Download a PDF of the Missoula and Bitterroot Hotspots along with a bird list here.
Jump to a hotspot description:
A. Kelly Island Fishing Access
This large undeveloped island at the confluence of the Bitterroot and Clark Fork rivers is a 631-acre parcel owned by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. It consists of cottonwood bottoms, large meadows, and Ponderosa pine forests.
Much of the land is on an island accessible by boat, or at low water, the river can be forded. However, birding is good at the access points. From Reserve St. south of the river, turn west on Spurgin Road and go to the end. The 2nd access is one block north of Spurgin at the end of N. 7th St. West. The 3rd access is north of the river off Reserve St. Turn west on Mullan Road up the hill, past the cemetery to Cote Lane, and follow the signs.
Some expected birds are Bald Eagle, Turkey Vulture, Pileated Woodpecker, Lewis’s Woodpecker, Red-naped Sapsucker, Vaux’s Swift, Western Wood-Pewee, Yellow Warbler, and Black-headed Grosbeak.
View Kelly Island FAS on eBird for up to date sightings and species recorded at this location.
B. Maclay Flat and Blue Mountain
The Maclay Flat trail is reached by going south from Missoula on Hwy 93. Turn right on Blue Mountain Road at the traffic light near the Fitness Center and follow it two miles to a signed parking area.
The trail is a 2-mile loop that includes a riparian zone along the Bitterroot River, a Ponderosa pine plantation, and several small marshes. Common spring and summer birds include Wood Duck, Cinnamon Teal, American Kestrel, Pileated Woodpecker, Western Wood-Pewee, nuthatches, Warbling Vireo, Western Tanager, Black-headed Grosbeak, and Chipping Sparrow. Winter birds include Great Horned Owl, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, woodpeckers, Clark’s Nutcracker, chickadees, nuthatches, and Red Crossbill. Bald Eagles may be seen year round near their nest in a large tree from the east end of the trail.
Before reaching Maclay Flat, you pass the Forest Service road to Blue Mountain 1.5 miles from Hwy 93. Turn left on this road, which quickly reaches an elevation 2,000 feet above the valley floor and passes through Douglas Fir and Western Larch forest. Watch for Dusky Flycatcher, Hammond’s Flycatcher, Clark’s Nutcracker, Townsend’s Solitaire, Western Tanager, kinglets, warblers, chickadees, and nuthatches.
View Maclay Flat on eBird for up to date sightings and species recorded at this location.
C. Rattlesnake National Recreation Area
To reach the main trailhead, travel 4.5 miles north of Broadway on Van Buren St. and Rattlesnake Drive. Turn West at the trailhead sign and drive across Rattlesnake Creek to the parking lot.
Along the cliffs about 1/4 mile from the parking lot, look for Cordilleran Flycatcher. Along the riparian areas of Rattlesnake Creek and Spring Gulch, look for American Dipper, Warbling Vireo, and a variety of warblers. In the surrounding meadows and forest look for Ruffed Grouse, Pileated Woodpecker, Vaux’s Swift, Hammond’s Flycatcher, chickadees, kinglets, Cassin’s Vireo, Western Tanager, and Spotted Towhee.
The less-used Sawmill Gulch trailhead is 1.5 miles West of the main parking lot where a large meadow is bordered by forest. Most of the same species can be found there. The large meadow is good for spotting raptors.
The Woods Gulch trailhead to Sheep Mountain is 1/2 mile east of Rattlesnake Drive on Woods Gulch Road. Stay right all the way to the trailhead.
The first mile is a narrow, brushy riparian area that is good for many species of the conifer forest including Ruffed Grouse, Rufous Hummingbird, Western Tanager, and Townsend’s Warbler. Flammulated Owls occur on the ridge overlooking Marshall Canyon to the Southeast.
View the Rattlesnake NRA hotspot on eBird for up to date sightings and species recorded at this location.
View the Woods Gulch hotspot on eBird.
D. Mount Jumbo
This city-owned open space area provides grassland, shrub, and dry-forest habitats. Access the South end above Hellgate Canyon and the southwest face that parallels the Rattlesnake valley by driving to the east end of Cherry Street or Poplar Street just north of I-90.
Follow the trails up to the “L” or along the base of the hill through the shrubs on the Southwest face. Look for Calliope Hummingbird, Nashville Warbler, Spotted Towhee, and Lazuli Bunting. The summit ridge is a good place for migrating raptors in spring and fall. Access the saddle, which leads to varied habitats, by following Lincoln Hills Drive through the housing area to the trailhead. Look for Western and Mountain Bluebirds, Cassin’s Vireo, Western Tanager, Vesper Sparrow, and Cassin’s Finch.
