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Gates of the Mountains Wilderness

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The United States Congress designated the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness (map) in 1964 and it now has a total of 28,460 acres. All of this wilderness is located in Montana and is managed by the Forest Service.


Two sons of Chevalier Vendrye, the French explorer, passed through the area known as the Gates of the Mountains as early as 1742. They were probably the first white men to gaze upon its precipices. However, it was Meriwether Lewis who was responsible for naming the landmark and was the first to leave a record of his passage "from the singular appearance of this place I called it the gates of the mountains." The Gates of the Mountains, as it is known today, is one of the most widely recognized landmarks of the Lewis and Clark expedition. There are approximately 53 miles of trails in this 28,562 acre Wilderness area, some of which are located in lower and dryer elevations making it suitable for spring trips when other areas are still under snow. This network of trails can be reached from several access points, most of which are in the Beaver Creek drainage, both above and below the old town of Nelson. Water can be scarce in the Wilderness. The trails go through timbered areas as well as some large parks. The Meriwether Fire of 2007 altered the landscape of this Wilderness; some 20,000 acres burned. Debris flows in the major drainages are common in the spring and there have been several trail segments affected.

Planning to Visit the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness?

Leave No Trace

How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness.
  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
For more information on Leave No Trace, Visit the Leave No Trace, Inc. website.

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