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Each way you turn, a picture perfect moment.

Ninepipe Day Hike

Each way you turn, a picture perfect moment.

Each way you turn, a picture perfect moment.

Montana is all about backpacking and hiking. It is on these paths and these mountains there is connection. We need the wandering, the exploration, and mostly the fresh air of freedom. Weekend pioneers realize the power of hiking and are always on the lookout for uncharted territories.
There is an exceptional day hike located in Northwest Montana near Ronan. The Ninepipe area lies on both sides of Highway 93 and 212, bordered by a few county roads. This Waterfowl Production and Wildlife Management area is 45 miles north of Missoula Montana. Signed parking spots are scattered, just walk in a bit and you will have arrived in the middle of some extremely scenic moments. There is an abundance of birds at all times and quite a variety of them. If you love bird watching, then prepare to see pelicans, eagles, grebes, coots, snow geese, hawks, owls and avocets. About 200 bird species have been recorded. Duck Road offers 2 miles of pothole ponds for viewing. The background setting is sensory perfection of the Mission Mountains. This grassland and wetland complex contains up to 800 glacial potholes and a 1,770 acre reservoir. In the winter, there is a superb population of raptors. A paved trail and access road lead into the depths of the wetlands. The trail is barrier free.
The Ninepipe Research Center is also situated in this valley in Western Montana. They center much research on owls and habitat. What makes this whole area so spectacular aside from the Wetlands hike, the 1,770 acre reservoir, the birds, and the Crisp Mission Mountains is… this is not all. This would seem to be enough for an avid outdoor lover. Yet surrounding the center is the Wildlife refuge. This is not a developed refuge, but a natural existing complex which homes Bison. For decades, these bison have free ranged here. Deer and elk also roam along the refuge, as does the occasional grizzly or black bear. The Ninepipe region is a fascinating place for those who deeply wish to fill their heads with nature’s best. The wildlife corridor disperses some of the best beasts and birds to be seen in Montana at one time. It is almost guaranteed you will be overcome at some point with elation due to the interaction between man and the wild. Take a camera.
Take the drive North of Missoula; look for the signs between St. Ignatius and Ronan. If you look to your right and see a gorgeous trail of jagged, reach-for-the-sky Mountains, you know in the right direction. On the east side of the reservoir off of Highway 93, and about three quarters of a mile in is the 212 junction. Begin here.
And when you are done hiking, take the long way home…head around the other side to the bison range. You will see them from the road, follow the sign. Now, this is Montana.turtles

Morrell Lake and Falls: Day Hikes in Seeley

morrellfalsIn Montana’s deep reservoir of riches, Seeley Lake is one of the favorites. Seeley Lake is located on the Western side of Montana in the middle of the Rocky Mountains. This popular destination offers endless recreational avenues. The reason for this location being so desired by all is because this area is called the Clearwater Chain-of-Lakes. Amazingly so is 24 lakes in Clearwater Valley. All are easily accessed aside off of Montana State Highway 83 with developed campgrounds in place.
Placid and Jocko Lake residing nearby, there are so many hiking spots circling around all three Lakes. One is particular, known to Montanan’s as the best day hike near Seeley is Morrell Lake and falls. This gentle hike is a 2.7 mile hikes through Lodge pole Pines, and by 23 acres of Morrell Lake finishing up at the historic series of Morrell Waterfalls. The beginning of the trail is flat through the lodge pole, and then the remainder of forest hike leaves way to a mixture of pine, larch, spruce and fir trees. Wildlife is abundant. Be prepared to see a variety of wildlife like beaver, elk, mountain lions, moose, bobcats, and deer. As in many Montana wildernesses, you also must be prepared for bears. This area is home to both black and grizzly bears. Before you even arrive at the falls, you will hear the roar of the water as the hikes winds around the marsh. Then in the clearing, the beauty of the 90 foot falls will unfold before you.
For the Morrell Falls day hike you have the option of walking, mountain biking or even horseback riding. Close to the trailhead is parking for vehicles, as well as undeveloped campsites for those wishing to make it an overnight trip. For those with an enduring spirit there are more difficult trails which branch off from the falls. Grizzly Basin Trail #509 climbs into the Swan Mountains along the east fork of Morrell Creek. This trail is not maintained and runs 6 miles long. Even a more primitive trail is Morrell Creek Trail #383 which takes off from Trail #30 and extends up the west fork of Morrell for 3.5 miles.
To get to this breathtaking hike, travel a half mile north of the town of Seeley staying on Highway 83; turn east (right) on Morrell Creek Road. There will be a green street sign. This becomes Forest Road #477 Cottonwood Lakes Road. After 1.1 miles, turn left on West Morrell Road #4353 for around 6 miles. Turn right on Pyramid Pass Road #4381, go less than .25 miles and take a left on Morrell Falls Road #4364. One more mile and you are at the trailhead! You will see the parking and camping area.

