The Splendor of Montana’s Jewel Basin Hiking Area
Story and Photography by Kelly Beasley
Located in northwestern Montana due east of Kalispell is an area of wilderness whose beauty rivals that of the popular Glacier National Park. The area, a favorite of the locals, is called Jewel Basin and it holds over fifteen thousand acres of unspoiled mountain wilderness. Within its boundaries are twenty-seven lakes and thirty-five miles of trails awaiting exploration. With offerings of hiking and fishing in the summer and snowshoeing in the winter, Jewel Basin is certainly not lacking in adventure.
Getting up to the Jewel Basin parking area can be a challenge. The journey consists of a narrow gravel road with ridges and switchback curves hugging some vertical drop-offs that just might induce acrophobia and sweaty palms. The road is only five miles long, but it can take a whopping thirty minutes to reach the top, depending on the time of year. (Later in the summer, the road’s condition tends to worsen.) On my trips up, I frequently found my hands tightening around the steering wheel and I wondered, “Why am I doing this? Is it really worth it?”
I knew the answer almost immediately: I was making this harrowing drive for the same reason that so many others do it. It was because of my love for nature and beauty, and I knew that the risks of continuing up the hazardous road were completely worth the treasure at the top.
About three-quarters of the way up, vertical drop-offs at the edges of the road allow for the occasional view of the Flathead Valley, and further in, of the mountains across the way. All the mountains are nearly covered with grand pines that tower up into the air and resemble a thick wall of giant Christmas trees. The dusty wildflowers along the road are merely a tease for the show of brightly colored flowers that line the trails ahead.
Once the rocky mountaintops came into view, I was smitten. The trees opened up to offer a view of the mountain range that only God could create.
Once you make it to the parking lot—Camp Misery—there are two trails to choose from, both of which expand into many other trails. One is located right next to the ranger station and the other to the right of a nearby announcement board.
I chose the path beside the ranger station. It has a lot of switchbacks, but the climb is relatively comfortable. Thick vegetation threatens to intrude on the narrow trail if it goes unused for any length of time. Huckleberries line the trail intermittently, offering up delicious little rewards along the way. Tall pines protect you from the sun for about half of your hike. Foliage, roots, and trees offer interesting geometric shapes and patterns for your eyes to explore. If you are lucky, you might spot a mountain goat, a bear, or an elk. Chipmunks, squirrels, and butterflies are often seen along the way.
Along the first part of the hike, I passed returning hikers. Then, slowly, the forest became intimately mine. She impressed me with her small meadow openings, wildflowers, rocks, and roots along the path, in addition to grand-scale views of mountaintops across the valley. At one point, the trail was only as wide as the width of my two feet, and the thick vegetation down below masked the fact that the drop-off was steep and dangerous.
I hiked on the Mount Aeneas Trail (#717) but did not reach the peak due to time constraints. Still, the trail’s beauty was straight out of a storybook. Once the rocky mountaintops came into view, I was smitten. The trees opened up to offer a view of the mountain range that only God could create. It struck me that we are all small, fragile beings who are blessed to be on this magnificent planet for any length of time.
I am sure that I have not seen all the beauty this area has to offer. I have been on a few hikes at Jewel and have barely scratched her surface. There are lakes, waterfalls, and miles of trails still awaiting discovery. I will have to hike deeper into the area for that.
You can bet that I will.
— V —
Visit www.discoverkalispell.com/communities-attractions/jewel-basin for more information on the trails of Jewel Basin in the Flathead National Forest of northwestern Montana.