Warrior Mountain

First, this is an absolutely amazing hike, and one of our favorites from our time in northwest Montana thus far. That said, this is for sure a lesser known route, and it should be noted that there is no official trail to Warrior Mountain. Because of this, our hike wasn’t without a bit of confusion, error, and wasted time. If you’re interested in hiking Warrior Mountain, we are writing this to provide you with an accurate resource so you don’t make the same mistakes we did.

After researching trails and reading a lone hike report, Warrior piqued my interest enough to earn itself a spot on my ‘must-do’ Montana hikes list. Before even beginning, we knew that this was off the beaten path. Our AirBnb host, Martha, and friend, Ray, are two veritable encyclopedias for the Montanan mountains, and neither had ever heard of Warrior Mountain. Similarly, when I contacted the Swan Lake Ranger District for route advice, I was met with, ‘Warrior? Where even is that?’

Consequently, the only tools we had to go on were a topographical map and one very detailed hike report from the Montana Wilderness Association (hike.wildmontana.org). The week before our intended hike, I memorized the hike report step by step and reviewed the topo map at least a dozen times ensuring we knew just what to do. Stephan downloaded an offline copy of the map so we’d have it on the trail. I even discussed our plan with the ranger station to make sure they saw no problems with the proposed route. Despite all the prep work, the ~12-mile out-and-back to Warrior’s summit was not without a bit of challenge.


Getting there:

The trailhead is accessed from Forest Service Road 10505. This road is not on Google Maps (and is not signed), but the Flathead National Forest’s informational handout for the Napa Point Lookout Trail (#31) gives accurate, easy-to-follow directions to the trailhead: https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5324809.pdf.

The unsigned road indeed runs for exactly 7 miles, where it dead ends at the trailhead. Like many of the minor roads in the area, it’s pretty rough, so expect to take at least 30 minutes to get up this stretch.

Route overview:

  • Follow Napa Point Overlook Trail (#31) for 3.3 miles (~600’ elevation gain).
  • Turn left (north) onto Alpine Trail (#7) toward Inspiration Pass at the junction of #31/#7/#218. Follow this for 2.6 miles (~700’ elevation gain). Also refer to notes (2, 3) below.
  • After the 2.6 miles, Alpine #7 makes a sharp hairpin to the left (west). Here, there is an apparent trail to the east to Warrior Mountain. You will see the rocky summit to your right. It will look like this:
  • Turn right (east) toward Warrior Mountain. Follow this for ~0.2 miles (~250’ elevation gain) to the summit. It should be noted that, while the trail is obvious at first, it quickly fades as you near a rocky scramble. The scramble is short and fairly simple, but take care as there are some sections with loose scree and exposure (and there is no defined/marked trail through here).

The hike:

The first part of the hike, along Napa Point Lookout Trail #31, was pretty spectacular in and of itself. After only about a half mile in the shaded forest, the trail dumped us out on a scenic high ridge – absolutely blanketed in colorful wildflowers and with stunning views out to Swan Peak. The meadows here were bursting with blooms – yellow columbine, milkvetch, beardtongue, Indian paintbrush, mariposa lilies, and asters of every hue. There was so much going on, you almost couldn’t decide what to look at first.

The trail continued hugging the ridge before eventually dipping down into the forest. Typically not one to express his excitement, Stephan enthusiastically declared after just a couple miles, “this trail really has it all! Flowers for you, birds for me, and rodents for Sanchez!” About an hour later, he would come to regret those words.

After ~3 miles on trail #31, we took a left and headed north on Alpine #7. The plant life shifted almost immediately, and was now dominated by the yellow and white hues of glacier lilies, buttercups, and western anemone.

While I enjoyed the flowers, Stephan quickly discovered the terrain along the Alpine Trail was like Swiss cheese – riddled with countless holes leading down to ground squirrel burrows. It was all too much for Sanchez to handle. The insatiable prey drive of a wild Thai street dog instantly kicked into overdrive, and you could watch her brain completely shut off. For the next two or three miles, nothing existed in her world beyond the profusion of rodents. Her eyes glazed over, her tongue hung out, and she quite resembled Stupid – that dopey weasel in the propeller beanie from Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Consequently, Stephan spent the next hour or so battling with a deranged, overstimulated mutt who was being antagonized from every direction by a team of teasing ground squirrels. ‘Rodents for Sanchez’ indeed.

