Steep switchbacks to Ward Mountain

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Looking for a hike with some elevation and rocky terrain to prepare for an upcoming ultramarathon, I found myself atop 9,108-foot Ward Mountain last month, the ridges of the Bitterroot Range lining up into the distance to the north and south.

About 4 hours earlier, Jen, the dogs and I started up the trail where Roaring Lion Creek runs out of the mountains and into the valley southwest of Hamilton. The first 2 miles switchbacked west up through the forest and crossed a couple of grassy openings.

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At 2.5 miles, the switchbacks steepened and entered an old burn where lupine bloomed and we got our first views of the valley floor. Another 1.25 miles up, I stepped onto a boulder field along the trail to take in the view of the ridges rising to the north over Roaring Lion and Sawtooth creeks.

The switchbacks re-entered the forest and continued up the mountain until we reached Judd Creek at about 5 miles. After the dogs lapped up some water, we crossed the creek and stepped onto snow.

As the trail disappeared, we followed other hikers’ footsteps uphill for the next mile, the trees becoming more sparse. Eventually, we stepped off the snow and onto rocks at a cliff overlooking Roaring Lion Creek.

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While Jen and Gus waited there among blooming cushion plants, Josey and I continued up the edge of the cliff to the top of the mountain, 6.3 miles and 4,800 feet above for the start.

After taking in views up and down the valley, and west into the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, we rejoined Jen and Gus. Back together, we descended to the trailhead quickly, getting in some glissading and running.

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Here are more photos from Ward Mountain.

Distance: About 12.6 miles round trip.

Trailhead: The Ward Mountain trailhead is 4 miles south of Hamilton on U.S. Highway 93 and 2.5 miles west on Roaring Lion Road. Park at the Sawtooth Creek trailhead on the north side of the road; the Ward Mountain trailhead is on the south side of the road.

Cooling off in snow-ringed Glen Lake

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In early June – on the first 90-degree day of the year – we decided to take the dogs on a short hike to cool off at Glen Lake, in the Bitterroot Mountains west of Victor.

The last time I hiked there was before a wildfire burned the area in 2006, and I remember it being fairly forested with few views out.

What a difference a decade makes.

Today, the forest is mostly bare, gray snags, but the views extend north and south along the Bitterroots, and across the valley east to the Sapphire Range.

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From the trailhead, we hiked gradually uphill to the northwest along the edge of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. A couple of quickly drying creeks provided water for the dogs.

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After about 1.3 miles, we reached a small snowfield at a saddle and crossed the wilderness boundary. From there, the trail dropped slightly to another saddle, turned west and started up a snowy ridge at about 2 miles.

From my previous hike, I remember trying to go through the trees slightly to get a view of St. Mary Peak across the drainage to the north, which proved difficult. Today, the lookout tower at the top the mountain is clearly visible.

After the trail reached its high point, we rounded a corner to the southwest and dropped slightly again to the lake at about 2.75 miles.

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Sitting in a rocky basin at about 7,500 feet, the lake was still mostly ringed by snow, providing a cold swim for the dogs – and for me after a short glissade down a slope.

After cooling off and eating a little, we backtracked out of the wilderness and returned to the hot valley below.

Here are more photos from Glen Lake.

Distance: About 5.5 miles round trip.

Trailhead: From U.S. Highway 93 between Stevensville and Victor, turn west on Bell Crossing and drive half a mile. At the Curlew Orchard Road/Meridian Road intersection, turn north and continue on Curlew Orchard for 1.3 miles. Turn northwest on Curlew Mine Road and drive about 1.7 miles. At the intersection with Forest Road 1321, turn south and continue about 8 switchbacking miles up the mountain to the trailhead.

‘Gem’ of a peak in the Sapphire Range

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Searching for a new place to hike with our dogs on Memorial Day, we were led up Palisade Mountain east of Corvallis by an online guide.

“A surprising gem in the Sapphires,” the description on the Montana Wilderness Association’s Hike Wild Montana website states.

Indeed.

