The M Trail

The M Trail

The M trail in Missoula is an iconic landmark in town offering spectacular views of the city and a relatively quick source of strenuous exercise.  Formally known as the Mount Sentinel M Trail, it is only about a mile long with an elevation gain of 620 feet and starts at the east side of the University of Montana campus. It has 11 switchbacks and is fairly strenuous, although family friendly for almost all ages.

In 1908, Forestry Club members from the University created a zigzag trail up the mountain and students carried up stones to shape the symbol of the University of Montana. Over the years the M has transformed to wood, a larger stone M, and in 1968 the concrete M we see today was made.

Most people stop at the big M and enjoy the view but the trail continues for another almost 2 miles to the top of Mount Sentinel which sits an elevation of 5,150 feet. The views from this summit or even more spectacular. It is also the launching point for many local area hang-gliders and paragliders.

Although mostly a late spring, summer and fall activity, it can be hiked in the winter with proper winter footwear or attachments such as winter running cleats. Also, during the University of Montana football season, hikers can usually get a decent viewing of the field and the roar of the crowd can be heard for miles. If you’re lucky enough to hike the M during game day when military jets are doing a pre-game low level fly over, it seems as though you can wave to the pilots at eye level.

As active Missoula residents, we’ve done it many times, often just for a quick burst of exercise after a lazy day or too much indoor time. Also the M trail hike often acts as a prerequisite to a trip to Big Dipper Ice Cream. The best ice cream in Montana sometimes has to earned!

For more information about the M trail go here or here.


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