As with many National Parks, Glacier is surrounded by a National Forest, Flathead National Forest to be exact. I don’t quite know why they don’t just lump it all together, but I’m sure there’s specific rules about what’s a park and what’s a forest so I’m not going to worry too much about it.
I feel like National Forests get a little bit forgotten about because people are so much more interested in the Parks, but there are some pretty amazing hikes and adventures within the National Forests as well.
Jewel Basin, Mt Aeneas Hike
Actually, one of my favorite hikes I did while in Montana was in Flathead, Jewel Basin. It’s called Jewel Basin because from the summit of Mt. Aeneas, the handful of lakes you see look like little jewels with the sun reflects off of them just right. It’s a lovely sight. The mountains in the background are in Glacier National Park. Since this hike is outside of the park, it’s also free (aka you don’t have to pay the park fee to hike it). It’s completely worth it to spend a day outside of the park adventuring.
The hike is about 6 miles roundtrip but it’s a pretty hefty climb with plenty of switchbacks. Take Jewel Basin Rd up to the trailhead. You can access this hike from the Camp Misery Parking lot, which is already at an elevation of 5,700 feet. Take trail 717, the one that passes the ‘Microwave Tower’ and continue on to the peak of Mt. Aeneas at 6,400 feet. There are views above, of Glacier and also views, below, on the other side looking out onto Flathead Valley and Lake.
The last half mile is along a ridge, see below, up to the peak of the mountain.
Jewel Basin is a great beginners challenge hike, since it’s shorter and for experienced hikers, it’s a moderate hike that can be done in a few hours. There are also many families of mountain goats on this hike, and you are bound to see one stumble right past you, especially at the Microwave Tower.
Within the National Forest, there’s the tiniest little village called Polebridge. It’s along North Fork Road, in the northwest part of the forest, very close to the Canadian border. The drive there more than half on a dirt/gravel road, so it’s slow going, but it’s a very remote and beautiful drive and well worth it.
And here’s the little sign and road leading into the little Polebridge, and all that’s listed is literally all that is there. It’s lovely. Below that is a look at half of what’s in Polebridge, just little cabins and mountains.
Now, the “main attraction” in Polebridge and why many people visit there is for Polebridge Mercantile, a general store with the best pastries and light lunch options. I grabbed a world famous huckleberry bear claw pastry and sat outside on the porch in the misty late morning and I couldn’t help but fall in immediate love. It’s funny how places can do that to you, make you fall instantly in love, even more so than people for me sometimes. This place is a must see if you are in the Glacier area.
Also, by trekking up to Polebridge, you get to see what is called the Northfork part of the area. It’s much more remote and feels more like wilderness, which, of course, I appreciate. Like, I said, it’s definitely worth the 2 hour trip that I took to get there.
Take some time and explore more of Flathead National Forest because I only got a small glimpse in the time I was there and I’m sure it’s all well worth it.