I’ve always thought of the forested summits of the Sapphire Mountains as being less interesting than the granite canyons and peaks of the Bitterroots across the valley to the west. But the Willlow Creek and Palisade trails have changed my perspective.

From the undeveloped trailhead, we started east up a wide trail through the trees on the north side of the creek. After crossing a couple of tributaries, we arrived at a break in the woods at about 1 mile, with rocky outcroppings above offering a preview of what was to come.

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At about 2 miles, the trail began to climb steep switchbacks through dense forest. A few feet through the trees to the south, boulder fields looked back east to the Bitteroots.

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We reached snow on the last switchback, then crossed a creek at 2.5 miles and stepped out of the forest at the foot of rocky spires. Re-entering the trees, we continued up through the snow aided by a topographic map on my iPhone.

As we hiked higher, the forest grew thinner and wildflowers bloomed from melted patches in the snow.

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At about 4 miles, we reached a saddle where the Willow Creek Trail joined the Palisade Trail. There, we turned northwest and continued out the ridge on firm snowpack, following blaze marks on trees and the topo map on my phone.

We exited the woods where boulders rose from the snow, then climbed to the 8,451-foot peak of Palisade Mountain at about 4.75 miles. While our older dog Josey had no trouble, the blocky rocks brought a few whines from puppy Gus and he stopped just short of the top.

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After taking in the views west to the Bitterroots, north and south along the Sapphires, and east to the Flint Creek and Anaconda ranges, we made our way back down through the snow and along the creek.

We arrived back at the trailhead, our SUV still the only one parked there and having seen no other hikers all day.

Here are more photos from Palisade Mountain.

Distance: About 9.5 miles round trip.

Trailhead: From its intersection with the Eastside Highway in Corvallis, follow Willow Creek Road 10.5 miles east to the undeveloped trailhead. At about 2.3 miles, Willow Creek Road turns south where Coal Pit Road continues east.

Rain, snow and sun on South Rim of Grand Canyon

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After two days of driving and a stop to hike a slot canyon, we arrived on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon last fall just as the sun was setting. We took in the expanse from the Desert View Visitor Center as the last light of day faded over the rim to the west and darkness overtook the Colorado River below.

The brief view would have to suffice until the next morning as we continued on to our hotel in Tusayan, Arizona, just south of the national park’s boundary. Our trip was several months in the making, so one more night wouldn’t matter.

The planning started when I received an invitation to run Rim to Rim to Rim with a group from Missoula. Jen had been to the Grand Canyon before, but only briefly – and no way would I be going for the first time without her, she said. So while the rest of the group bought plane tickets for a four-day weekend, we opted for a weeklong road trip.

Arriving ahead of the rest of the group, we went hiking and did some sightseeing early in the week – in fact, our hikes ended up being the only time I saw some sections of the Bright Angel and South Kaibab trails in daylight, as the run started and ended in the dark. We also got some on-the-ground updates for the group about trail conditions and water availability on the North Rim.

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We planned to keep costs down by sleeping in a tent for a few nights before staying in a cabin on the rim at Bright Angel for the run. Instead, we ended up in the hotel because the temperature was too cold – we even had a day of snow.

Below are the hikes we went on before others arrived; the run will come in a separate post.

Bright Angel Trail

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Our first morning in the park – crisp with partly cloudy skies – we started down the Bright Angel Trail from 6,860 feet on the South Rim.

As we descended switchback after switchback northwest between Maricopa and Grandeur points, the temperature rose and we soon removed jackets and pant legs until we were in shorts and T-shirts.

Past the Mile and a Half and Three Mile resthouses, where tourists took breaks in numbers, the switchbacks ended and the trail straightened and became less steep as it reached the Indian Garden Campground at 4.8 miles.

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Crossing to the west side of the creek just below the campground, we left behind the crowded main route and continued out a mostly level trail to Plateau Point at 6.3 miles and about 3,100 feet below the trailhead.

The point overlooks the Colorado River as it winds from the confluence with Bright Angel Creek on the east out of sight around a bend to the west. Across the river, many points, buttes and temples – Sturdevant, Johnson, Schellbach, Hillers, Clement Powell, Buddha and Manu – rise to the North Rim.

