Crystal Lake Hike, Mission Mountains Wilderness, Montana

     After sleeping in we eventually got moving, had some coffee, and fed the kids breakfast before loading up the truck and making our way to the Crystal Lake trailhead just a few miles up the road from camp. We loaded up the packs and hit the trail, we started out heading uphill a ways before crossing a small hill and entering an open hillside with sweeping views to the west toward Meadow Lake and beyond to Lindy Peak. Once across the meadow we crested another hill before heading down hill into the Crystal Creek drainage.  

    The grade was manageable, but the huckleberries were not, we slowed to a snail’s pace as we picked and snacked along the way, I don’t remember another trail where I had ran into so many huckleberries, they were downright prolific, and huge! We continued along the trail resisting with everything we had to keep from picking and soon passed the lone hiker of the day heading up hill out of the lake basin, wow, he must have gotten an early start.

    Not far after we passed the lone hiker we entered the Mission Mountain Wilderness area, a place I had yet to visit. These signs always take me home, to a place I value more than the home I make monthly mortgage payments to in Spokane. I always make a point of explaining to my children the value of these wild places and how they are to be protected for their children to see some day.

    Continuing down the trail we passed several old growth massive ponderosa pine, a tree that has grown on me since moving to the inland northwest, i just can’t get enough of the beautiful bark on these magnificent conifers, there is not a more attractive bark that i have yet laid eyes upon, except for maybe the coastal madrona. Approaching the valley floor we encountered a few streams and marshy areas with footbridges before reaching a vague trail junction where we went right and in short order found the lake, what a welcome sight.

     Once along the shore we continued west along the bank to a good swimming spot where we all donned the birthday suit and went for a dip. How lucky were we to have such a magnificent location all to ourselves! Yes, Glacier National Park is beautiful, but it is the solitude that I desire the most. From our own private beach we took in the view west toward the crest of the Mission Mountain range and its lofty peaks including Goat Mountain, Sugarloaf Mountain, High Park Peak, and Sunset Peak. It’s a damn shame we didn’t have time to explore Lost and High Park Lakes at the headwaters of the drainage just above us, but that’s the beauty of hiking, there is always something new just around the bend or over the next hill, it’s all about the adventure and the possibilities.  

    After cooling off for a bit we eventually got around to realizing how late it really was. We finished our lunch, packed up and left the beach exactly as we had found it before making the steep climb out of there. We made good time even with all the huckleberries, and eventually found the trailhead and made our way back toward camp. On the way out we made the mandatory side trip to Elbow Lookout which led us to a great camp offering sweeping views down toward the Swan River Valley and beyond to the Swan Range. After taking in the view we retreated back to camp for a lakeside swim and bath before settling into a steak and caesar salad dinner. We shut her down with campfire and s’mores for dessert, what an amazing day. The hike to Crystal Lake is well worth the effort at 5 miles and 1,000 feet of elevation gain. For more pictures visit my link.

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