Natural beauty is synonymous with the word Montana. Anywhere one ends up in this lovely state there is bound to be a mountain to hike, a river to float, or a ghost town to get into. The Treasure State surely lives up to its name in more ways than one. Growing up and exploring this state has provided many uniquely Montana moments and memories. In the following post I’ll highlight some exceptional places off the beaten path to experience the Montana that most do not see.
One of the best and certainly highest views in the Bitteroot range usually comes with some snow. Breathtaking is an understatement when referring to both the views and the hike itself. The trail starts off in series of rather steep switchbacks, it gently ascends up the ridge afterwards until the treeline. Overall this is a moderate intensity hike for most people. Looking out onto the Bitteroot Valley and the glacial lakes below from atop this peak is surely something that everyone needs to add to their bucket-list.
Kootenai creek reminds me of the good parts of the Oregon coast right here in Montana. As soon as you leave the car at the trailhead you enter this rare little slice of heaven where prominent rock faces on both sides focus one’s attention onto the swift flowing alpine creek in the bottom of the valley. The first few miles follow this creek and some side trails up the mountain provide for some great views. In the summer it’s not uncommon to find rock-climbers on these intimidating faces. Anytime of year is good for this breathtaking scenery.
The road up to this lake is surely the first thing to mention. Above the lake lies an old mine and to get to that mine there is an old and very rocky road. As a kid the way up always scared me to death as the large rocks in culmination with a steep drop off always had me walking through the what ifs in my head. Rounding the last corner and finally seeing the abandoned mining cabins was always a relief, but actually seeing that crisp blue mountain lake truly made that nerve-wracking trip worthwhile. Exploring the area and what remains of the cabin and mines gives some hints as to the history of this place, but one of the bigger stories that hangs on this mountain was the nearly fatal mountaineering accident Hank Williams Jr. suffered here. Ajax lake is certainly one of the better mountain lakes out there for its combination of fishing, beauty, and history; an unforgettable road for an unforgettable experience.
Coolidge Ghost Town
This isn’t Virginia City nor Garnet, way up in the Pintler range sits a ghost town that looks like it could actually have ghosts. Houses melt into the ground and trees, while the only sound comes from the creek flowing right next to the main street. An old mining camp is the main feature here with a 100 year glimpse back into an entirely different style of living. Once you make it to the parking area the short walk follows the old road right into town. With some further exploration behind this town one will find some beautiful yet trail-less alpine lakes. Ultimately the place feels as abandoned as it looks. This is a truly authentic ghost town, waiting to be explored.
Blog Post by Devin Carlson