one with nature

one with nature

If you are new to the fun of the hike or wilderness exploration, this is the perfect place to begin. At every turn of this recreational area you will discover more and more to do. In a short time, you will understand why this part of Montana rules the heart.

Council Grove State Park

Council Grove State Park

 

Hellgate Treaty - Council Grove State Park

Hellgate Treaty – Council Grove State Park

A tranquil setting describes Council Grove State Park the best. This little park is a well kept secret but worth experiencing. Only 10 minutes out of Missoula on Mullan Road a sign points the way down in. The park opens up to majestic scene of old growth ponderosa pines, grassy fields, and the Clark Fork River. Open aspen groves allow you the delight of watching the blue herons nesting. A walk along the river will navigate you through Cottonwood trees, beavers and sightings of eagles. A seasonal vernal pool exists for the breeding ground of frogs and salamanders. The Clark Fork River collides with the Swan and Flathead rivers making for some great fishing accesses. If fishing does not call to you, there are many hiking trails surrounding the area.

 

This is a great place to explore and feel a part of nature. Wildlife is abundant, perfect for photographers. There is nothing more relaxing as a day picnic here, and nothing more invigorating then spotting a group of white tail deer or the meandering black bear. The Clark Fork River provides an opportunity to either sit quietly at the edge, or wade peacefully in the shallow banks. It is relatively quiet, without a lot of people or noise.

 
Composed of 187 acres of prime land, the Council Grove State Park sits at an elevation of 3, 198 feet. The park history is told by Kiosks revealing the exact spot where the Hellgate Treaty was signed. It was in 1855, Isaac Stevens negotiated this treaty between the U.S. Government and the Kootenai-Salish and Pend d’Orielle native Indians to create the Flathead Reservation in the Mission valley. These tribes reluctantly relinquished their 12 million acres of their ancestral hunting grounds down to 1.25 million which begins in Evaro, Montana and continues past Flathead Lake. The Salish were removed from the Bitterroot Valley as a result of the treaty.

 
This park is available for day use only and vehicle preference is cars (no R.V.’s). Picnic tables are scattered throughout the park, all in a pristine natural environment. Fish, Wildlife, and Parks operates this relaxing site and offer comfortable amenities for day recreation. There are grills and fire rings close to the picnic tables. Vault toilets and drinking water are available. The park also accommodates handicapped accessible facilities. Because Council Grove Park is a designated “Primitive” site there are no fees to enter but requires a pack in/pack out obligation.

 

Other things to consider are fishing permits which can be acquired either at any of the fly shops or outdoor gear stores, some conveniently on Reserve Street. The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks also issues fishing permits. Fire season in Montana can be tough sometimes, so before starting the fire pit, please check the fire hazard signs for the day. On the return ride, check out some of Missoula’s highlights and museums. After a perfect day in Council Grove State Park, you may just find yourself back there again soon.

Beaverhead Rock State Park

Beaverhead Rock State Park

Beaverhead Rock - 1871

Beaverhead Rock – 1871 Plank Bridge

Beaverhead Rock State Park is more about commemoration than of activities. Also known as ‘Point of Rocks’ formation, it sits alone at 4,900 above sea level. What you witness is a recognized landmark of a beaver head shaped rock yet the story behind this resemblance of a swimming beaver is legendary. It plays a significant part of the journey done by Lewis and Clark. Sacagawea, their Shoshone guide, recognized the rock from her childhood and knew immediately her people were nearby. Clark and his main party reached the rock on August 10, 1805 with eight dugout canoes. Lewis had passed this rock two days earlier and diverted on a well known Indian trail 60 more miles. The curvy, very twisted Beaverhead River curls like a snake below the rock formation. Clark believed he was still on the Jefferson River; which left the expedition party exhausted and running low on supplies.

