Congress passed the Wilderness Act in 1964, and since then millions of acres have been protected. One of the least known of those protected areas is in west-central Montana – Welcome Creek Wilderness Area. This section of Lolo National Forest covers a modest 28.135 acres on the west side of Rock Creek Canyon, about 13 miles south of Interstate 90. The area features narrow valleys and steep ridges as well as elk, trout, and black bears. It’s best-known feature, however, is the swinging bridge that connects the trailhead on Rock Creek Road to the Welcome Creek Trail. Just walking across the bridge is a highlight for many. Those not wanting to trek into the wilderness can also find a small sandy beach and superb swimming holes along the river just past the bridge. If you do make the hike, however, keep in mind that one of the largest gold nuggets ever found in Montana came out of this canyon, and that several decaying miner’s shacks can be found several miles uphill.
Beavertail Hill is a quiet state park just off Interstate 90 east of Missoula. It features access to the Clark Fork River and short trails where you are likely to see a resident moose and swooping bald eagles. The park also has a campground and two Sioux-style tipis which can be rented. The tipis are carpeted and can sleep up to eight. An adjacent amphitheater hosts interpretive programs on Friday nights in the summer. The park is backed by a rounded hump – is this the so-called “beavertail”. Funny, after visiting the park and reading the interpretive signs, I can’t recall why or how the park got its name. But I do recall that it’s a pleasant place to spend a summer evening.