If you live in the Kalispell Montana area, you know there are many options for hiking. For example, you could head up to Glacier National Park with its 700 miles of well-documented hiking trails, or perhaps go to Jewel Basin and hike one of their many popular trails. Or you could find a map, locate an off-the-beaten forest service road, and just head out. That's what we did this past weekend. Here's how it went.
Any hiking trip in the Flathead Valley area requires proper preparation. Not only do you need decent hiking boots or shoes, you need to dress properly. Pants are usually a better choice than shorts, since you may be walking through tall grass and shrubs. And even if the sky is totally blue, pack a jacket. You never know how fast the sky can change in the forest. You'll also need something just in case you happen to encounter bears. Bear spray at a minimum, although many hikers in the area will carry a large and easily accessible handgun. A hat, bug spray, sunscreen, lots of water, and something to snack on if you will be gone for a while. So we did all that, grabbed the dog, and off we went.
Pick a location
There are many out-of-the-way parts of the forest that can be accessed and enjoyed by the public. We decided to explore the forest southwest of Kalispell. We drove up a typical dirt and gravel Montana road for about four miles until we found the entrance to this particular hiking location. We parked at the entrance to the old forest service road and headed out.
One of the advantages to just picking a non-advertised service road in the forest is the lack of crowds. We were in the woods for several hours and saw no people. None. At. All. Which of course, also means any hike involves just you and the forest. So any crowds you might see will be of the avian, insect or mammal species. That is one of the benefits of finding an off the beaten path. Being one with nature.
It's also important to note that a service road might not be in fantastic shape. In this particular instance, it looks like it's been quite a while since any forest service or lumber trucks drove up the road. So we were walking up a grassy road that got thinner and thinner with steadily thickening brush. That's half the fun, exploring and seeing what happens when nature starts taking back over.
So what might you see?
This particular trail wound its way through pine and fir trees. In some areas, those that probably had never been logged, the brush and trees were very thick. That made it a perfect place to camouflage hiding animals, so we definitely kept an eye on the area just in case. In other parts of the forest, the trees were parked out and we could see into various valleys.
From where we parked to where we turned around, the trail continually climbed. During that climb, we wandered past a large grove of quaking aspens and a valley with the remnants of a cabin and outhouse hidden from casual observers. We went around curves, and would have seen stupendous views had the smoke not been so thick. On this day, the view was only amazing. But that still worked!
And of course we saw living things. Mostly those living things on this day were deer, butterflies and birds, but after we had been walking for quite a while and had gotten far from the road, we also saw..
Yep. Bear sign.
It was not steaming, but it was fresh.
So we decided we'd gone far enough for that day.
And we turned around and went home, to return yet another day.
The moral of the story is... There are a ton of places to hike in the Flathead Valley and they are not all found on a trail map. If you have the opportunity to explore a public area that is open to you, go for it. You never know what you might see.
Originally published at thehousekat.com.