The Patrol Ridge Climb is an out and back located in the Flathead National Forest near Essex, Montana and is suitable for either front or rear-driven handcycles. The trail is a gated forest service road that is in good condition and climbs 1,600 feet over a distance of 5.2 miles to a pass over Patrol Ridge. Adventurous riders can descend the backside of the ridge an additional 2.3 miles dropping almost 900 feet to a junction with the 25 Mile Creek hiking trail which is unsuitable for handcycles. This route offers outstanding mountain views, especially near the pass and along the back-side of Patrol Ridge. The entire route is prime bear habitat, and appropriate precautions such as bear spray should be taken. When I rode this on 08/25/2018 I counted no less than 15 piles of bear scat along the trail. While the trail is not technical, I rated it a 7 based upon the significant climb and distance involved. It will be a challenging ride for anyone not using electric assist.
The trail starts out from a gated road just before the turn-off to the Challenge cabin along Skyland road. During winter months this cabin can be rented. After ducking under the gate, the trail follows a relatively flat course for the first quarter mile before beginning a moderate to aggressive climb. The trail reaches its first switchback at approximately 1.1 miles and turns north until the 1.8 mile mark where a second sharp switchback heads south by southwest.
The trail continues winding its way along Patrol Ridge, steadily gaining elevation before swinging west at about the 4.5 mile mark. Along this entire stretch openings in the forest offer views across the Granite Creek valley towards Square Mountain and Slippery Bill mountain. Soon the pass over Patrol Ridge comes into view separating the 25 Mile Creek and Granite Creek drainages.
At 5.2 miles the pass is reached and riders are treated to views into the 25 Mile Creek valley with Baldhead Mountain looming to the north. The descent to the 25 Mile Creek drainage is a bit bumpy but the road remains in overall good condition for a location this remote. Wildflowers and views across the valley make this stretch the most scenic of the trail. At the 7.5 mile mark riders come to a wide switchback. The 25 Mile Creek trail enters near this switchback and follows the remnants of the forest service road downhill. The route is not worth following further from this point as the trail narrows and brushy trees such as alder soon envelop the trail.
The return ride follows the same path.
Trail Name: Patrol Ridge Climb, Challenge Cabin to 25 Mile Creek Trail
Location: Essex, Montana |
Type: Wide trail (≥ 30″), Start and end at the same point (Out-and-Back)
Rating: Adaptive Level 07
Steepest Section: Moderate – between 10-30º
Most Off-Camber Section: Mild – under 10º
Terrain: Mostly hardpack, minimal loose sections
Obstacles: Baby heads and/or rock gardens
Help Needed? Nope
Even more info: Trail Forks Link and Description
Directions to Trailhead
Take US-2 to Skyland Road (Flathead National Forest road #569) and continue 6.3 miles on Skyland Road. The trail begins at a gated but unmarked forest service road. If you reach the turn-off for the Challenge cabin you’ve gone about 50 yards too far.