The expedition was in desperate need from the tribal people of the area and Sacagawea’s memory gave them much wanted hope. “She assures us that we shall either find her people on this river [the Beaverhead] or on the river immediately west of its source; which from its present size cannot be very distant,” Meriwether Lewis wrote in his journal on August 8, 1805.

Lewis & Clark Expedition - Sacagawea Standing

Lewis & Clark Expedition – Sacagawea Standing

Years later the historical path became a stage stop near the formation. The stop was the hub between Virginia City and Bannack during the gold rush. The trail brought settlers, and prospectors. Ranchers used the area for ritual cattle drives. From 1860 to 1880s, this path was one of the most traveled in Montana. By 1920, everything was gone.
In 1975, Beaverhead Rock became a state park and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The 30 acre park is considered primitive and offers no amenities. The site is somewhat accessible, without a marked turnoff and a pretty rough road; but for the adventurous who love to hike then access is manageable. There are a couple great ways to see the swimming beaver shaped formation. One is from the top of Clark’s Lookout State Park in Dillon and the other is to drive about 14 miles south of Twin Bridges on Montana Highway 41. There is a pullout overlooking the park along with the historical information signs and a cool bird sculpture. The Beaverhead Gateway ranch wetlands now run close to the formation near the base of the bluff.
Near Beaverhead Rock State Park are other attractions such as Bannack State Park, historic Virginia and Nevada cities, and Clark’s Lookout State Park. Montana is home to some of the greatest history of old west times.

Beavertail Hill State Park

Beavertail Hill State Park

Missoula is known for its identification as a ‘river culture’. This is what makes Beavertail Hill State Park a contender for the continuing love of water. One half mile of the park is located on the Clark Fork River. Boating, fishing, and floating are all the favorite activities to take place here.

Beavertail Hill State Park

Beavertail Hill State Park

If you need more water, then head on over to the Beavertail fishing pond which is fully stocked with rainbow trout, perch and whitefish. As far as ponds go, this is a bigger pond which should be classified as a lake. Boating is carry in only. But feel free to jump in and take a swim. This is a grand area for family memories to happen. If you still feel the fishing bug…Rock Creek is only four miles away and brags that there are 700 fish per mile. Rock Creek is a famous Blue Ribbon stream.

The park is over 65 acres and with so much depth to it. If you are into bird watching or wildlife viewing this place is geared to show you a small herd of deer or an occasional moose. There are one hour walking nature trails through the Cottonwood trees which defines the ominous setting. Wild turkeys are a common sighting.
The amenities rate pretty high for this park as well. Bring the R.V., or the tents. There are spacious campsites offered at a ‘first come, first serve’ basis. But then again… there are always the two Sioux style tipis for rent. They are 18 feet in size and sleep 6 to 8 people. The tipis are very well taken care of and offer a camping experience of different kind, one that is reflective of history and earlier times. Other amenities are the picnic tables, fire grills and R.V hook ups. Beavertail Hill State Park also host interpretive programs on Friday summer nights in their Amphitheater. If you need firewood, that can be purchased on spot as well. A comfort station, toilets and drinking water are also included.
Historical reminders of the area lay as remnants to railroad past of the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroads. The railroad known as the “Old Milwaukee” was a unique route in a dozen states. This railroad was abandoned in 1980; leaving behind its legacy in old brick depots, electrical substations, and breathtaking tunnels. The park offers historical information on the Old Milwaukee Road.
Getting to Beavertail Hill State Park is an easy ride. Drive interstate 90 east of Missoula for about 26 miles until the sign prompts you the park is coming up. Take the exit #130, then drive approximately .25 mile south on Bonita Station Road to the park entrance. For those on their way to other destinations, this is a very convenient camping area as it is easily accessed from the freeway (and secretly hidden). The environment is better than any commercial campground. The park is open from May 1 to October 31.