Fall in Love with the Jewel Basin

Fall might just be Northwest Montana’s best-kept secret in Glacier Country. It’s our favorite time of year to strap on the old hiking boots, pack the camera and binoculars, and gain some elevation. Cooler temperatures, vibrant fall foliage, wildlife aplenty and crowd-free trails. These are just a few of the reasons why we love it. You don’t have to be in Glacier National Park to have a “Glacier” experience. Make your way to the Camp Misery trailhead and fall in love with the Jewel Basin. Located in Montana’s Glacier Country, Bigfork, Montana is nestled on the north shore of the Flathead Lake and offers a wide range of year-round multi-use trails. Its ideal location allows for quick access to trails in and around Flathead National Forest’s 15,000+ acre Jewel Basin Hiking Area.

We recommend setting your sights on this specially designated hiking and camping only area this time of year.

Trails lead through forests of spruce, fir and whitebark pine, with much of the trail system above treeline. It’s fairly crowd-free, but frequented enough that it’s less likely you’ll run into sportsman during hunting season. Don’t forget your blaze orange! It’ll enhance those insta-worthy photos. The Jewel Basin is a day hiker’s paradise and less than a half-hour drive from downtown Bigfork. The area is studded with 25 alpine lakes and offers 35 miles of hiking trails with expansive views of the Flathead Valley to the west and Hungry Horse Reservoir and Great Bear Wilderness to the east. Fishing for native cutthroat trout in alpine lakes and migratory bird watching from the ridgelines tends to be excellent in the fall.

Tip: Flathead Audubon has a project in the area and does daily bird counts, if you’re looking to rub elbows with those in the know when it comes to our feathered friends.

Hikes range from easy to strenuous depending on which route you choose, but all trails involve some elevation gain. Summit the signature Mount Aeneas Trail #717 and be greeted by resident mountain goats (option to loop down into the belly of the Jewel) or hike the longer family-friendly Birch Lake Trail #724 & Crater Lake. The trail options are endless in the Jewel Basin! Tip: Montana Wilderness Association often hosts trail service projects and Wilderness Walks.

Don’t forget your bear spray! Bears are still active well into the fall months before they settle into hibernation after the snow begins to fall.

Jewel Basin is certainly a gem in the Crown of the Continent and we encourage you to discover why we’re so passionate about it. It’s important that we don’t love it to death, so practice “Leave No Trace” principles and follow rules and regulations to ensure this special place will be wild for generations to enjoy. Happy Trails! Directions: From Bigfork, Montana most access via Camp Misery, at the end of Jewel Basin Road off Foothill Road. Expect parking lot to be crowded on weekends. Check out www.crownofthecontinent.natgeotourism.com for detailed driving instructions and Jewel Basin Hiking Area Map. Rules and Regulations: All dogs must be on leashes, Group size is limited to 12. Camping permits are not required. No mountain bikes, horses or motorized vehicles are allowed. Click HERE for more information on rules and regulations or contact Flathead National Forest- Hungry Horse Ranger District at 406-387-3800. For specific information regarding stocked lakes, contact the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, 490 Meridian Road in Kalispell, at 406-755-2701.

By Sheena Pate
Sheena Pate of Columbia Falls, Montana, project coordinator for the Crown of the Continent Geotourim Council, is passionate about bringing people together to work towards sustaining the character of geographical places. She was drawn to the Crown of the Continent region (Montana, Alberta, & British Columbia) over 10 years ago, because of its distinct communities and access to unspoiled landscapes. It is her belief that geotourism can effectively sustain regional businesses, preserve community character and promote conservation. She can be found exploring waters with her fly fishing guide husband or blazing trails by foot or on skis with son and dog in tow. Learn more about Crown of the Continent HERE.

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