I am lucky enough to be moving out to Missoula for this summer - I have a friend who is helping me with the move and we are looking to do a 3-4 day backpacking trip while he is out there with me. We are looking to go out somewhere between June 5th - 11th.
My question is kind of a general one but I was wondering if anybody had any suggestions for areas within 3-4 hours of Missoula that would allow a decent backpacking trip this early in the summer season. I have been to the region many times but never this early in the season so I am wondering how deep the snow cover is this time of year and how open the backcountry campsites are. We are both experienced backpackers but have not done much in terms of snow travel.
Tentatively I was thinking of a trip in Kootenai, Lolo, or Bitteroot National Forests', but I am game for any suggestions!
Go to snotel.com to find snowpack details for specific ranges and trailheads. The snowpack is can vary greatly from season to season and also depends on altitude. For instance, if I want to do a trip at 13k in the Bighorns here in Wyoming, I need to prep for a 7ft snowbase. I just did a trip last week at 10k, and there was 3-5ft. At 9k, there was only snow in the tree line. Below 9k.....nothing. I would map out a trip that keeps you below 9k if you're trying to avoid major snow issues. Once you're there, and you get an idea for where the freeze line is, you can alter your trip accordingly and maybe throw in some passes. If you are looking to do some snow travel, try to find someone who has experience, or at least go over the basics in books like Freedom of the Hills. I took a friend up to 10.5k and showed him how snow can bridge chasm's on the summit ridge. Seemingly solid snow and I tossed a rock into it and the top layer collapsed to show a 10ft drop. Not a major drop in the world of crevasses and such, but a 10ft drop can seriously hurt or kill you. Snow bridges over water are also a killer. Too many things to cover based on your limited info, but if you stay below 9k, you shouldn't run into too much of an issue....maybe some north east facing snowfields and snow in the treeline. Things can change.....Beartooth Pass just had blizzard conditions on the Wyoming side of the border. There are areas like Moss Peak at 6700ft that Snotel is showing has 65" of snow. Best bet in early season is to call the ranger station in the area of your plans and get a eyewitness account. Hope you enjoy your stay!
There will definitely be places for a backpack close enough to Missoula for you. June is our wettest month though and we often dodge the showers in June. I suggest you stop by REI in Missoula when you get there and ask about places nearby.