Tag Archives: National Scenic Trail

Bridger National Forest

Bridger National Forest

Wyoming

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Intermountain Region

1,744,705 acres (1,736,115 federal/ 8,590 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/btnf

Overview

The peaks of the Wind River Range not only represent the Continental Divide, but also a division between Bridger-Teton National Forest and Shoshone National Forest which happen to be in two different U.S. Forest Service Regions.  These mountains are our favorite place to go backpacking in the entire world with jagged peaks that rival the Teton Range for picturesqueness and a fraction of the visitors (except at overcrowded Titcomb Basin and the Cirque of the Towers).  Read more about our 120-mile trip on the Highline Trail in our newspaper article.

Highlights

Fremont Lake, Kendall Warm Springs, Green River Lakes, Wind River Range, Titcomb Basin, Periodic Spring geyser, Lake Alice, Wyoming Range National Recreation Trail, Highline Trail, Continental Divide National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

From Pinedale, Wyoming, a 50-mile partially-paved drive leads to the campground at Green River Lakes, which opens up into a beautiful valley that frames photogenic Squaretop Mountain.  Hiking around the northerly of the two lakes makes a great couple-hour jaunt, but if you are looking for a unique destination add the two-mile spur to fascinating Clear Creek Natural Bridge.  Here the water pours through and continues to widen a four-foot tall gap in the limestone.  Starting from the campground, the Highline Trail is a 72-mile one-way trek popular with backpackers.  The first ten miles are very flat following the river to Beaver Meadows, which offers 360° mountain views. 

Best Trail

Further south in the Wind River Range than stunning Squaretop Mountain, it is only eight miles from Big Sandy Trailhead to the Cirque of the Towers, which is famous among rock climbers and actually in neighboring Shoshone National Forest.  Even though there were a lot of campers back there, we found a secluded spot between Big Sandy Lake and Clear Lake in Bridger National Forest.  When we finally made it over 10,800-foot Jackass Pass to the cirque, it was full of fog and hail was dropping from the sky.  Although we have been back on a sunny day, that was the more memorable experience, which is why we selected a photo from that morning for the cover of our new guidebook Out in the Woods (see bottom of this post).

Watchable Wildlife

On the way to Green River Lakes outside Pinedale, Wyoming, make time for a quick stop at Kendall Warm Springs where the water is a constant 85°F but is protected from human bathing.  The main attraction is a fish less than 2-inches long, the endangered Kendall Warm Springs dace.  During spawning (which occurs frequently throughout the year due to the warm water), the males turn purple and the females light green.  U.S. Forest Service biologists keep careful track of the population and if you’re lucky, you’ll meet them when they are out there conducting a survey.  On the trails and roads, keep an eye out for moose, elk, mule deer, pronghorns, both black and grizzly bears, and badgers (even in the middle of the day).  Trout fishing is also a major attraction to this area’s many lakes and streams.

Instagram-worthy Photo

This incredible view of Squaretop Mountain and Green River Lakes is at the end of a long drive down a washboard dirt road; maybe that is why it is on the Wyoming license plate.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The long dirt roads back to the trailheads at Big Sandy and Green River Lakes are well maintained, and we have never had a problem accessing them in a passenger vehicle.  Limited parking when you get there is the bigger problem.

Camping

The campground at Green River Lakes has an incredible view of Squaretop Mountain (which is on the Wyoming license plate).  There are more dispersed campsites on the road to Big Sandy Trailhead than Green River Lakes.

Wilderness Areas

Bridger Wilderness

Related Sites

Shoshone National Forest (Wyoming)

Fossil Butte National Monument (Wyoming)

Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming-Montana-Idaho)

Nearest National Park

Grand Teton (Wyoming)

Conifer Tree Species

Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir, Douglas-fir, lodgepole pine, ponderosa pine, limber pine, whitebark pine

Flowering Tree Species

quaking aspen, Rocky Mountain maple, bog birch, Booth’s willow, red osier dogwood, sagebrush

Explore More – What is the entire length of the stream that is the only place where the endangered Kendall Warm Springs dace lives (before it pours into the chilly Green River, home to a genetically distinct dace population)?

Learn more about Bridger and the 154 other National Forests in our new guidebook Out in the Woods

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Bitterroot National Forest

Bitterroot National Forest

Montana, Idaho

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Northern Region

1,655,753 acres (1,587,070 federal/ 68,683 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/bitterroot

Overview

First established as the 4.1-million-acre Bitter Root Forest Reserve in 1898, the smaller Bitterroot National Forest today flanks both sides of Highway 93 and the Bitterroot River Valley.  This stretch of the Idaho-Montana border is rough, mountainous country and about half this National Forest is designated Wilderness (see below).  The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail follows a portion of the boundary between Bitterroot National Forest and Beaverhead National Forest, heading northeast from Lost Trail Pass where Highway 93 crosses into Idaho.