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As we hiked back up from the campground, clouds closed in and rain began to fall. We kept our coats off, however, as the climb kept us plenty warm.

Here are more photos from the Bright Angel Trail.

Distance: 12.6 miles round trip.

Trailhead: The trail begins a couple of hundred yards west of the Bright Angel Lodge, next to a restroom and mule corral.

Rim Trail

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The next morning was considerably colder and the weather was expected to deteriorate, so we decided to take the shuttle bus west to Hermits Rest and walk back to Bright Angel on the mostly level Rim Trail.

Soon after we stepped off the bus, we saw our first snowflakes, and they continued intermittently most of the day.

Walking east on the wide, paved path, we passed plenty of other people in the first 2.8 miles from Hermits Rest to Pima Point then the Monument Creek Vista.

Other hikers became fewer and farther between as the trail narrowed and turned to dirt and gravel, and after about another mile we reached The Abyss, where the rim drops off and the view of the Monument Creek drainage opens up.

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As we arrived at Mohave Point, a little more than a mile east, it began snowing in earnest, with flakes “falling” up the canyon wall on gusts of wind. A sign titled “Diminishing View” at Hopi Point about 0.8 miles farther couldn’t have been more accurate, though it refers to air quality rather than precipitation.

From the memorial to Colorado River explorer John Wesley Powell at Powell Point, another 0.3 miles east, we watched as the clouds broke and revealed Maricopa Point.

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Returning to the paved path, we continued half a mile to Maricopa Point, then 0.7 miles to Trailview Overlook with its views of the Bright Angel switchbacks and the iconic rooftop of the El Tovar Hotel.

After another 0.7 miles and a couple of hundred yards, we finished at the shuttle stop and Bright Angel trailhead.

Here are more photos from the Rim Trail.

Distance: 7.8 miles one way.

Trailhead: We boarded the shuttle bus at the stop a couple of hundred yards west of the Bright Angel trailhead, rode it west to Hermits Rest and hiked back from there.

South Kaibab Trail

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Waking to mostly sunny skies and snow on the ground the next day, we took in the panoramic view at Mather Point before riding the shuttle east to the South Kaibab trailhead at 7,260 feet.

When we started down the trail, the first short switchbacks in the shady canyon were an icy, gravelly mix – both a little slick and offering some grip. Half a mile down, the trail melted as it met the sun and straightened to the north below Yaki Point.

After another set of switchbacks, we arrived at Cedar Ridge, where weathered snags overlook O’Neill Butte at 1.5 miles.

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We continued down the ridge, rounding the eastern side of the butte and hiking out to Skeleton Point, at 3 miles and 2,000 feet into the canyon our destination for the day.

From the point, we could see west across to the Bright Angel Trail and Plateau Point and north down to the bottom of the canyon, where a patch of green indicates the location of Phantom Ranch.

Back at the top of the trail, the ice retreated as the sun reached switchbacks. And before leaving that night, we were treated to a gorgeous sunset outside the El Tovar Hotel – with wispy clouds highlighted pink over the North Rim.

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Here are more images from the South Kaibab Trail.

Distance: 6 miles round trip.

Trailhead: The South Kaibab trailhead is closed to private vehicles, but is easily reached by riding a shuttle bus a few minutes east from Grand Canyon Village.

We spent most of the next day sightseeing east along the South Rim, waiting for the group of runners from Missoula to arrive. Then it was early to bed before the dark start of the Rim to Rim to Rim.

Slot canyons on the way to the Grand Canyon

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On our second trip to Arizona last fall – my first time to the Grand Canyon – we drove and took the opportunity to stop in southern Utah on the way.

Zion National Park is about the halfway point between Missoula and the South Rim, so we stopped there to camp for the night. The next morning, we left shortly after sunrise without hiking in the park because we planned to try a slot canyon between Kanab and Page, Arizona.

After stopping at the Bureau of Land Management office in Kanab to check conditions, we continued south to the Wire Pass trailhead in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.

