Distance: 5.5 miles to North Summit or 6.5 miles to Lolo Peak
Trailhead: Lolo Peak Trail 1311
Trail Ends: Along Carlton Ridge
Lolo Peak Trail (1311) is a popular hiking trail to Lolo Peak just outside of Missoula. It takes hikers to the top of Carlton Ridge which makes up part of the cirque which contains Carlton Lake. As you hike you will see the North Summit. It is the magnificent mountain towering above the Missoula Valley to the southwest. It is often mistaken for Lolo Peak which is behind it but not visible from some parts of the valley. Either of these peaks is a good destination if you want to get into the high country around Missoula. Plan for a strenuous, all-day trip. Depending on whether you head for the North Summit or Lolo Peak, it is a 2,900 or 3,300 foot climb. The trail is steep, with an average grade of 23 per cent and 30 to 40 percent grades along some sections. You will be rewarded with a spectacular view into the adjacent Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness and the Missoula Valley.
At about 4 miles, you'll come to Carlton Ridge, elevation 8,252 feet. Carlton Lake, North Summit, and Lolo Peak are visible from here. Carlton Lake, below the two peaks, is a good place to take a rest or set up camp for the night. There are no developed trails to either Lolo Peak or North Summit Peak. However, the country is quite open and it won't be difficult to find your way to either. Depending on your route, it's about 1.5 miles to North Summit and 2.5 miles to Lolo Peak. You'll be scrambling over rocks for much of this distance.
As you gain elevation during your hike, notice that the vegetation is changing from lodgepole pine and alpine fir to alpine larch. This species of larch is unique to high elevations in the northwest, and this is the only place it is found in the Lolo Forest's Missoula Ranger District.
This is also a popular early winter, late spring ski trip for many backcountry skiers and lately, snowboarders. Usually, the trail isn't clear of snow until early July.
Area Map: Lolo Forest Visitors Map
USGS Map: Carlton Peak