Lolo Peak and Carlton Ridge offer a wild, high elevation landscape of forested mountains, alpine lakes, and towering peaks, high ridges, and a bio-diverse eco system. This unique backcountry setting is less than one hour from Missoula on Carlton Ridge, Lolo Peak, and in the Carlton Lake basin.
Access by the public involves a one hour drive to the Mormon Peak trailhead.From Lolo, Montana drive 3 miles west on U.S. Highway 12. Turn left (south) onto Mormon Peak Road Forest Road #612. Proceed 8 miles up Forest Road #612 up to the trailhead (not accessible between December 1st and May 15th because Mormon Peak road is closed at Highway 12.
Latitude & Longitude – 46.67466 N / 114.24359 W (South Summit)
Elevation –9036 (North Summit); 9,139' (South Summit).
Route Types – Hike, Scramble
Class Levels – Class 2, 3, 4, & 5
Length of Time Required to Complete the Routes – One Day
Lolo Peak (the northernmost 9,000+ foot summit in the Bitterroots) is one of the most-climbed in the Bitterroots. On some Topo maps, Lolo Peak is the label applied to a fairly long north-south section of ridge which includes two highpoints separated by a saddle.
At 9,139',the southern summit is the actual highpoint of this section of ridge. But because the "standard" trail to Lolo Peaks, reaches the north highpoint (9,096') first, few people make the moderate trek over easy tundra to reach the true summit.
The hiking begins with an approximately four-mile climb through a burn area from a 2017 wildfire. The trail climbs just over 2,000 feet within the first four miles and the burn area is very exposed to the sun making carrying adequate water necessary in the middle of a hot day during summer. The trail is an off and on path of burned area with some understory regrowth, a relatively untouched green section, followed by a barren severely burned area before reentering green growth and regrowth as one ascends the final segment up onto Carlton Ridge. The undergrowth is significantly growing back in some sections. The lack of foliage also allows big views of the surrounding valley as you climb higher.
Just before the four-mile mark, the trail reaches Carlton Ridge. This flatter track leads to Vista Point where hikers get a good look at Lolo Peak. From Carlton Ridge, a connector trail leads down to Carlton Lake.
Carlton Lake is a reservoir at the base of Lolo Peak. This area is excellent for a snack break or to set up camp in nearby backcountry sites. Carlton Lake is also a great place to scope out adjacent Lolo Peak. It pays to take a moment to study topography here because the rest of the route to the top doesn’t follow a designated trail.
Before hiking and personally accepting the risks of the high elevation hike to Lolo Peak hikers need to take caution (exposure, sun, water requirements) before attempting and personally accept the risks of high elevation foot travel. Many hikers head along the southern edge of the lake for a southwest approach to the summit. Another option is to head up the granite slabs near the lake’s western edge. Either direction, hikers should be prepared to navigate up the mountain without a clear trail. On the southwest route, occasional rock cairns help suggest a general approach. Good route finding skills keep the scrambling suitable for most experience levels. Successful summiting offers unparalleled views of the surrounding mountain landscape and views of adjacent valleys and distant mountain ranges.
The following websites have more detailed information: