Offering some of the most stunning ridge crest riding in the northern Rockies, the Alpine Trail #7 experience is a particularly rewarding (and technical) one. This trail is most often ridden as a series of day rides, but it can also be enjoyed as a bikepack over a few days, as a longer loop combined with part of the Great Divide MTB Route, or an absolutely massive one-day effort.
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The Alpine Trail #7 traverses along the crest of the north-south running Swan Range. The trail offers stunning views into the Bob Marshall Wilderness to the east and across Swan Lake to the Mission Mountains and Flathead Valley to the west. The trail offers absolutely incredible mountain riding, often traversing bench-cut singletrack along steep mountain slopes, crossing passes from the west to east and back, all while ascending and descending steep, rocky slopes. Much of the route is at or above treeline. When among the vegetation, huckleberries abound. This is a physically and technically demanding trail, so anticipate relatively slow progress!
The route does drop all the way off the range crest and to the valley floor at one point, bypassing the section of the Alpine #7 Trail that crosses the Jewel Lake Hiking Area (which prohibits bike access).
The recommended riding direction for the Alpine 7 is south to north, starting at the Napa Point (accessible via a road on which 4WD and moderate ground clearance are recommended). From Napa Point to the Wire Pass Trail that descends includes many of the most scenic high ridgeline sections, and this part of the trail is the most popular long section of the trail to ride in a day. North from where Wire Pass drops west, the Alpine 7 continues north to Bond Lake and then traverses to the Sixmile Peak and Hall Lake Trails. This section of trail is a bit less traveled, a little more overgrown in places, and sees some moto use. North of Hall Lake, the route drops off the east side of the ridge crest down the Posey Creek Trail. This 4-mile-long trail had been completely overgrown, but the lower 3 miles (the worst of it by far) was cleared in 2022. The upper mile is overgrown but reasonably passable.
At the bottom of the Posey Creek Trail, the route turns northwest up the Quintonkon Road to Quintonkon Trail. The lower half mile of the Quintonkon Trail was quite overgrown as of 2022, but the trail gets considerably better higher up. Once the Alpine 7 is rejoined (it’s discontinuous to the south, hence the detour down to Quintonkon), the trail resumes its high alpine wonders. A looooong descent off the ridgecrest down Broken Leg Trail and then a steep climb up the well-traveled Strawberrry Lake Trail bypasses the closed-to-bikes Jewel Lake Hiking Area. The final miles of the Alpine 7, all of which see some moto traffic and are in decent condition, traverse forested ridges and drainage heads before the final seemingly endless (and sometimes chunky) descent down Columbia Mountain to the northern end of the trail.
For riders looking to ride this trail as a loop (i.e., self-shuttled), Adventure Cycling Association’s Great Divide MTB Route (GDMBR) offers a very convenient option on a mix of smooth dirt roads and quiet paved roads. If riding this loop, it’s recommended to either start at the Napa Point Trailhead and resupply in Columbia Falls or park at the Strawberry Lake Trailhead, ride the northern half of Alpine 7 with a light load of food, resupply in Columbia Falls, and then wrap up with the southern half of Alpine 7 with another light load of food. After all, challenging singletrack is always more fun with a lighter bike.
Riders could also opt to do “northern” and “southern” loops of the Alpine 7 and GDMBR as both come together in the middle in the vicinity of the Strawberry Lake Trailhead. And if one was going to only ride one of those two loops, the southern one is the most rewarding.
Photos by Kurt Refsnider
Follow the bike route provided here. The Jewel Lake section of the Alpine #7 Trail is closed to bikes.
This route traverses sensitive alpine landscapes. Please stay on the trail, and when hiking your bike, push your bike within the bounds of the trail tread.