Highlights

Nez Perce Auto Trail, Lost Trail Pass, Lake Como, Magruder Massacre Site, Trapper Peak, Skalkaho Falls, Blodgett Canyon, Boulder Creek Falls, Palisade Mountain National Recreation Trail, Continental Divide National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

There are trails going west up seemingly every canyon in the Bitterroot Mountains, while Lost Horse Creek has a road that follows it nearly to the Idaho border.  Wildfire smoke obscured the views during our visit in July 2021, but the glacier-carved mountain scenery was still impressive on Blodgett Creek Trail.  We imagine on a clear day the views would rival California’s Yosemite Valley.  There are many more roads (and some trails) to explore in the Sapphire Mountains east of Highway 93.

Best Trail

Blodgett Creek Trail leads 12.6 miles one-way to Blodgett Lake, but you do not have to go that far to appreciate its incredible beauty.  The trail climbs steadily as it follows the creek, passing the memorial to smokejumper Don Mackey on its way to two waterfalls: the first at 4.5 miles hidden in a slot canyon and the second a wide cascade only a half-mile further (for a cumulative elevation gain of 1,637 feet).  Leaving from a nearby trailhead, Blodgett Overlook Trail is a steep 2.8 miles out-and-back.  A similar trek with outstanding views, Bear Creek Overlook Trail climbs about 1,000 feet as it switchbacks 2.6 miles one-way.

Watchable Wildlife

On our backpacking trip into Blodgett Canyon we saw bats, many trout and a beaver dam in the creek, plus a variety of bird life, including a dipper (or ouzel) and a hairy woodpecker.  We also heard hermit thrushes and pikas calling in the rocky scree slopes.  The Bitterroot and Sapphire Mountains are home to elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and moose, as well as mountain lions, black bears, and grizzly bears (which were reintroduced starting in 2003).  Wildlife watchers should drive the U.S. Forest Service’s Sula Deer, Elk, and Bighorn Driving Tour.

Instagram-worthy Photo

As you hike the Blodgett Creek Trail keep an eye on the ridgeline to the south for a massive natural arch that punches a hole in the skyline.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The last three miles to Blodgett Trailhead were well-groomed dirt road and the route from Hamilton, Montana had signs at every turn.

Camping

Located on a creek, Blodgett Campground (fee) seemed like a nice spot, though it was a bit noisy and smoky on a weekend in mid-July.  We also read that Deep Creek Campground is nice and is located near the ruins of a 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps camp.

Wilderness Areas

Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness (also in Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest)

Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness (also in Payette, Salmon-Challis, Boise, and Nez Perce National Forests)

Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness (also in Nez Perce, Clearwater, and Lolo National Forests)

[Allan Mountain Roadless Area]

Related Sites

Beaverhead National Forest (Montana)

Big Hole National Battlefield (Montana)

Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming-Montana-Idaho)

Nearest National Park

Glacier (Montana)

Conifer Tree Species

ponderosa pine, whitebark pine, lodgepole pine, Douglas-fir, western redcedar, subalpine larch, Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir, grand fir, western yew

Flowering Tree Species

quaking aspen, black cottonwood, bog birch, Rocky Mountain maple, red alder, red-osier dogwood, sagebrush

Explore More – How tall is Trapper Peak, the highest point in Bitterroot National Forest?

Beaverhead National Forest

Beaverhead National Forest

Montana

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Northern Region

2,199,013 acres (2,130,671 federal/ 68,342 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/bdnf

Overview

Co-managed since 1996, Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest is spread across multiple mountain ranges in the southwest corner of Montana.  The dividing boundaries between the two forests are unclear, though Beaverhead National Forest tends to be more southeast than Deerlodge National Forest and includes portions of the Beaverhead, Bitterroot, Centennial, Gravelly, Madison, Pioneer, Tendoy, and Tobacco Root Mountains.  Bordering Idaho’s Salmon National Forest, 7,323-foot Lemhi Pass is located on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.  This is where the Corps of Discovery crossed the Continental Divide in 1805 and is why the Sacajawea Memorial Area was established here in 1932.