There, we hiked through the through the Wire Pass slot canyon to Buckskin Gulch – which is said to be the longest and deepest slot in the Southwest at 13 miles and, in places, 400 feet, respectively.

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The first mile of the Wire Pass trail is rather plain – west down a dry wash surrounded by orange sandstone hills. Half a mile from the junction with Buckskin Gulch, however, the canyon walls soon close in.

As we entered the slot canyon, we passed a couple who turned back disappointed after finding a 15- to 20-foot drop a short distance inside that likely requires a rope to descend. After a little looking around, however, we easily found a route over the top marked by rock cairns.

That one drop must prevent many people from continuing, as we saw only one other person beyond that point.

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Before reaching the junction with Buckskin Gulch, we passed through the narrowest section of slot canyon we would encounter – a few feet wide, at most, with a sliver of sky visible high above us. At 1.7 miles, the canyon widens again at the junction. With GPS for the most part useless, we explored Buckskin Gulch based simply on time since we still had to drive to the Grand Canyon that day.

We followed Buckskin north first, the canyon walls varying from about 5 to 15 feet wide. Along the way, we found interesting patterns and pockmarks on the otherwise smooth sandstone, as well as a snake and a lizard.

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After returning to the junction and following Buckskin east, it became apparent we should have gone that direction first – the canyon there is much narrower and more dramatic than the northern section. Unfortunately, we weren’t able explore much since we had to continue on our trip.

On the way out, we stopped to inspect rock art on a wall at the junction before making our way back up the Wire Pass trail.

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Before reaching the trailhead, we encountered a group coming out of the Coyote Buttes area, where the well-known Wave feature can be found – but with permits required even for day use, we’ll have to return another time.

Here are more photos from Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch.

Distance: The Wire Pass trail is 3.4 miles round trip to Buckskin Gulch. From the junction, the Buckskin Gulch Trail travels 4.5 miles north and 11.3 miles east; we explored a short distance in both directions.

Trailhead: The Wire Pass trailhead is 8.3 miles south on the rough House Rock Valley Road, of U.S. Highway 89 about 38 miles east of Kanab, Utah, and 34 miles west of Page, Arizona.

Red rocks and hot hiking in Arizona

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The first of two fall trips to Arizona allowed us to get out in the Sedona and Scottsdale areas – both of which offer easy access to trails.

It’s been several years since we’ve met relatives in the Phoenix area, and in the past we’ve taken the opportunity to drive north to Sedona’s red rock country or south to Saguaro National Park and Tucson.

This time we arrived a day earlier than others, so spent the first night in Sedona. There, we went on short hikes to a natural bridge and around a spire to a rocky promontory. After that, we stayed in Scottsdale, which provided fairly easy access to parks. We hiked to the top of a peak on the edge of the valley one day, then I ran up the highest mountain in Phoenix the next morning.

Devil’s Bridge

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Devil’s Bridge is the largest natural arch in the Sedona area, and there are multiple routes leading to it. Because we were only in the area for one night, we chose the shortest trail to get a second hike in before leaving.

Starting from the Dry Creek Vista trailhead, we walked 1 miles northeast on the dusty, rutted Forest Road 152 to the official Devil’s Bridge trailhead. The road traveled up and down slightly with mountains of the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness rising to the southeast.

At the Devil’s Bridge trail, we turned east and continued uphill into the trees. After a final steep section, we reached the top of the 50-foot arch just inside the wilderness.

Devil’s bridge is sturdy enough to walk on and provides views across the canyon – it’s also a popular spot, and you won’t be alone. After waiting our turn to take photos of the arch, we hiked back to the trailhead the same way.

Here are more photos from Devil’s Bridge.

Distance: About 3.6 miles round trip.

Trailhead: From the intersection of Arizona Highway 179 and U.S. Highway 89A in Sedona, drive 3.2 miles west on 89A, 2 miles north on Dry Creek Road and 0.2 miles northeast on Forest Road 152 to the Dry Creek Vista trailhead. (If you have a high-clearance vehicle, you can continue 1.1 miles out the rough forest road to the Devil’s Bridge trailhead.)

