Tom Beal Park is actually a high saddle deep in Clearwater National Forest. A good-condition dirt road leaves from the Lochsa River (pronounced “Lock-saw”) and climbs 3,000 vertical feet in 9 miles to a sublime alpine setting nearly at treeline. Though these mountains – some call them the ‘Little Bitterroot’ – are comparatively low in elevation, they receive tremendous amounts of snow, and the road to Tom Beal Park is rarely drivable all the way until after July 4. This has been a favorite spot for several years now as it is easy to get to yet feels remote. I've found it to be one of the most dependable and easy-to-access summer skiing spots in the area, but later in the summer and early fall, once the snow is all gone, the mountainsides fill with elk and wildflowers. From the end of Tom Beal Park Road, a trail leads 1.7 miles downhill to Walton Lake, a remnant glacial depression – the lake is rock-lined and the water is cold and clear – so clear that you can see fish well before they surface. In the other direction, a faint trail leads uphill to a fantastic view of the main body of the Bitterroots, upper Colt Killed Cirque, and Graves Peak, which can be climbed by a steep and rocky trail.
The Bitterroot Mountains dominate the skyline from Missoula to Sula. It’s all public land, meaning anything you can see you can visit, but there’s one caveat – this mighty mountain range is mostly wilderness, and very few roads climb higher than the foot of the mountains on the valley floor. Gash Point is one exception: a decent dirt road (OK for passenger cars driven slowly) leads from near Victor to three trailheads. The most popular is the “upper” trailhead – I.e., the end of the road – where a trail takes off leading hikers about 4 miles to Gash Point, a beautiful peak at nearly 9,000 feet. The view from the summit of the peak is to the yawning Bitterroot Valley and everywhere else a sea of mountains stretching to the horizon. The view south is particularly grand, with rare views to the southern end of the range, which is chock-full of fierce, jagged peaks. The lower part of Gash Creek Road is plowed in winter, making Gash Point and its subsidiary peaks popular backcountry skiing and snowshoeing destinations. (Be aware, though, that even the plowed portion of the road can be icy, and that it is not always clear where the plows stop; going too far up the mountain will lead you into deep snow and it may not be possible to turn your vehicle around.)
The Crystal Theater is one of the most popular backcountry destinations for skiers in west-central Montana. Crystal Theater is a compact drainage just north of Lolo Pass and on the west side of U.S. 12. (The main trailhead is the plow lot on the west side of the road at the sign stating ‘Visitors Center 1 mile’.) From the trailhead, a short climb through thinned timber leads to a semi-open slope which gives an overview of the terrain. To the further west is the Pillow Line, while directly to the north is Cock Rock. Smaller and somewhat steeper runs can be found further up the drainage, mostly on the south and east faces. Lolo Pass receives tremendous amounts of snow, and Crystal Theater typically has excellent conditions, especially on the sheltered north facing lines. While avalanche danger is typically lower here, slides have occurred on the steeper open runs.