If you’re visiting the Bitterroot Valley in Montana, hiking Kootenai Creek Trail #53 is a must. This green oasis of a forested hike travels next to Kootenai Creek for a good part of the journey.
My husband Alan and I hike this trail as often as we can. It’s one of our favorite things to do in Stevensville, Montana. Grab the hiking gear, pack a lunch in your backpack and get ready for a beautiful day of Montana hiking in the Bitterroot Mountains. Kooetnai Creek, here we come.
We use Hiking the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, a Falcon Guide, to plan our hikes in the Bitterroot Valley.
What to Expect on a Kootenai Creek Trail Hike
Arriving at Kootenai Creek trailhead, you’ll find adequate parking, hitching rails and a stock ramp — just in case you brought your horse — and the all-important vault toilet. There are also signs advising how to hike safely in this part of the Bitterroot National Forest. And, yes, bring bear spray — a must for any Montana hiking trail.
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Hiking next to Kootenai Creek is truly a delight as it tumbles over rocks and boulders for a good part of the trail. In early summer, the water rages through the canyon. However, later in the season, waters calm down enough for fishing from the shore or dipping your toes in the cold water.
On the portions of the path that we’ve hiked, the trail meanders at creek level for about .5 miles before heading up the hillside on a steady, but easy, uphill climb. Rocks along the path make for tricky footing, so make sure to wear good hiking shoes.
Although poles aren’t necessary for most folks, if you have any type of balance issues, hiking poles will come in handy. And they’ll also relieve the pressure on joints — especially knees — on the downhill trek back to the main trailhead.
At approximately the 9-mile mark, you’ll find Kootenai Lakes, a series of alpine lakes at the 6,000-foot elevation mark, which is about a 2,600-foot gain in elevation from the trailhead. Since our backpacking days are over (actually mine never happened), Alan and I agree that we’ll most likely never make it to Kootenai Lakes.
Unless you’re hiking all the way to the lakes, I recommend going as far as you like up the glaciated canyon and then turning around for the downhill walk back to the trailhead. We’re satisfied to hike 2½ miles to the sign that designates the entrance to the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness before turning around and heading for home. The 5-mile round-trip hike is just about right for moderately fit Boomer hikers like us.
Our Kootenai Creek Hiking Experiences
Our Kootenai Creek hiking day usually go like this: When we start our hike around 7 a.m., the trail belongs to us for about the first two hours, although we do have to be vigilant for gifts that horses have deposited along the way. Kootenai Creek is a multi-use trail.
On the return portion of the hike, the traffic picks up. We meet hikers of all ages on the trail, many bring their dogs along and some are toting a fishing pole as they look for just the right spot on the creek for fly fishing. It’s a friendly crowd and, every time, we return to the trailhead with lots of advice for the next hike.
Where to Stay in Stevensville, Montana
Stevensville offers the closest lodging to the trail. If you like to stay in bed and breakfasts, I recommend Bitterroot River Bed & Breakfast. Located on the river and just a short walk from Main Street, the hearty, delicious breakfasts are the perfect start to your Bitterroot hiking day.
Stay at The Stevensville Hotel for an in-the-center-of-town experience that includes easy walking to restaurants, shopping and the Blacksmith Brewing Co.
The Bitterroot Valley is an outdoor lover’s paradise. If you’re looking for a scenic drive that’s off-the-beaten path, consider visiting the nearby Twin Lakes.
Donna Hull is the publisher of “The Baby Boomer’s Guide to Travel.” Hull and her husband travel the world recording their experiences so Boomers will know exactly what to expect on their next trip.