Highlights

Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway, Lemhi Pass, Sacajawea Memorial, Chief Joseph Pass, Pintler Falls, Upper Potosi Hot Springs, Charcoal Kilns, Gravelly Range Auto Tour, Nez Perce National Historic Trail, Continental Divide National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

It is about a 17-mile drive from Harrison, Montana back to the free Potosi Campground, but it is well signed and worth the effort.  From here a 0.8-mile trail leads to Upper Potosi Hot Springs, a clear 100°F pool with room for about six adults.  Further west, about ten miles north of Highway 278, is the privately owned Elkhorn Hot Springs (fee), a great place to relax after hiking around Big Hole National Battlefield (managed by the National Park Service).  If you keep driving north on Wise River Polaris Road (FR 484), there are plenty of dispersed campsites and trailheads for several long hikes into the Pioneer Mountains.

Best Trail

We only hiked less than a mile trail to Upper Potosi Hot Springs, but that trail keeps climbing three miles to the top of the ridge.  We read good reviews for Louise Lake National Recreation Trail (see note on Road Conditions below), Pioneer Lake National Recreation Trail, Browns Lake Trail, Blue Creek Trail, Sand Lake/Lily Lake Trail, and Gold Butte Trail.  Hopefully we will make it back here to go backpacking someday.

Watchable Wildlife

Beaverhead National Forest still has most of its pre-settlement carnivores: grizzly bears, black bears, mountain lions, Canadian lynx, coyotes, and gray wolves.  Grazing ungulate species include moose, elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and pronghorns.  We saw bald eagles and ospreys on our drive out from Upper Potosi Hot Springs.  Mountain whitefish, golden trout, cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, brook trout, lake trout, arctic grayling, and burbot are some of the gamefish sought by fishermen.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The ruins of a developed hot springs resort (located on private land) are visible from Upper Potosi Hot Springs.  Watch for moose downhill in South Willow Creek and a cute little garter snake that hangs out in the rocks by the pool (possibly year round if it stays warm enough not to hibernate).

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The dirt roads to Potosi Campground and over Lemhi Pass are both in very good condition, but we do not know about all the other dirt roads that cross the Continental Divide.  We read the access road to Louise Lake National Recreation Trail is pretty rough, requiring four-wheel drive the last two miles.

Camping

There are more than 20 spots to set up at Potosi Campground, which is free and located near the trailhead for Upper Potosi Hot Springs.  You will want a high-clearance vehicle to drive across South Willow Creek to the official trailhead, but there are also pedestrian bridges.

Wilderness Areas

Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness (also in Deerlodge and Bitterroot National Forests)

Lee Metcalf Wilderness (also in Gallatin National Forest)

Related Sites

Deerlodge National Forest (Montana)

Big Hole National Battlefield (Montana)

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site (Montana)

Nearest National Park

Yellowstone (Wyoming-Montana-Idaho)

Conifer Tree Species

lodgepole pine, whitebark pine, ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir, subalpine larch

Flowering Tree Species

quaking aspen, balsam poplar, Bebb willow, sagebrush

Explore More – How tall is Hilgard Peak, the highest point in Beaverhead National Forest?

Arapaho National Recreation Area

Arapaho National Recreation Area

Colorado

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Arapaho National Forest

30,690 acres

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/attmain/arp/specialplaces

Overview

On the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park are the first of many dams across the Colorado River forming several lakes around Granby, Colorado.  Arapaho National Recreation Area contains five reservoirs, the largest of which is Lake Granby (but not including Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Lake).  Also nearby, Monarch Lake is the starting point for multiple trails into the Indian Peaks Wilderness.  Despite its proximity to the Denver metropolitan area, this untamed country is home to a variety of wildlife including moose, martens, and mountain lions, as well as the river otter and ouzel (or dipper) we saw during our January visit. 

Highlights

Lake Granby, Monarch Lake, Meadow Creek Reservoir, Roaring Fork Falls, Willow Creek Reservoir, High Lonesome Trail, Continental Divide National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

The largest reservoir in Arapaho National Recreation Area is Lake Granby, an area popular with snowmobilers and ice fisherman in the winter.  Summer is also a good time to visit when the lakes are unfrozen and available for boating, swimming, and other water sports.  That’s when backpackers on the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail prefer to come through here.

Best Trail

Snowshoers looking for some quiet can drive to the eastern end of Lake Granby and hike a mile to Monarch Lake on a road that is closed during the winter months.  Throughout the year, Monarch Lake is the starting point for multiple trails that climb into the high elevations of the Indian Peaks Wilderness, plus the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Under a blanket of snow, there is a majestic view from Monarch Lake looking at the Arapaho Creek Valley.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

During the summer, day-use fees apply at portions of Arapaho National Recreation Area, like Monarch Lake and boat launches.

Road Conditions

The road back to Monarch Lake and many others are closed seasonally due to heavy snow accumulations.

