Butte and Anaconda folks consider this wilderness mountain range and the surrounding forestlands that straddle the Great Divide to be their own. They hunt, fish, hike, climb, horse pack and enjoy the numerous roads and trails that reach the area. The Pintlers, as they are often called, are visible on all sides from lower elevations such as Georgetown Lake out of Anaconda; the biggest peaks are most evident heading northeast out of Wisdom along the Big Hole River.
While not as popular as many of the other wilderness areas in Montana, the Anaconda-Pintler is every bit as rugged and beautiful as the rest. Fifty miles of the Continental Divide bisect it and summits rising to more than 10,000 feet define its upper reaches.
The 157,874-acre Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness is part of a much larger undeveloped complex of approximate-ly 368,000 acres. Unprotected National Forest roadless lands encircle the designated wilderness and are an integral part of the overall ecosystem. Included in this yet-to-be safeguarded domain is a northern spur off of the Continental Divide in the Pintlers, which connects to the crest of the Sapphire Range. As such, it is a key biological corridor for wildlife migration, including elk, moose, bears, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats.
From the Skalkaho Road on the north to the Big Hole Valley along the southern perimeter, the Anaconda Pintlers, coupled with 117,000 acres of unroaded country in the Sapphires (part of a wilderness study area), comprise a vast, unbroken landscape that remains wild and free. Two of the nation’s legendary trout streams, Rock Creek and the Big Hole River, gather some of their headwaters from this high country. Cutthroat and rainbow trout are found in most of the lakes and streams.
Crisscrossed with numerous good trails that ascend into the cirques, hanging valleys, and numerous, beautiful high lakes, this area is an excellent choice for adventure.
In many places in Montana, the Continental Divide Trail actually approximates the Continental Divide. Not so in the Anaconda Range; here the mountains are far too rugged. When encountering this segment, hikers need to walk well below the continental watershed. Some trails, such as the Hi-Line Trail out of Maloney Basin, have a semblance of following the Divide, but not for long.
West Goat Peak, at 10,793 feet, is the highest point in the range. Its twin, 10,399-foot East Goat Peak, rises just east of the Divide. On the northeast facing slopes of the two mountains, cradled in glacial cirques, are the shimmering Lost Lakes.
These summits and the surrounding high country are best reached via a trail up La Marche Creek, on the east side of the range and just off of the Big Hole River bottoms. The route splits when it reaches the alpine zone and will take a hiker over the Continental Divide through Cutaway Pass. Here also is a chance to trek cross-country along some of the ridgelines into Maloney Basin on the west side of the Divide. Black Bear Meadows and 10,463-foot Warren Peak are at the head of the basin.
Perhaps the greatest concentration of high lakes is in an east-west alignment just below the Continental Divide and centered around 9,498-foot West Pintler and 9,329-foot East Pintler peaks. Inquire at the USFS Ranger Station in Philipsburg, Montana.
High country lakes stay frozen into July and streams can remain bank-full and fast moving before then. While summer is considered the best time to visit, in our opinion, is fall. You can’t beat the show when the larch on the upper reaches of the Anaconda Pintlers begin to turn yellow, gold, and orange. Snow comes early and approach roads allow for a long backcountry skiing season.
You need not be a hiker, climber, or horseback rider to enjoy this landscape; there is something for everyone here. The most popular access towns are Anaconda, Philipsburg, Wisdom and Wise River. Forest Service roads meander into many areas and campgrounds are all along the perimeter of this wild country. An Interagency Visitors/Travel Map, available at ranger stations, especially those in southwest Montana, is an invaluable tool for road travel. A very good Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness map produced by Cairn Cartographics (cairncarto.com) outlines the trail system. The Pintlers are on the Beaverhead-Deer Lodge National Forest headquartered in Dillon.