Fuzzytongue penstemons

Lots of fuzzytongue penstemons can be found in the North Hills.

Features: This four-mile walk starts on Missoula’s Northside, just outside of downtown, and rises up to a gravelly ridge known for its abundance of flowers. It also passes the historic Moon-Randolph Homestead.

Flowers: The North Hills are in full bloom right now. The red, bell-shaped long-plumed avens are turning to prairie smoke as death camas, which looks like a small version of beargrass, flowers in grassy areas. Bitterroot buds are starting to unfurl their slender pink petals and fuzzytongue penstemon flowers are growing in clusters on stalks. Penstemon eriantherus grows 5 to 15 inches tall with open pink to violet flowers that have three purple-veined lobes on the lower side and a hairy stamen protruding from the center. (“Wildflowers of Montana,” by Donald Anthony Schiemann)

Description: The trail begins just west of the parking lot at the north end of Orange Street, at the Interstate 90 on- and off-ramp. After passing through the gate, it switchbacks up the hill then splits at about half a mile. The eastern route rises to the popular ridge trail at about 1 mile; bitterroots were starting to bloom near this junction early this week. The western route rounds the hill to the Moon-Randolph Homestead at about 1 1/2 miles – where you can find long-plumed avens and death camas among the grasses – then reaches the ridgeline. Go either direction, then follow the ridge trail to make a loop. Along the ridge, look for fuzzytongue penstemon growing from the gravelly soil. After looping around, follow the switchbacks down the hill to the trailhead.