To add to our frustration, this stretch of trail is also where the topo map and aforementioned hike report wildly diverged, resulting in our leaving the Alpine #7 trail far too soon. More regrettably, the map we downloaded offline decided not to function when we were out on the trail. Knowing full well what it looked like, I knew this was not the time to leave the trail, let alone to take a left off the trail (the only option as the right side quickly dropped off). That said, the sole hike report insisted on leaving the trail at the “X” and heading east “cross-country” to Warrior Mountain. At this point, Warrior Mountain was not even to our east, so we should have known to just stay on the trail. We hemmed and hawed and scrutinized the landscape seemingly forever, until ultimately leaving the trail and heading up the faintest illusion of a game trail. [FYI: this is the “X.” Do not take it!]

From here, it was an ambiguous hike along the ridge. There was no distinguishable route and, at times, was quite exposed on either side. As our irritation grew, we suddenly spotted the Alpine Trail below us, skirting along the ridge. It was all at once clear to me that we undoubtedly should have stayed on the trail a bit longer. We tried to take it all in stride, but after all the extra indecisive farting around and bonus ridge trek, we were annoyed that we’d both wasted a solid hour and a half and significantly delayed our pause for lunch.

Now knowing how to at least right ourselves, we eventually headed down the ridge to rejoin Alpine #7. As we were now above 7,500 feet in elevation, we were met with a few huge swaths of snow, although they were easy enough to navigate over or around. From here, it was a mere 0.3 miles to the true start of the unmarked path to Warrior Mountain. And as one other person had mentioned online, the offshoot to Warrior’s summit from the Alpine Trail is, in fact, an obvious path.

The path to Warrior remains clearly visible until you reach the rocky scramble to the summit. From here, there are no markings or track to guide you. While the scramble is short and fairly simple, there are some spots with loose scree and exposure, and I was a little uneasy at times with no designated course. That said, after a little route scouting, we finally made our way to Warrior’s summit (7,903’). The views at the top were outstanding, with panoramas stretching from the neighboring peaks of the Swan Range to Hungry Horse Reservoir to the distant summits of the Bob Marshall Wilderness. It was definitely worth the effort to make it to the top.

After our circuitous route up, the return trip was a breeze. Staying on Alpine #7 all the way back to the Napa Point Lookout Trail was so much easier, saved so much time, and allowed us to better enjoy the gorgeous views. The silver lining to our extra time on the trail was being afforded some beautiful late-afternoon light. As it was approaching 6 p.m. when we navigated the final stretch of the wildflower-laden ridge, the mountains were now awash with the warm glow of the sinking sun.

Would we hike Warrior again? In a heartbeat. Now that we actually know how to get up there properly, we wouldn’t hesitate to make a return trip. If you’re looking for a trail with gorgeous wildflowers, bang-for-your-buck scenery, and a short scramble to the top of a seemingly unvisited summit, we’d definitely recommend trying Warrior Mountain.

Total distance: 12.7 miles
Elevation gain: 2,914 feet

Notes:

(1) If you’re looking for a shorter, easier hike, Napa Point Lookout Trail (#31) is about as high value a trail as it gets. With abundant wildflowers (we hiked in mid-July) and almost immediate views, it can’t really be beat. The trail is 3.3 miles long (one way) with around 500–600 feet of elevation gain. It terminates at the junction of Alpine #7 (north to Inspiration Pass) and Gorge Creek #218 (south to Inspiration Point). An out-and-back hike would thus be about 6.6 miles with around 1,000–1,200 feet of gain.

(2) Do not leave the Alpine #7 trail at the “X” and “go cross-country” as suggested by other sources. It unnecessarily puts you onto a high ridge above Alpine #7, with no identifiable route and some pretty decent exposure.

(3) About a half mile after the intersection of #31 and #7, there is a sign for ‘Warrior Mountain, 2 miles.’ This sign is indeed correct. Our GPS calculated that it was 2.1 miles from that sign to the unmarked path to Warrior Mountain.

(4) Taking the correct route outlined above, the round-trip hike would be slightly shorter (~12.2 miles out-and-back) but with roughly the same amount of elevation gain. Our diversion over the ridge added about 0.5 mile to the trip.

(5) After completing this hike and rereading the Montana Wilderness Association’s hike report, we believe they incorrectly identified Warrior Mountain, mistaking it instead for one of the unnamed knobs along the ridge that runs just west of the Alpine Trail. We contacted them, provided them with the information described herein, and suggested they update their page to accurately reflect the route to Warrior’s true summit. Hopefully, they’ll correct their instructions for future hikers.

One Response

  • Your words and photos enable me to enjoy after y’all have endeavored the miles…bet you can hear me saying “wow” a million times! Thank you, and tell my little love hello 🥰

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