What a beautiful day! Time to explore Jewel Basin, 15,349 acres in the Swan Mountains, west of Glacier National Park in northwest Montana. The Jewel is dedicated to hiking–no bicycles, no horses, and nothing motorized–boasting 27 alpine lakes and 35 miles of trails. Twin Lakes is a five-mile round trip excursion that I can’t resist, so let’s go!
The trailhead is at Camp Misery, which locals say was named for the place a local tribe spent a terrible winter. This is easy to understand once you know that this particular area is known for snowfalls measured in feet rather than inches. So we begin our walk at 5,742 feet above sea level on a gorgeous mid-summer day.
The flowers, shrubs, and undergrowth are high and wide obscuring the trail without careful attention. As the trail widens, we head up looking for the Trail #8 sign pointing our way to Twin Lakes.
There’s the wooden sign, nailed high on a tree, so we head right and flowers are everywhere. Suddenly the view is clear to our left and we see a Swan Mountain ridge line. We are walking over dry creek beds along the trail confirming the drought conditions of northwest Montana.
Let’s check for a Trail #8 sign at this major junction of six trails. The wooden signs are wearing by weather and time, but I don’t see a sign for Trail #8, do you? Let’s head straight just a little while longer.
Oh my, what a view! The Swan River winding through the valley and Flathead Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River in the lower 48 states. The lake covers 191.5 square acres. It is 27.3 miles long and up to 15.5 miles wide with a maximum depth of 370.7 feet. It is also proud to be known as one of the cleanest lakes in the populated world for its size and type.
Here comes a group of fisherman. I think it is time to ask directions to Twin Lakes. My map is not helping from where we stand. They are most helpful explaining that there are two ways from here to get to Twin Lakes. We can either return to the last junction and take a sharp right over top of the mountains or return to the original sign for Trail #8 and turn right. Since I have trouble with steep climbs, looks like a 3/4 mile return trip to the original Trail #8 sign. Sigh. Well, it is a beautiful day.
What a surprise on the way back. A Red Admiral butterfly. There’s some False Nettle on the hillside which hosts this butterfly, but this time of year they look for nectar.
Ah, the original Trail #8 sign. Let’s look closer. There it is, almost worn away, a second arrow pointing the opposite way than what we traveled. Wait, I don’t even see a trail there. Oh yes, very hidden by masses of flowers and thick undergrowth. Let’s go! The trail finally widens a bit and we are on our way. What amazing broad-leaved very tall plants to our right with such interesting green flowers.
They stand about six feet tall and are Green False Hellebore or Corn Lily. It may look magnificent, but it is extremely poisonous in small doses. Let’s not stop to make tea.
The trail opens up and we walk along the mountainside. This is a lot of steep climbing, and you know I don’t do well with steep hikes. Back to huffing and puffing and resting. From the trailhead we will climb another 770 feet, but this trail has long flats and sudden steeps which is very challenging. Careful of those rocks and the dramatic drop on the left. Take your time.
The flowers growing here are so vivid getting bright sun much of the day. The pink to magenta Fireweed, growing up to six feet tall, washing down the mountainside.
The colorful reds, yellows, purples, and greens, some of which have grown sun weary turning shades of brown. Watch your step.
We are treated to a Green Comma butterfly, sometimes called Green Angelwings. They are a little more easy going than many butterflies and let us get close.
We round a bend heading higher up the mountain and suddenly we have another wonderful view. See the rough gravel road, Jewel Basin Road (Forest Service Road #5392), that climbs five miles up the mountain to Camp Misery trailheads? What a lovely view of northern Flathead Lake and the many smaller lakes in the valley.
We edge around the mountain looking for the “notch” that takes us over the mountain to Twin Lakes. We are getting close now.
Heading around the bend we come to rockfall known as talus. If the sun were not so strong, we’d stop and look for pikas, small rodent-like mammals, and marmots, a member of the squirrel family that resembles a groundhog. Both live in this type of rocky terrain.
Our last long climb to the forest “notch”. Can we take this one slow?
Along the trail we again see flowers that lead us to the forest. Here we see Pearly Everlasting. It can be found in many habitats, including on mountains.
We are also walking through a sea of Thimbleberry. This time of year the beautiful large white flowers have faded and the red berries have yet to form in place of the flowers. Come fall, these berries are a favorite of bears preparing for hibernation.
At last, we made it! Twin Lakes. Could they be more beautiful? It is another 200 feet down to either lake’s edge, so I’ll wait here if you’d like to go down. It’s the coming back up that is always my issue, huff, puff, huff, puff. It is so beautiful here though, I’ll wait here and have some lunch.
We are refreshed, had something to eat, and are ready for the return to Camp Misery. Back over the “notch” and down we go. The flowers and the view continue to inspire all the way down the mountain, not to mention the huckleberries we found along the trail. Resembling very small blueberries, they can still be tart but will ripen over the summer. Yum.
Success! Back at the Camp Misery trailhead and time to rest a bit. Well, our five-mile round trip hike turned into a six and a half-mile trek. We did good! It is time to head down the mountain and back to the lodge, but the beauty of this walk rests on my heart. Until next time my friend . . .