things to do outdoors
Sometimes, getting off the beaten path means literally getting off the road and onto off-road trails open for ATVs and other OHVs, like 4 wheelers, UTVs and side by sides and dirt bikes. It's one extremely fun way to see our beautiful backcountry and heavenly high country. You can cover quite a bit of ground when you get off the main roads and onto designated trails that lead to pristine alpine lakes, lush forest land and mesmerizing mountain meadows.
Three rivers and seven wilderness areas meet in Missoula, Montana, a small town with enormous personality. Visit Missoula and experience it for yourself.
You can rent off-road vehicles at various outfitters throughout the region, and some outfitters also offer guided rides. Always make sure you wear protective gear, including a helmet, while off-roading, which you should be able to rent with your vehicle—but call ahead to make sure. Also note that rental shops are great sources of information. You can ask them all about terrain and trails, including which are best for your experience level.
Responsible riding is of utmost importance to the environment, to you, and to those around you. Make sure you're educated on off-roading recreate responsibly practices such as staying on designated trails, avoiding sensitive areas, and packing out what you pack in. Learn more here.
For information on road designations, conditions and closures, and off-roading laws, visit Montana State Parks.
To ride your OHV on public land or trails (off-highway), it must be registered. A decal for off-road use must be displayed in a conspicuous location on your OHV. RESIDENTS: An OHV Resident Trail Pass is required to ride on designated motorized routes and trails on all public lands in Montana. In addition to the pass, Montana residents must have a permanent registration sticker, which is available through your county treasurer's office. NONRESIDENTS: Nonresidents using their OHVs in Montana must purchase an annual Nonresident Temporary Use Permit, which is valid for the calendar year. The Nonresident Temporary Use Permit allows OHV use on trails only. A Nonresident Temporary Use Permit costs $35 and is available through the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Online Licensing Service, or in person at any FWP office, or from these vendors or county treasurer offices (PDF). Read more here, and buy permits and passes here.
Open: June — October
This local favorite west of Kalispell is popular in the summertime, but if you're looking for a quieter ride, venture over in the late spring or early fall before big-game hunting season begins. The trail—just north of Ashley Lake—offers 7 miles of scenic ATV terrain, and the lake itself provides off-trail recreation like swimming, fishing and camping. Pitch a tent on one of three campgrounds and reel in one of the huge rainbow-cutthroat trout hybrids the lake is known for.
GETTING THERE: From Kalispell, take U.S. Highway 2 west for 4 miles, turn onto Ashley Lake Road (Forest Service Road #912) for 15 miles, then turn onto Forest Service Road #10236 for about 4 miles. The trailhead is marked with signs.BLUE MOUNTAIN ROAD
Open: May — November
For picture-perfect views of the Missoula Valley as well as the Sapphire and Rattlesnake mountains, Blue Mountain Recreation Area boasts about 15 miles of motorized vehicle trails, four of which are open to ATVs. There's a fire lookout tower in service from July to August, and you can climb to the top of the trail, park your vehicle and walk the short distance to the lookout for stunning views of Lolo Peak, the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness and the Mission Mountains. Be respectful + don't ride off-trail. Note: A gate a quarter-mile below the lookout is closed during the off-season, restricting vehicle access to the lookout. However, you can still walk up to the lookout.
GETTING THERE: From Missoula, head south on U.S. Highway 93 for about 2 miles, making a right (north) onto Blue Mountain Road for 1.4 miles. Turn left onto Forest Service Road 365 for 1.2 miles, and the staging area will be on your left.HUNGRY HORSE MOTOCROSS TRACK
Open: Year-round (weather dependent)
Just east of Columbia Falls in Hungry Horse , this natural terrain track is open to ATVs and packs a punch with steep and challenging elevation gains. You'll also find camping and other adventures at nearby Hungry Horse Reservoir.
GETTING THERE: From Columbia Falls, take U.S. Highway 2 east for about 6 miles. When you see the Forest Service station on your right, turn south onto Colorado Boulevard for about 1.25 miles. Look for a gravel road on the left and turn there. The track is about a half mile down on the right.KOOCANUSA SAND DUNES AND TRAIL SYSTEM
Open: Year-round (weather dependent)
Sand dunes in Montana? Don't mind if we do. Mix things up off trail in the dunes and play pits of this large open area at the northeast corner of the Koocanusa Reservoir, best accessed late March through late June when the water levels are low. You'll also find 20 miles of trails that lead into the woods surrounding the reservoir. Fun Fact: This is the original site of the city of Rexford. There are also American Indian burial grounds in the area, which are well marked and closed to riding out of respect.
GETTING THERE: From Eureka, take U.S. Highway 93 north for 5 miles to State Route 37. Take a left on MT-37 for 2.2 miles, then veer right onto Douglas Hill Road for half a mile, turn right onto Sophie Lake Road for 1 mile, veer left onto Iowa Flats Road for .1 miles, and then turn right onto Sophie Lake Road for 3.5 miles toward the lake.OVERWHICH FALLS TRAILS 182 + 248
Open: December 2 — October 14
South of Darby past Painted Rocks Lake, this "destination ride" offers a scenic 8-mile excursion to Overwhich Falls. This easy ride does have a few steep, rocky sections to be aware of, and encounters with horses, hikers and mountain bikers are possible, but the views—and the falls—are worth it.
GETTING THERE: From Darby, head south for 4.3 miles. Turn right onto West Fork Road, heading south past Painted Rocks Lake to Forest Service Road #5703, where you'll head east for about 2 miles to Forest Road #5706. Turn north and follow this road to the trailhead. There is a good turnaround and parking for vehicles and trailers about 7 miles from the trailhead in NW Section 17, west of Gentile Creek.DARBY TRAILS — BITTERROOT NATIONAL FOREST
The Bitterroot National Forest has 50 miles of trails open to ATVs, including two loops—#1, a 28-mile loop and #2, a 15-mile loop—on the old Darby Lumber Lands, also south of Darby . This trail system is popular with beginner and intermediate riders, and, as always, the views are spectacular.
GETTING THERE: From Darby, head south on U.S. Highway 93 for about 4 miles and take a left on Rye Creek Road. For Loop #1, take Rye Creek Road for 4 miles to North Fork Rye Creek Road/North Fork Road, where you'll take a left and drive for about 6 miles until you reach Road #1127 and the trailhead. For Loop #2, take Rye Creek Road for 6 miles. Before the Rock Creek Road divide, you'll see a parking area on the left with signage for Loop #2.
6235 U.S. Highway 93
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