Monday, July 25, 2022
Our third hike in Montana was to Birch Lake in Jewel Basin.
On Sunday we left Missoula and headed north. Originally we had planned to head to the east side of Glacier National Park and do a one-night backpacking trip on the Dawson-Pitamakin Loop. But we did not luck into backpacking permits so we had a few extra days to fill. We decided to spend a few days in the Kalispell / Flathead Lake area.
We set up camp at a tiny three-site primitive campground called Blair Flats. It was right on the Swan River south of Swan Lake and was very pretty.
On Sunday we set out for a day hike into Jewel Basin. There is a huge network of trails here so if you visit I recommend taking a photo of the map at the trailhead:
Dogs have to be on-leash here, but all but one of the dogs we saw were off-leash:
There’s a cabin at the trailhead where Forest Service staff are stationed. I’m not sure, but I think these staff patrol the trails in the Jewel Basin area:
We set off up the Noisy Notch Trail:
We reached a junction then turned right on the Camp Misery Cutoff Trail:
This lovely hummingbird flew by, then landed a branch long enough for me to get a photo:
We also saw this grouse on the trail ahead of us. He didn’t seem inclined to move to let us pass so we were able to get a good look at him from a distance. Later we looked it up and this is a dusky grouse. He finally let us pass:
And yet another junction! We turned right onto the Alpine Trail:
This is a hike of junctions. Shortly after that was a confusing junction where a bunch of trails converged. We stayed on the Alpine Trail headed towards Birch Lake:
This stretch gave us some views. Looking down on Flathead Lake:
An unnamed peak above Martha Lake:
Looking down on Martha Lake. Looks inviting, but there are no trails that go there:
We passed through a field of beargrass that was past peak, but still nice:
We saw other wildflowers too:
Beautiful hiking along this stretch:
And finally our last junction. We left the Alpine Trail and turned left to check out Birch Lake:
We found a pleasant spot to sit on the north end of the lake where a delightful gurgling stream flowed into the lake. Mt. Aeneas towered above us:
The clouds and afternoon light made for challenging photography conditions, but it was still a beautiful view backdropped by Three Eagles Mountain:
Before we left home we had considered backpacking here, but decided the risk of mosquito hoards wasn’t worth it. Now I wished we were staying the night, it was so beautiful here! Greg wanted to hike up Mt. Aeneas on our way back so we reluctantly tore ourselves away from the lake. We spotted some goat fur on a branch and wondered if we would see any mountain goats today:
Before heading back we meandered a little bit further down the Alpine Trail along the shore of Birch Lake:
We got a good view of Mt. Aeneas:
Then we turned and headed back the way we had come. Along the way we did in fact spot some mountain goats high on the cliffs above. I got some good photos with the mega zoom on my point-and-shoot:
Hiking back through all that beargrass was fun!
It was getting pretty hot, so it was with some hesitation that I followed Greg up the Mt. Aeneas Trail:
No shade on this trail:
The trail leveled off at a saddle and we could see the summit of Mt. Aeneas ahead:
It was getting really hot and the view from this saddle was actually pretty good. Greg decided he didn’t need to go all the way to the summit and we made this our turnaround point. We found a patch of shade to sit in and sit and enjoy the view. Looking down on Picnic Lakes:
View to the east:
And then just as we were getting ready to head back down, a mountain goat appeared from nowhere:
The goat wanted the trail, but WE wanted the trail too since we don’t have the footing of a mountain goat! We tried to give it as wide a berth as possible in the circumstance but he still got a little closer than I would have liked:
A second goat appeared nearby during all this:
Finally we made an escape down the trail. The goats followed for a little ways before we finally lost them. Cool to see them and glad they didn’t get aggressive!
We got back to the car at 4:30. Although the bugs had not been bad at the lake, they were bad at the trailhead both at the start and end of our hike. So we did not linger and made a hasty exit.
This area is gorgeous and there is more to explore. I would love to come back and do an overnight here.
Gaia stats: 8.7 miles, 1,500′ elevation gain