The best known symbol of both UM and the City of Missoula is the giant concrete “M” on Mount Sentinel, sitting above 13 switchbacks and providing a panoramic view of the entire Missoula Valley. The M Trail was established in 1908 when UM students built the original M out of whitewashed rocks. The current M was installed in 1968, and is 125 long and 100 feet high. This is certainly the steepest part of the UM main campus! Many people do not realize that the M Trail is part of the UM campus.
It is a steep ¾ mile hike to the M, and over 1,000 people make the trip most days. From the M, hikers and runners can connect to many miles of forest trails on adjacent Forest Service lands, and can find many loop routes that tie in with the City Park trail system.
While the M Trail is most known for its recreational uses, natural history buffs can tell you that the trail cuts through beautiful native prairie plant communities. The prairies bloom vibrantly with arrowleaf balsamroot , lupine, paintbrush, sky blue penstemon, biscuit root, prairie smoke, shooting stars and more. Vesper sparrows nest on the ground amid bunchgrasses, a fox dens near the trailhead, and dozens of migratory song birds can be seen there in summer.
Because the M Trail receives to much use, erosion is a constant management issue. We implore hikers to stay on well-established trails. In recent years, the Montana Conservation Corps and the UM Student Guild of the Society for Ecological Restoration have addressed erosion at switchbacks and at the M itself with a series of community work days to build stair structures and retaining walls. Local businesses generously support our efforts by donation food for hungry volunteers.
If you love the M Trail, you can support our work by making a donation of any amount to the Friends of the M Trail (via UM Foundation). Your donation is tax-deductible.
You can also purchase the M Trail t shirt from our good friends at the Runners Edge in downtown Missoula. 100% of the sales go to Friends of the M Trail.