Ross Creek Cedar Grove Hike, Scotchman Peaks, Montana

     Ross Creek Cedar Grove had been on my to-do list for years. I was heart broken a couple of years back during a bad fire season when it almost burned to the ground. We made the short drive from the campground to the trailhead to find 15 other cars already in the parking lot, I couldn’t believe it, this must be the busiest trailhead in the Bull River valley. We picked up the well trodden path as it entered a cool forest with a rich under story of ferns and mosses. We quickly found Ross Creek and made our way to the creek side for a closer look. Back on the trail we passed a talus slope before crossing Ross Creek on a sturdy bridge. Once across the creek we instantly noticed a change in the size of cedars as we happened across some of the oldest relics in the grove. The kids got a kick out crawling into and onto some of the old trees for photos. The trail system encompasses a couple of small loops marked with nature trail signs that guide you to some impressive specimens, some trees were 10 feet in diameter and over 200 feet tall! I was blown away by the grove and how amazing these trees were, I never expected to find trees this big. We eventually reached the far end of the loop where we decided to explore a little farther out on trail 142. I had delusions of grandeur of reaching a waterfall along the South Fork of Ross Creek but those aspirations were quickly deflated as I was outnumbered 3 to 1 after only venturing out anther quarter mile. The biggest cedars began to fade anyway so I decided to pick my battles wisely and turn around knowing we had a quite ambitious trail ahead of us tomorrow.  

     Back at the main trail system we went right to complete the loop which took us past some more behemoths to a dry creek bed. We were surprised to find that the entire drainage had been turned into a massive rock garden. There must have been several hundred cairns up and down the creek bed, some tall, some short, some stacked under downed trees to help support the dead weight, it was impressive. We bumped into some locals who told us that every spring the cairns are washed away by the high water then hikers rebuild them as the water recedes, pretty cool. We couldn’t get out of there without each of the kids putting together their own stack of rocks.  After lingering long enough we pressed on through the valley of giants until surprisingly the trail dissipated. We gently made our way cross country toward the masses of people starting the loop where we went right leaving the giants behind for a packed trailhead of maybe 30 cars. We packed up and headed out, on the drive back to camp we passed one awesome view of the valley down below and across the Bull River toward the towering peaks of the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, it was stunning. After the hike we explored down the highway a bit taking the turnoff along the South Fork Bull River, we drove the dirt road a ways to a bridge crossing of the creek where we enjoyed some berry picking and soaked our hot feet in the ice cold waters. After taking in the views over a snack we packed up and hit the road. Back at camp we traded out the hiking clothes for swimsuits before making our way to the beach for a bath and a swim. Ross Creek is a must if you are ever in the Bull River valley, we covered 1.7 miles total with about 150 feet of elevation gain.

     The beach was busy but we found a place to put down a couple of chairs. We watched the kids swim while enjoying a cold beverage when an older couple arrived behind us. I started with a hello which turned into a conversation about how the campground was full and how the nice camp host was putting them up for the night. Billy and Betty turned out to be a pretty cool couple from Kalispell who both retired from the forest service and now in their 70’s continue to climb mountains and paddle rivers. After chatting it up they returned to camp and a few minutes later us also for a dinner of stuffed pork chops, caesar salad and garlic bread topping it all off with a desert of s’mores by the fire. For more pictures click the link. Ross Creek Cedars Pictures


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