Outdoors Issue 2019: Avoiding Glacier’s Congestion

Three great Northwest Montana hikes not in Glacier National Park

In July 2018, an estimated 905,959 people streamed through the gates of Glacier National Park. The previous year, more than 1 million people visited the park, the highest monthly visitation total in the park’s history.

Simply put, Glacier National Park is a busy place in July. Any local will tell you that sometimes the hardest part of a hike in Glacier isn’t the hike itself, but finding a parking spot at the trailhead. That’s why most of us save our hiking to-do list for the weekends after Labor Day, when the temperatures and visitation start to cool down.

But big crowds shouldn’t be as much of a problem with these three great hiking destinations in Northwest Montana.

Easy: Lion Mountain and the Whitefish Trails

If you’re looking for a hike that will appeal to people of all abilities and ages, look no further than Lion Mountain, part of the Whitefish Trail system. Lion Mountain features a 3-mile loop conveniently located west of Whitefish that takes hikers through a botanically diverse forest and a sweeping overlook of Skyles Lake. The trail is great for anyone from 8 years old to 80 years old. And, if you want more to explore, Whitefish Trail has eight other trailheads in the Whitefish area, including Spencer Mountain, Swift Creek and Smith Lake, Lupfer, Woods Lake and North Beaver, Beaver Lakes, Skyles, Reservoir and Big Mountain.

Directions: To get to Lion Mountain from Whitefish, take U.S. Highway 93 north toward Eureka for 2.2 miles. Take a right on Lion Mountain Loop Road, and the trailhead will be on the left.

For more information, visit whitefishlegacy.org.

Intermediate: Jewel Basin Hiking Area

Like its name implies, the Jewel Basin truly is one of the crown jewels of hiking in the Flathead Valley. Located east of Creston, the Jewel Basin encompasses more than 15,000 acres and has 27 lakes and 35 miles of trail. One of the most popular hikes is to the summit of Mount Aeneas, which offers views of Glacier National Park to the north and the Bob Marshall Wilderness to the southeast. In the early parts of the summer, you might even spot a mountain goat or two. A round trip to the summit is about 6 miles.

Directions: The Mount Aeneas Trail starts at the Camp Misery Trailhead. To get there from Bigfork, take Montana Highway 35 north to Highway 83 and then head east to the Echo Lake Road junction. From there, take Echo Lake Road 3 miles to Jewel Basin Road. From there it’s 7 miles to the trailhead. Be sure to get there early, though, as parking is limited.

For more information, visit https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/flathead/recarea/?recid=77671.

Advanced: Cabinet Mountain Wilderness

While the trails around Glacier Park and the Flathead are getting more popular every year, there are still some places where you can truly escape it all. The Cabinet Mountain Wilderness is one of those places. The wilderness area consists of a 35-mile-long range of peaks and valleys through the Kootenai National Forest. The wilderness sits between the Kootenai and Clark Fork river valleys. Across the more than 94,000 acres of wilderness, there are 94 miles of trail. One of the best hikes is the 8-mile trek to Rock Lake on the southern end of the wilderness. Along the way, people can take in spectacular views of Ojibway Peak. Other trails can be accessed from the Libby area.

Directions: To get to the Rock Lake Trail, take Montana Highway 200 about 1.8 miles east of Noxon and turn east on Forest Service Road 150. Take that 6 miles to the intersection with Forest Service Road 150A and follow the road 1.5 miles to the trailhead.

For more information, visit https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/kootenai/recreation/recarea/?recid=82681&actid=50.