Things to Do in Missoula: Hike The Pattee Canyon Crooked Trail
I fell for Missoula’s Pattee Canyon, home to an old growth ponderosa pine and western larch forest, nearly 3 years ago on a warm, windy late September day.
It began the moment I stepped into the inviting embrace of its soft, rolling, albeit unspeakably dry at the time, hillsides (it was a hot summer). Since then our casual love affair has flourished through much wetter, greener days, placing hiking Pattee Canyon at the top of my favorite things to do in Missoula list.
Pattee Canyon is not just looks, however.
Typical of Montana’s wilderness, this neck of the woods boasts a rich native history as a former travel route for the Nez Perce and Salish on their way to hunt buffalo in the plains. Since these fine folk didn’t enjoy being slaughtered by their blood thirsty neighbors in nearby Hellgate Canyon to the north, Pattee Canyon was their detour to avoid attacks by the Blackfeet warriors. They called it “Es nin paks” or “crooked trail.”
In present day, the Crooked Trail’s whimsical curves, lack of serious elevation gain, and proximity to town have made it mine and Kelvin’s go-to running trail in Missoula.
Pattee Canyon is named after David Pattee, an early Bitterroot Valley settler and Missoula businessman, who moved here from New Hampshire in 1856 and filed a homestead claim near the canyon’s mouth in 1871.
After beginning a farming operation and adding a sawmill, Mr. David Pattee sold his holdings and moved to Tacoma, Washington in 1878. Perhaps he was less than thrilled at having become the United States Army’s stomping grounds following their designation of a 1,600 acre timber reserve that employed the old growth forest to build Fort Missoula in 1877.
The Forest Service acquired this 1,600 acre timber reserve in 1926 and the canyon’s first picnic facilities were constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s.
Around 1938 or 1939 a ski area that included tow ropes and ski runs was authorized on public land. Thus, in 1941 the top of Pattee Canyon boasted a ski lodge, a rope tow and a ski hill with a 375-foot vertical drop that featured one expert run, one intermediate run and one beginner run. Unfortunately, due to abhorrent winter weather conditions (i.e. no snow) and the war (thanks Hitler), the ski area closed shortly thereafter.
Getting to Pattee Canyon’s Crooked Trail
To access the Crooked Trail, see the images below. You can find my preferred parking lot circled in red or you can park by the picnic areas to access the trail from the other direction. Happy trailing!