We recently covered Missoula, Montana, in one of our continuing series of destination articles, but there is so much more to cover (and discover) in this area. Lolo Pass stands high on our list as a historically significant area, an immensely beautiful location, and a must-see destination for travelers new to Western Montana. If you’re planning on visiting the city, be sure to set some time aside to make the trip out to the pass and enjoy some of the fresh air in the Rockies.
Lolo Pass carves a path through the border of Idaho and Montana in the Bitterroot Range of the Rocky Mountains. Approximately 40 miles southwest of Missoula, it makes for an excellent excursion from the town if you’re visiting the area. With an elevation of 5,233 feet, the pass is relatively low compared to its surroundings, but still offers amazing views and a chance to experience the tranquility of Lolo National Forest. The highest point of the Lolo Trail, the pass allows passage between the Bitterroot Valley of Montana and the Weippe Prairie of Idaho.
The pass was commonly traveled by the Nez Perce Tribe in the 1700s and was famously used in the Lewis and Clarke Expedition in September of 1805 during their westward journey. Numerous historical sites line the sides of modern-day highway 12 and are worth stopping to gain a better understanding of the area’s storied past.
Lolo Hot Springs: A small community just a few miles north on the Montana side of the pass, Lolo Hot Springs is home to a lodge, restaurant, and (as you may have gathered from the name) commercial hot springs. This is the perfect spot to stay the night if you’re looking for accommodations, or to relax and unwind in the warm waters of a natural spring.
Lolo Pass Visitor Center: Located on the border of Idaho and Montana at the peak of the pass, the visitor center provides travelers with historical information on the Nez Perce activity in the area as well as the Lewis and Clarke Expedition. Operated by the United States Forest Service, it also acts as the trailhead for several spectacular hikes and access to service roads that head deeper into the National Forest. Be sure to check ahead of time on the visitor center’s hours of operation to ensure that it will be open when you arrive.
Holt Heritage Museum: The Holt Heritage Museum is dedicated to collecting and showcasing historical remnants of the Lolo Pass area. Located on highway 12 in the town of Lolo, the museum is owned by a married couple who were both involved with professional rodeo for more than 30 years and have amassed a collection of “cowboy equipment” and Nez Perce artifacts. Any drive through the area can be made better with a stop at this region-famous museum.
If you’re traveling to the Missoula area, it’s well worth your time to explore the historic Lolo Pass. Stop and have a picnic at one of the many campgrounds and nature areas in the National Forest, or simply drive over and experience a slice of American history.