Boots on the Ground

By Beacon Staff

The Flathead Valley is a good place to get lost.

Our backyard is truly a mecca for backpacking and day hiking. Last year the Beacon recommended a few favorite destinations, including the Highline Trail and Ptarmigan Tunnel. Here are a few other sites worth bagging this summer.

Mount Aeneas
Tucked in the heart of the Jewel Basin, this 8.6-mile round-trip hike is a local favorite and quintessential for adventure-seekers. At roughly 7,500-feet elevation, Aeneas is the highest point in the Jewel and offers a fun day trek through outdoor paradise. The Jewel is a unique 15,000-acre area set aside exclusively for hiking and camping and features more than 20 mountain lakes. The trailhead is only a short drive from downtown Kalispell. To get there, from Bigfork take Highway 25 north to Highway 83. Head east to the junction of the Echo Lake Road and then go north for 3 miles to the Jewel Basin Road. Follow that road 7 miles to the trailhead.

Firebrand Pass
This lesser-known trek on the southeast side of Glacier Park scales 2,210 vertical feet and makes for a memorable day hike with rewarding views of the remote valleys that stretch to the horizon. It can be rather challenging and travels 4.8 miles one-way from the Lubec Trailhead, which lies roughly 6 miles south of East Glacier along Highway 2. The journey takes you through stretches of wild forests and open meadows of flowers and greenery. The further along you go, the more likely you’ll run into some lasting snowfields.

Grinnell Glacier
Witness one of Glacier Park’s fading icons by embarking on this 10.3-mile round-trip hike. This popular day trek follows a scenic trail past Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine before climbing into the sky. Be prepared to run across animals, including bighorn sheep and possibly grizzlies. Awaiting you at the end are Grinnell Lake and the glacier, along with the impressive Garden Wall. To shorten the trip by several miles, catch a boat ride across the lakes.

Whitefish Divide Trail
This expansive ridgeline journey is 37 miles long and traces the western border of Glacier National Park, providing access to the Thompson Seton proposed wilderness. Along this trail, backpackers will discover several high country lakes and stunning views of Glacier Park, the Cabinet Mountains and the entire Flathead Valley. Hiking can be moderate to difficult. The trail begins at Big Creek Road 316 roughly 34 miles south of Fortine off U.S. 93.

“A” Peak in the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness
Fifty years ago, the glaciated peaks and wild interior of the Cabinet Mountains became a wilderness area in the northwest corner of the state. This unique setting has it all — 94,360 acres of towering mountains, peaceful streams and untrammeled cedar forests. The geology alone makes it a worthy destination. There are more than 130 miles of maintained trails winding throughout this mapped labyrinth, creating a backpacking mecca that should be on everyone’s bucket list. A particularly memorable hike starts at the Granite Creek trailhead and follows Trail 136 for roughly 6 miles to the waterfalls on the north face of “A” Peak, a mountain that soars 4,000 feet above Granite Lake. It’s the second highest point in the Cabinets. The wilderness is roughly 90 miles west of Kalispell on U.S. 2.

Danny On Trail
This simple yet satisfying adventure is within eyeshot and offers a quick outdoor escape. Whitefish Mountain Resort maintains this trail system on Big Mountain and the pathway wraps nearly 6 miles from base to summit. While mountain bikers and zip-liners can be seen enjoying their sections of mountain, this system is for hikers-only and for all ages and abilities. From the summit, gaze at the panoramic view of Glacier Park and the Flathead Valley, including the shine of the lake in the distance.

Apgar Lookout
One of the best views of Lake McDonald and the west entrance of Glacier Park can be found from this high-country perch. The hike is 7.1 miles from the Apgar Lookout trailhead and follows a steady grade up the mountainside. The trail passes through the large section of land that burned in the Robert Fire in 2003. At the end of this hike is a neat piece of history; the two-story fire lookout was built in 1929 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


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