Hiking Lee Ridge near Lolo Pass

Hiking a little used trail, like Lee Ridge, can lead to the perfect moment. This trail is faint and steep, and the views and huckleberries are sweet.

Lee Ridge Trail 295 starts on the Clearwater National Forest side of Lolo Pass at Packer’s Meadows. It eventually climbs to a rounded ridge that defines the boundary between the Clearwater and Lolo National Forests, and between Montana and Idaho. At the outset of the hike, you walk along the Lee Creek Road for about ½ a mile, at this point the trailhead sign directs you up the hill towards Lee Ridge. The trail is rather faint in places with substantial encroaching alders and huckleberries. The huckleberry bushes possess a few of the dark purple berries, and I might, just might, have picked a few as I “rested”. As you near the high point of the ridge, Packer’s Meadows can be seen below in the drainage. If you were to continue northward along the ridge, it eventually descends to the Lee Creek Campground.

The Lee Ridge Trail is part of the Nez Perce (Nee-Me-Poo) National Historic Trail, which stretches from northeastern Oregon to the Canadian border near Chinook, Montana. The trail was created by an act of Congress in 1986 to commemorate the heroic journey of the Nez Perce in 1877. U.S. Army Generals Howard, Sturgis, and Miles pursue the flight of the Nez Perce, led primarily by Chief Joseph and Chief Looking Glass, from their homelands in Oregon. Nearly 750 Nez Perce and their horses travelled almost 1,200 miles through the mountains, as the Nez Perce fled to Canada as a sanctuary. The circuitous route was made necessary as they avoided and sometimes battled with the pursuing government forces and volunteers. The Lee Ridge Trail was a section of this flight as the Nez Perce made their way into the Bitterroot Valley. Settlers and the Army of Fort Missoula and local volunteers erected a temporary fort, which become known as Fort Fizzle, along Lolo Creek to intercept the Nez Perce as they came out of the mountains. However, the Nez Perce cleverly climbed the high ridges above Lolo Creek and bypassed the fort entirely. Later, a group of soldiers and citizen militia were captured by a band led by Chief Looking Glass, who reportedly was friendly toward them and released them unharmed. The entire effort to stop the Nez Perce traveling through the Bitterroot was abandoned with very little violence.

On this day, I am lucky to walk in the footsteps of history. The palpable presence of history weighs heavily on my mind. Lewis, Clark, Colter, Chief Joseph, Chief Looking glass, and their stories take on a present-day reality. I can imagine the amount of fear, effort, and hope that the Nez Perce had as they struggled along old trails as they sought freedom.

Lee Creek Road

Lee Creek Road

Lee Creek Trailhead

Lee Creek Trailhead

Undergrowth and spires

Undergrowth and spires

Western rayless coneflower

Western rayless coneflower

Huckleberries are ripe

Huckleberries are ripe

Lee Ridge

Lee Ridge

The view from Lee Ridge

The view from Lee Ridge

Packer's Meadow from Lee Ridge

Packer’s Meadow from Lee Ridge

Bird List

Dusky Grouse – 1
Cooper’s Hawk – 2
Northern Flicker – 1
Steller’s Jay – 2
Clark’s Nutcracker – 4
Common Raven – 2
Mountain Chickadee – 2
Red-breasted Nuthatch – 3
Pacific Wren – 2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet – 1
Hermit Thrush – 2
Western Tanager – 2
Red Crossbill – 3

Written by Radd Icenoggle

I am a native Montanan, who has spent a lifetime as an outdoors and wildlife enthusiast. I earned a degree in biology with an emphasis on habitat relations. During my studies, I had the great fortune to research and compose a thesis that explored the effects of slope aspect on...
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