Camping

Campgrounds on the lakes fill up in the summer and even the dirt roads around the west entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park can be jam-packed with dispersed campers.

Related Sites

Curecanti National Recreation Area (Colorado)

Colorado National Monument (Colorado)

Dinosaur National Monument (Utah-Colorado)

Nearest National Park

Rocky Mountain (Colorado)

Lake Granby in summer

Explore More – When was Arapaho National Recreation Area established?

Arapaho National Forest

Arapaho National Forest

Colorado

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region

770,604 acres (724,678 federal/ 45,926 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/arp

Overview

Arapaho National Forest is managed jointly with Roosevelt National Forest and Pawnee National Grassland in northern Colorado.  Easily accessible from Interstate 70 west of Denver, the National Forest is best known for its many ski resorts.  Mt. Evans Highway and Guanella Pass Scenic Byway provide access to the high country in the summer when a rainbow of wildflowers bloom, both above and below treeline.

Highlights

Arapaho National Recreation Area, Mt. Evans, St. Mary’s Glacier, Guanella Pass Scenic Byway, Devil’s Thumb Lake, Berthoud Falls, Ute Peak, Boardwalk Trail, Continental Divide National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

Located just west of Denver, the Mount Evans Highway (the highest fully-paved road in North America) provides access to the rarely-seen world above 14,000 feet in elevation.  On the way up, a stop at Mt. Goliath Research Natural Area provides an interpretive hike through a forest of long-lived Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine trees.  Keep your eyes sharp for bighorn sheep and mountain goats along the road once you hit the switchbacks around Summit Lake.  While the Crest House is no longer in business near the summit, you can still park there and walk the remaining one-hundred feet to the top of the 14,264-foot peak for unsurpassed views.

Best Trail

The easiest way to access the aptly-named Never Summer Wilderness is from the Kawuneeche Valley in Rocky Mountain National Park.  You can backpack the 18-mile loop of Baker Gulch to Bowen Gulch in either direction, but keep an eye out for moose as we saw six along the way!  High elevation dwellers like yellow-bellied marmots and pikas were also abundant along the trail, which enters Routt National Forest on the west side of Fairview Mountain.

Watchable Wildlife

Moose and elk can be found throughout the National Forest, but are often easiest to locate around the west entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park.  Bighorn sheep and mountain goats are known to approach cars on the paved road to the top of Mt. Evans.  During our January visit to Arapaho National Recreation Area we spotted a river otter and ouzel (or dipper, a swimming songbird) in one of the few sections of unfrozen creek.

Instagram-worthy Photo

North of the ski resort town of Winter Park is Fraser Experimental Forest, managed by the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station.  In winter, roads within Fraser Experimental Forest are closed and turn into routes for cross-country skiers and snowshoers with no entry fee charged.

Peak Season

Summer

Fees

A $15 fee is charged per vehicle (or use your America the Beautiful pass) to drive the one-way Mt. Evans Highway during its short open season.  Also during the summer, day-use fees apply at Fraser Experimental Forest and Arapaho National Recreation Area.

Road Conditions

The road to the top of Mt. Evans is paved the whole way, but there are plenty of rough dirt roads to explore throughout Arapaho National Forest.  The road back to Monarch Lake is closed seasonally in Arapaho National Recreation Area.

Camping

Campgrounds fill up in the summer and even the dirt roads around the west entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park can be jam-packed with dispersed campers.  There are some scenic campgrounds around Fraser Experimental Forest near Winter Park, Colorado.

Wilderness Areas

Byers Peak Wilderness

Eagles Nest Wilderness (also in White River National Forest)

Indian Peaks Wilderness (also in Roosevelt National Forest)

Mt. Evans Wilderness (also in Pike National Forest)

Never Summer Wilderness (also in Routt National Forest)

Ptarmigan Pass Wilderness

Vasquez Peak Wilderness

Related Sites

Arapaho National Recreation Area (Colorado)

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument (Colorado)

Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site (Colorado)

Nearest National Park

Rocky Mountain (Colorado)

Conifer Tree Species

Engelmann spruce, Colorado blue spruce, subalpine fir, Douglas-fir, Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine, ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine

Flowering Tree Species

quaking aspen, Rocky Mountain maple, narrowleaf cottonwood, mountain ash, dwarf willow, Scouler willow, mountain willow, alpine fen willow, purple-twig willow, sandbar willow, Geyer’s willow, Wolf’s willow

Explore More – When did research begin in Fraser Experimental Forest on the response of conifer species to different harvesting techniques, insect outbreaks, and climate conditions?

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