Autumn is one of the best times to hike, but as the days shorten and the school season intensifies, it seems there is less time to be on the trail. That’s why I was determined to head to Glacier this past weekend for a longer hike before the snow flies.
Knowing what to expect in the fall
Weather is a key consideration at this time of the year, and while it didn’t appear that rain or snow would be an issue, with forecasted gusts closing in on 40 mph, we knew wind was a factor. Our initial plan was to hike to Scenic Point, a roughly 8 mile round trip with 2300 ft in elevation gain, offering spectacular views of Rising Wolf and into the Two Medicine Valley since the parking lot is usually filled very early in the day in July and August.
Exploring the side roads
During the summer, the goal is to leave Great Falls as early as possible in order to secure a parking spot, regardless of where we want to hike. In the fall, it’s not quite as pressing so we pulled out of town around 6:30, and made a stop near Heart Butte to pick up my friend, Rachael. I’ve driven past the Heart Butte sign off of Hwy 89 thousands of times, but never ventured that direction, partly because it was out of the way on my focused mission heading to the park, but partly because Heart Butte is the type of town where a high school sporting event is called because there is a grizzly eating a horse carcass at the end of the field. Heart Butte is on its own level.
We picked up Rachael who took us up the road that ends up just outside of Browning pointing out families and events along the way. It’s about 10 miles longer, but it’s like being introduced to the neighborhood, plus I’m a big fan of local history and knowing the back roads. Expanding the journey is part of the adventure.
Starting Scenic Point
After stopping to watch a little black bear cross the road on our drive into Two Medicine, we arrived at Scenic Point shortly after 9. I was relieved that there was only 1 other car in the parking lot. We made our way up the trail, yet as we gained elevation, the wind was more brutal, sometimes knocking us off balance. We walked past my favorite tree, a limber or whitebark pine that died years ago, mostly likely from blister rust. It is huge, over a foot in diameter, for this particular area, and I can only imagine what it’s witnessed over the years (probably centuries). With gnarled, whitened branches, to me it is the symbol of wisdom and experience.
After being blown and battered for over a mile along the route, we decided to turn around and try Rockwell Falls, which primarily winds its way through the trees. By the time we returned to the Scenic Point parking area, there were many more vehicles, but what really surprised me is the main parking area at Two Medicine was full just before noon. We had to park in the overflow parking area. The camp store is already boarded up and winterized. Plus, the dock from the boat is out of the water, and the Sinopah is already tucked away in its boat house. Even though there were still a lot of people, these are signs that the season is truly winding down.
Opting for Rockwell Falls
The walk to Rockwell Falls was pleasant and easy. Squirrels chattered at us on occasion, and I was amazed at the numbers of fall mushrooms. I could identify the boletes, but there were many more I need to research. The meadows once filled with flowers were warm golds and browns, although a few hardy asters still offered nectar to the remaining bees and insects.
The large suspension bridge on the way to the falls is always a highlight with a goal of not making it shake like crazy while crossing it.
The falls were particularly lovely flowing with more water than expected at the end of the season, and many flowers, such as mallows and arnica, still bloomed along its edges. We grabbed a bite, took a few pictures, then had to continue back in order to be on the road early enough to drive in the daylight. (I’m not a fan of driving after dark around here, particularly since the deer are more active lately.)
On the hike back, there was a cow moose feeding in one of the far beaver ponds. It took some maneuvering in one area to see over the willows, but we finally found a good opening to watch her and take photos.
We made it back to the car by 4-ish so made it home long before the witching hour happy to enjoy a pleasant outing in the park once again. While I like to go to an area with a plan, this day demonstrates that having the flexibility to switch gears often works out better. There’s no doubt Scenic Point is beautiful, but by visiting Rockwell Falls instead, we noticed the fall fungi, was able to have more conversations (because the wind would’ve drowned it out otherwise), and see the moose on the way back. That’s what I call a good day.