that offer a variety of options for trail users. The perimeter trail is 1.4 miles. The east and west loops are 0.6 miles each. The south loop is 0.5 miles. The trails are all relatively flat except for short lengths where the trail climbs up or down the park’s stormwater levees. Dogs are welcome on the trails but must be leashed, and owners must remove their pet’s waste. The trails are great for walking, jogging and easy bicycling. Access the trails from parking lots on Bancroft and Pattee Creek Drive.

9. Grant Creek Trail

Miles: 3.3, paved

Dogs: On leash

The Grant Creek Trail is a paved commuter trail along Grant Creek Road. The trail begins near the headquarters of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (5705 Grant Creek Road) and ends at the intersection of Grant Creek and Snow Bowl Roads. Grant Creek is a beautiful rural neighborhood located in northwest Missoula and is home to a working cattle ranch, a wildlife reserve, and of course, Grant Creek. The trail features scenic vistas and a walk or ride through well-spaced residential areas and national forest lands. 

10. Fort Missoula Regional Park Bowl Loop

Miles: 1, paved

Dogs: leash required, pack out waste

The 156-acre park, funded by a bond passed by Missoula County voters in 2014, held its grand opening celebration for Phase 1 on April 29, 2017. The western portion of the park is home to multi-use sport fields, trails, shelters, restrooms and more. The bowl loop circles the new playing fields. There are restrooms and waste receptacles throughout the park.

At the center of Phase 1 is the Bella Vista Pavillion, which has accessible restrooms and is set up for food truck and vendors. Plans call for a staffed concessions stand in the second phase of the park's opening, which is expected in 2018.