48˚ NORTH DESTINATION STORY & PHOTOS BY GREG LINDSTROMfter the long winter and a busy spring, I found myself itching to leave the valley for the wilderness. A weekend of camping and hiking along the Thompson River in late May seemed to fit the bill.
With no map, no guidebook and no cell service – only a wooden sign indicating a 4.7-mile hike to Priscilla Peak Lookout – I laced up my boots. Some may call it unprepared; I like to call it an adventure. Armed with some food, water and a couple of companions, we hit the trail.
Sundance Ridge Trail 433 climbs right away and the incline rarely relents along the way to the top of Priscilla Peak in the Lolo National Forest. The first mile weaves among cliff bands and through meadows bustling with wildflowers. This is the perfect place for an afternoon picnic.
The trail eventually leads through a forest and climbs up Sundance Ridge. Look for huckleberries here in the late summer. About three miles into the hike we hit snow, and eventually were unable to follow the trail. Despite our disappointment, we wandered into a clearing and found a rock outcropping overlooking the Thompson River drainage. With the sun warming our backs, it proved to be the perfect place to rest tired legs and enjoy lunch while watching a hawk circle the valley below.
Had the snow melted sooner we likely would have made it to the lookout, which sits at an elevation of 7,005 feet, more than 4,000 feet above the Thompson River where the trail begins. Priscilla Peak Lookout was built in the 1920s and served as a fire lookout for many years. On a clear day visitors will enjoy 360-degree views from the top.
Had I done research, I would have likely talked myself out of hiking the trail so early in the year, knowing it would be too snowy and nearly impossible to access in late May. But I would have missed meadows of wildflowers, a rewarding view and an adventure with good company. It is easy to get hung up on the destination, particularly with the amount of spectacular vistas accessible in Northwest Montana. It is easy to forget that the journey is often more rewarding. So occasionally ditch the guidebooks, maps and electronics this season and find an adventure of your own. It might be exactly what you were looking for.
Getting There: From Thompson Falls, travel east on Montana Highway 200 for about 5 miles and turn north onto Thompson River Road. Sundance Ridge Trail 433, which leads to Priscilla Peak Lookout, starts on the left side of the road approximately 11 miles from Highway 200.