Glacier National Park
Outrageous mountain scenery and rich wildlife consistently make Glacier the country's favorite wilderness park (see "A Place So Close To Heaven," October 2000). You need an advance permit and there's a 6-night maximum for backcountry stays, but with 730 miles of trail available, those are about the only downsides. Hikers with strong legs and lungs should try the 6-day, 58-mile Great Northern Traverse from Belly River to Kintla Lake. Going east to west saves overall elevation gain on this spectacular outing.
Contact: Beartooth Ranger District, Glacier National Park, (406) 888-7800; www.nps.gov/glac.
Centerpiece of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, just northeast of Yellowstone, the Beartooth range is a granite wonderland of glacier-scoured tundra and alpine lakes. To explore Froze-to-Death Plateau, hike 9 miles up Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River to its high divide with East Rosebud Creek, or climb 12,799-foot Granite Peak, the highest in Montana.
Contact: Custer National Forest, (406) 657-6200; www.fs.fed.us/r1/custer.
Bob Marshall Wilderness
Steep ridges, deep forest, and lush meadows characterize "The Bob," core of the Lower 48's largest wildlands complex. Late summer is driest, and all trips here are long. From the east, hike over Headquarters Creek Pass and up Red Shale Creek to the Continental Divide Trail's less-traveled northern sections beneath the spectacular Chinese Wall escarpment.
Contact: Rocky Mountain Ranger District, Lewis and Clark National Forest, (406) 466-5341; www.fs.fed.us/r1/lewisclark.