Library image #1185
: Kari Gunderson, Wilderness Ranger doing campsite restoration at Mollman Lakes.
The United States Congress designated the Mission Mountains Wilderness (map
) in 1975 and it now has a total of 73,877 acres
All of this wilderness is located in Montana
and is managed by the Forest Service.
The Mission Mountains are a land of ragged peaks with snow on them most of the year, small active glaciers, alpine lakes, meadows, clear streams that run icy cold, slab-like boulders, vertical cliff faces, and talus slopes. The average elevation is 7,000 feet. In the northern portion you'll find the terrain less severe and more heavily timbered. The southern portion, however, receives more visitors, primarily around the alpine lakes (most of which do not thaw until mid-June). The dense forest includes pine, fir, larch, and western red cedar. In summer high basins are painted with a sea of wildflowers.
The Flathead and Pend Oreille Indians once hunted, fished, gathered berries, and sought visions (they would go into the Wilderness alone, often depriving themselves of food and water, in hopes of seeing a vision) in the rough and broken Mission Mountains. The first organized exploration of this area did not occur until 1922, after which part of the region was set aside as the Mission Mountains Primitive Area in 1931 and then expanded in 1939. The Wilderness you see today stretches for about 30 miles and varies from two to six miles in width.
Wildlife lives in abundant numbers in the Missions: elk and deer, black bears and grizzly bears, mountain goats and mountain lions, a few gray wolves, and a wealth of smaller furbearing animals. Approximately 50 species of birds have been identified, including bald eagles. A small population of fish is generally confined to the lakes. About 45 miles of maintained trails are used almost exclusively by backpackers, the terrain being generally unsuitable for horses. Few of the trails are easy, and many are tremendously steep. There is no overnight camping at Glacier, Upper or Lower Cold Lakes. The area shares its entire western and southern boundaries with the Flathead Indian Reservation. A permit must be obtained from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes to enter the Mission Mountains Tribal Wilderness