July 5, 2013

Hiking up, up, up to Canyon Lake


Last weekend, with temperatures rising into the 90s around western Montana, we decided to hike up to a lake in the Bitterroot Mountains.

We've hiked the Canyon Lake trail a few times before, but for various reasons never gone all the way to the lake, instead turning back about halfway up the steepest section at an overlook of Canyon Falls. This time, we continued the rest of the way up and found the lake a refreshing spot to stop for lunch.


From the trailhead, the route quickly enters dense forest, roughly paralleling the Canyon Creek to the north. Here, we found an abundance of hairy cat's ear and queen's cup wildflowers.

The trail continues through the forest, occasionally meeting the creek or an opening in the trees revealing the rocky cliffs on the north side of the canyon, for about four miles. Along the way, we began to see beargrass, which is in profusion around western Montana this summer.

After reaching a fairly open aspen stand along the creek where the dogs could could cool off, the trail begins a steep, switchbacked climb up the canyon wall and out of the forest.


About halfway up, the trail reaches the rocky shelf that provides a views of the falls and down the valley to Hamilton. Continuing the climb, we found more wildflowers, including red monkeyflower, larkspur, phlox and purple shooting stars.


The trail re-enters the trees, crosses the high point of the hike, then descends back to the creek and a short distance to the lakeshore at about 5 1/2 miles.


At the lake, several campsites are available and there are several spots on the shore that provide easy access to the water.

After some food and a swim - despite the patches of lingering snow around the lake - we turned back down the canyon and, eventually, the road home.


Here are more pictures from Canyon Lake.

Distance: 11 miles round trip to Canyon Lake.

Trailhead: Just north of Hamilton on U.S. Highway 93, turn west on Bowman Road. After about 3/4 mile, turn south on Ricketts Road. In about 2 miles, the road turns west and continues on Blodgett Camp Road, stopping at an intersection. Continue on Blodgett Camp for about 2 1/2 miles, turning north. Turn west at the intersection with Canyon Creek Road, following the sign, and continue about 2 3/4 miles to the trailhead.