Chimney Rock-Sugarloaf

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Our second hike before leaving Sedona linked several trails below the mountains on the north side of town.

Starting from the Thunder Mountain trailhead, we hiked uphill to the northwest along the base of three-spired Chimney Rock and past two junctions. At a third junction at about 0.3 miles, we continued north for 0.5 miles, then turned east at a junction and climbed to Chimney Rock Pass, briefly entering the Red-Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness.

Down from the pass at about 1.2 miles, we continued west for 0.7 miles on the fairly open Thunder Mountain trail with Capitol Butte rising to the north. At a junction with the Adante and Teacup trails, we continued east on Teacup for 0.3 miles.

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After crossing a wash, we turned southeast on the Sugarloaf Loop trail then again on the Sugarloaf Summit trail, climbing to the open top of the rock formation at 2.7 miles. The outcrop provided excellent views of town and the surrounding mountains, including Coffee Pot Rock.

Backtracking down Sugarloaf and west on the Teacup trail for 0.8 miles, we returned to the junction with the Adante trail and followed it west, slightly south of the Thunder Mountain trail, for 0.6 miles. Just past the Adante trailhead, we turned south along the base of Chimney Rock and continued about 0.5 miles back to where we started for 4.6 miles total.

Here are more photos from Chimney Rock and Sugarloaf.

Distance: About 4.6 miles round trip.

Trailhead: From the intersection of Arizona Highway 179 and U.S. Highway 89A in Sedona, drive 2.5 miles west on 89A, 0.6 miles north on Adante Drive, and 0.3 miles west on Thunder Mountain Road, then turn north into the Thunder Mountain trailhead.

Sunrise Peak

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In Scottsdale, temperatures reached the mid-90s – on the high end for us – but they didn’t keep us from getting out as long as we carried plenty of water.

On our first full day there, we hiked to the top of 3,069-foot Sunrise Peak in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve to the northeast of the city. Even starting mid-morning, it was already well into the 80s.

From a parking area in a neighborhood at the east end of the trail, we climbed steeply and steadily northwest up a cactus-filled canyon. A ridge line above switchbacks at about 1.2 miles provided views across the Phoenix metropolitan area to the west.

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Another 0.6 miles up, we reached a second viewpoint and a junction with the trail west to the top. After the final 0.25 miles of switchbacks to the top, we found shade under a small tree and views all around – the metro area to the west, farther into the preserve to the northwest, the Fountain Hills to the northeast and the Superstition Mountains in the distance to the east.

The route continued west to another trailhead, but with the temperature rising, we descended southeast back to our air-conditioned car.

Here are more photos from Sunrise Peak.

Distance: About 4.1 miles round trip.

Trailhead: From North Scottsdale Road, drive 8 miles east on East Shea Boulevard, 0.5 miles north on North 136th Street and 1.4 miles east on East Via Linda to the Sunrise trailhead.

Piestewa Peak

The run up 2,608-foot Piestewa Peak, the second highest point in the Phoenix Mountains

Before anyone else woke the next morning, I went on a sunrise run up Piestewa Peak in the Phoenix Mountains Preserve. At 2,608 feet, it’s the highest in the metropolitan area.

(The morning before, I tried the same run, but unknowingly started on the wrong trail and ended up on top of the wrong mountain. It was still fun.)

From the west side of the 40th Street trailhead parking area, I ran south across the desert floor on Trail 8 as first light reached the mountains to the west, passing a couple of junctions. Over a small saddle, I turned west then southwest, passed another junction and intersected Trail 304 at a pass at 2.7 miles

The run up 2,608-foot Piestewa Peak, the second highest point in the Phoenix Mountains

About 0.5 miles down the canyon from the pass, and past another junction and a trailhead, I turned onto Trail 302 and continued southwest. About 0.6 miles farther down the canyon, Trail 302 merged with Trail 300 – and I merged into a crowd – just above a popular trailhead for Piestewa Peak.

After the junction, the trail widened and was paved in places with steps. My pace slowed as I climbed, occasionally waiting to pass people.