View the Mount Jumbo hotspot on eBird for up to date sightings and species recorded at this location.
E. Greenough Park
This 42-acre city park is located in a riparian woodland along Rattlesnake Creek. Although easily accessible from town and heavily used by pedestrians, the minimally developed park maintains a high diversity of bird life. Pedestrians may enter from the corner of Vine Street and Greenough Drive. A parking lot is located on Monroe Street, from which the entire park can be visited by taking the loop trail to the right.
Resident species include Western Screech-Owl, Great Horned Owl, Pileated Woodpecker, American Dipper, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Lesser Goldfinch and Song Sparrow. Northern Pygmy-Owls, Bohemian Waxwings, and Varied Thrushes visit in winter. Summer residents include House Wren, Swainson’s Thrush, Cedar Waxwing, Red-eyed Vireo, warblers, Bullock’s Oriole, Black-headed Grosbeak, Lazuli Bunting, and Spotted Towhee.
View the Greenough Park hotspot on eBird for up to date sightings and species recorded at this location.
F. Riverfront-Kim Williams Trail
This area is an old railroad bed that starts at the Orange Street Bridge in downtown Missoula and follows the south bank of the Clark Fork River upstream through the University and beyond for about three miles.
The habitat includes several islands, riparian trees and shrubs, and nearby Douglas-fir forest. Common birds in Spring and Summer include Osprey, Calliope Hummingbird, Vaux’s Swift, Willow Flycatcher, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, swallows, warblers, Gray Catbird, Bullock’s Oriole, Western Tanager, and Lazuli Bunting. Winter birds include Common Goldeneye, Common Merganser, Bald Eagle, Bohemian Waxwing, and Song Sparrow. Look for American Dippers where Rattlesnake Creek enters the Clark Fork.
Mountain habitat can be reached by taking the Hellgate Canyon Trail marked by a sign 1.5 miles from the start.
View the Kim Williams Natural Area hotspot on eBird for up to date sightings and species recorded at this location.
G. The Clark Fork River: Milltown State Park and I-90 East
Milltown State Park provides several areas for birding. The Confluence area offers access to the North shore of the Clark Fork. The Overlook offers expansive views of the Clark Fork and ponds to the East, and hosts a large colony of Violet-green Swallows that will swirl around the overlook on warm Spring and Summer days. The trails to the East of the overlook provide access to the South shore of the Clark Fork and the accompanying flood plain. Visit Milltown State Park’s website for more information and how to access these areas.
Following I-90 east of Missoula provides interesting birding along the Clark Fork River.
Milltown Pond: Take exit 110 on I-90 to Bonner. Where Hwy 200 turns north into Bonner, go east 0.2 miles on the frontage road to the orange Milwaukee Railroad Caboose. Park there and follow the trails down to the river for good riparian birding.
Rock Creek: take exit 125. The slough on the north side of I-90 is good for Wood Ducks, Lazuli Buntings, and warblers. On the south side, follow Rock Creek several miles to Valley of the Moon Campground. Look for Bighorn Sheep, Wood Ducks, hummingbirds, and other mountain species.
Beavertail Hill State Park: take exit 130 and turn south. Go one or two miles past the park to a good area for Wild Turkeys. At the park, look for American Dippers, five species of swallows, woodpeckers, Cedar Waxwing, warblers, and Black-headed Grosbeak. Also check the ponds north of I-90.
Bearmouth Canyon: exit at the rest area (near mile 144) and look for White-throated Swifts and Violet-green Swallows that nest on the cliffs just east of the rest area. Parking is illegal along I-90. However, you can take exit 138 to the Bearmouth Chalet and follow the frontage road north of the river into Bearmouth Canyon and on to Drummond for some interesting birding.
H. Pattee Canyon
Pattee Canyon has miles of trails through mature Ponderosa pine, Western Larch and Douglas-fir forest. Take Higgins Avenue south past Dornblazer Field. Turn East on Pattee Canyon Drive and go 4.5 miles to the Pattee Canyon Trailhead.
Try the Sam Braxton and Accipiter trails (all trails are good). Other birding areas include the Crazy Creek trail (3.7 miles) and the Picnic Area.
This area is good habitat for Northern Goshawk, several owl species, Pileated Woodpecker, Williamson’s Sapsucker, Swainson’s Thrush, Hermit Thrush, warblers, Western Tanager, Black-headed Grosbeak, Evening Grosbeak, and Red Crossbill.
Continuing past Pattee Canyon Trailhead, the road becomes Deer Creek, which takes you above Milltown Dam and Milltown State Park and into East Missoula.