|A good place to nap? Sheep Mountain Summit and its signature rock shelter.|
It's unclear how long people have been running the Sheep Mountain Loop. 20, 30, 60 years? Time immemorial? Sections of the route were likely trampled by famed Missoula author Norman Maclean as he and his brother Paul purportedly day hiked over this landscape from Missoula to their family cabin at Seeley Lake--some 50 miles by the crow flies. To cover that much ground they surely must have run some of it!
|A cirque off Wisherd Ridge and Sheep Mountain. Potomac Valley in the distance|
Then there's the mountain bikers. The loop has been called "Missoula's test piece" bike ride, it's "best ride," and "one of the best rides in Montana." The loop takes a special place among the fat tire set for covering a lot of ground in the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area without ever crossing a Wilderness boundary. This allows our mechanized brethren an opportunity to link together some spectacular trails. But don't worry about running into many of them. It features some rugged terrain that's a lot easier on two feet than two wheels. On your Sheep Mountain long run you're just as likely to run into elk or bears as you are bikes!
|Bear track on bike track near Franklin Bridge.|
|There are signs if you need them|
|View from the top|
Here's a short video of the Crew running Sheep a few years back (counter-clockwise direction):
Strava Generated Vitals: 25.3 miles, 5,123 feet of vertical
USFS directions to the trailhead: From Interstate 90 in Missoula, take the Van Buren Street exit #105 and head north. Van Buren Street will turn into Rattlesnake Drive. Stay on Rattlesnake Drive for approximately 3 miles until you reach the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area entrance. Travel another 0.25 mile and turn left on Sawmill Gulch Road. The trailhead will be on the right after about 0.25 mile.