The trail continued a short distance then turned north and split at about 0.5 miles. From there, I followed Trail 300 northeast, rounding a ridge line and scrambling up the final rocks to find a U.S. Geological Survey marker at 4.9 miles.

The run up 2,608-foot Piestewa Peak, the second highest point in the Phoenix Mountains

After taking in the surrounding view from the sunny summit and eating some food I brought along, I retraced my route back across the preserve in mid-80s heat.

Here are more photos of Piestewa Peak.

Distance: About 9.8 miles round trip.

Trailhead: The 40th Street trailhead is 4 miles east of North Scottsdale Road on East Shea Boulevard, the 1 mile south on North 40th.

Back to day hiking in Glacier National Park

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After several years of point-to-point backpacking in Glacier National Park, we returned to day hiking last summer, largely due to the forecast.

While a rainy day isn’t out of the ordinary for our late-July trips to the park, the forecast this year was for much more precipitation. And it delivered – a couple of our hikes were the wettest we’ve been on outside of Olympic National Park, Scotland or Iceland. Fortunately, we’ve learned that good rain gear – jacket, pants, pack cover – is worth the expense.

This year, we also visited parts of the park that we don’t usually get to – the North Fork of the Flathead, the less crowded Poia and Cracker lakes in the busy Many Glacier area, and Firebrand Pass outside East Glacier.

It was the first time I’d been to the North Fork, where we camped at Bowman Lake and made the obligatory stop at the Polebridge Mercantile for baked treats. On the east side of the park, we camped at Rising Sun, which along with the St. Mary campground we’ve always found to be good staging areas for getting out.

Numa Ridge Lookout

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The morning after arriving at the Bowman Lake campground, we hiked to the Numa Ridge Lookout, which provided good views over the North Fork despite gray clouds overhead.

From the boat launch, the we followed the trail northeast along the shore of the lake for a relatively flat three-quarters of a mile, then turned north at the Numa Ridge junction. From there, the trail rose to a small, forested lake – which we didn’t see until we were above it – at about 3.5 miles.

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After the lake, the trail climbed the ridge in earnest, on increasingly shorter switchbacks. As we approached the lookout, the trees grew smaller and the views opened up.

At 5.7 miles, we arrived at the lookout, on a grassy, 9,960-foot high point that offered views of the North Fork Valley below, the Whitefish Range to the west and, eventually, the Livingston Range above the top of Bowman Lake.

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Light rain began as we ate and took photos, so we turned back downhill. At the small, forested lake, the rain began to fall harder and thunder boomed overhead, so we picked up our pace back to camp.

Here are more photos from Bowman Lake and the Numa Ridge Lookout.

Distance: 11.4 miles round trip.

Trailhead: The trailhead is at the boat launch at Bowman Lake. From Apgar, the lake is about 11.5 miles northwest on the Camas Road, 13 miles northwest on the North Fork Road, about two miles west then north on Polebridge Loop and Glacier Drive, one-quarter mile north on the Inside North Fork Road, then 5.5 miles northeast on Bowman Lake Road.

Poia Lake

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After a second night at Bowman Lake and a day crossing the park and setting up camp at Rising Sun, we decided to hike to Poia Lake from the Many Glacier area.

From the road into Many Glacier, two trails lead to Poia Lake, connecting near Swiftcurrent Ridge Lake. Since we were starting in hard rain, we chose the shorter cutoff trail that begins next to the Many Glacier entrance station.

From the entrance station, we climbed steeply and straight to the northwest for about 1.1 miles, through aspen stands and wildflower meadows, then met the longer trail from the Apikuni Falls area. At the junction, we turned northeast, passing Swiftcurrent Ridge Lake and crossing the ridge itself about three-quarters of a mile farther.

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From the forested ridge, we switchbacked north down the muddy trail to Kennedy Creek, where we crossed paths with a couple of hikers from the East Coast and came upon a relatively fresh set of bear tracks at about 2.75 miles. As they had never encountered a bear before and were planning to hike farther than us, we advised them to be noisy.

At the creek, we turned west and climbed again, through a boulder field and back into the trees above a bend in the creek to the outlet of Poia Lake at about 4.5 miles.

We stopped for a few photos, but didn’t stay long because of the the rain – and there’s something about hiking with your hood up after just seeing bear tracks …

Here are more photos from Poia Lake.

Distance: 9 miles round trip.

Trailhead: We started from the Many Glacier entrance station, about 7.5 miles southwest of Babb on Many Glacier Road. Another trailhead, which also provides access to Apikuni Falls, is about 3 miles farther into the park.

Cracker Lake

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Mostly sunny weather the next day was the best of our trip, so we chose the longer hike to Cracker Lake, one of the most well-known lakes in the park because of its striking turquoise water.

While the fairly popular trail wasn’t as crowded as the High Line or Grinnell Glacier, the dozen or so hikers we encountered were the most we saw on any outing during our trip.

We started west from the Many Glacier Hotel parking lot, passing a turn to Piegan Pass shortly after leaving and dropping to the junction with the Cracker Flat loop at about 1.5 miles. This first section was well-trod by horses, so watching where we walked was necessary, but it also provided views across Lake Sherburne to Altyn Peak and Apikuni Mountain.

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Past the Cracker Flat junction, we switchbacked south up into the forest, with occasional openings in the trees offering glimpses of Swiftcurrent Lake and Mount Wilbur. At the top of the switchbacks, we continued climbing above Canyon Creek, eventually reaching a crossing at about 3.5 miles.

After the crossing to the east side of the creek, we continued up the valley as the forest thinned and the trees grew shorter. At about 5 miles, we came out of the trees and got our first real view of the lake, Siyeh Glacier and Mount Siyeh above it and Allen Mountain on the west bank of the creek.

Out in the open, the wind picked up, so we stopped briefly for Jen to fly a kite, then continued along the bluffs above the east shore of the lake.

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At about 6 miles, a rocky outcrop above the campground offered a place to stop and eat, and views all around. A trail down from the camp allowed us to explore the shore at the top of the lake and see the milky turquoise water – created by suspended silt from Siyeh Glacier – up close.

After backtracking to the trailhead, we took advantage of Many Glacier Hotel’s Swiss Lounge, stopping for beer and an appetizer before driving back to camp.

Here are more photos from Cracker Lake.

Distance: 12.5 miles round trip.

Trailhead: The trail starts at the southwest corner of the parking lot at Many Glacier Hotel, about 12 miles southwest of Babb on Many Glacier Road.

Firebrand Pass

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On our way home the next day we drove around the southern border of the park, stopping along U.S. Highway 2 and the train tracks of the Hi-Line west of East Glacier to hike to Firebrand Pass.

Aside from a handful of train whistles and the whipping of the wind at the pass, the hike was the quietest of our trip. We saw nobody along the trail, but later learned one of the two other vehicles at the trailhead belonged to friends.

After crossing the tracks, we passed through a fence marking the park border and hiked steadily uphill to the northwest through grassy fields and aspen stands.

In the forest at about 1.75 miles, we turned north onto the Autumn Creek Trail. Half a mile later – out of the forest and in tall, thick vegetation – we turned northwest again and climbed the Firebrand Pass trail.

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As we rounded the north flank of Calf Robe Mountain, we left the thick vegetation behind, crossed a small snowfield and continued up the trail into a subalpine basin above the Railroad Creek drainage. Ghostly white snags – remnants of the 1910 fires that gave the pass its name – stand where the final switchbacks begin.

After traversing talus and a longer snowfield, we reached the 6,951-foot pass between Calf Robe and Red Crow mountains at about 4.7 miles. Just over the pass, the Ole Creek drainage opened up with views of the Barrier Buttes and beyond.

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A long drive back to Missoula ahead of us, we turned back here rather than continuing on.

Here are more photos from Firebrand Pass.

Distance: About 9.5 miles round trip.

Trailhead: The trail to Firebrand Pass begins at a small, unmarked pullout along U.S. Highway 2 about 6.5 miles west of East Glacier or 5.2 miles east of Marias Pass.