Scalplock Lookout (Glacier National Park) 18-Aug-2008

Scalplock Lookout Glacier National Park Montana

In August, we went on a major roadtrip through the Western U.S., stopping for a few dayhikes along the way. Our goal was hikes that were local favorites, rather than major tourist attractions. We had explored some of the more familiar hikes around Logan Pass in the heart of Glacier National Park but had been put off by the heat and crowds. {We would subsequently learn that the best time to visit Glacier is between the last week in August and the middle of September, when most folks holidays are over.} While staying at the Izaak Walton Inn in Essex, Montana, we learned of  the Scalplock Lookout Trail, located at the very southern tip of the Park and well away from the usual tourist venues.

This trail starts just off Highway 2 across from Essex and parallels the Middle Fork of the Flathead River for about a mile before starting to climb.

Scalplock Lookout Glacier National Park Montana
Along the Flathead and through the woods

There’s an amazingly wobbly suspension bridge (pack animals get to wade across just downstream),

Scalplock Lookout Glacier National Park Montana
The LovedOne tests the bridge

with a “One Hiker at a Time” warning sign that we’ve rarely seen on National Park Service bridges.  The climb out of the valley reminded me of the Gorton Creek Trail in the Columbia River Gorge and was sufficiently Gorge-like to include both traffic noise (Highway 2) and train whistles (BNSF freight).

Scalplock Lookout Glacier National Park Montana
Looking down on the smokey Flathead River and Highway 2

There was wildfires burning all around this area and the smoke from those pretty much killed our hopes for grand views from the ridge and the lookout.  The best snapshots we could manage were some not totally fuzzed by the smoke and haze.  The ridge just below the summit was a meadow alive with wildflowers (the season is a little later this far north).

Scalplock Lookout Glacier National Park Montana
Wildflowers along the ridge
Scalplock Lookout Glacier National Park Montana
Mountain Aster

On the summit (6,919 feet) we found a working lookout with a fire warden on duty. He explained that there was a fire about 40 miles away that was causing the smoke and haze we were seeing.

Scalplock Lookout Glacier National Park Montana
Scalplock Lookout

The lookout had an unobstructed (smoke aside) view of the Beartooth Wilderness to the south and of Mount Saint Nicholas, one of the major mountaineering summits in the southern end of the Park, to the north. The “standard” route comes in from the left and then follows the ridge directly facing us to the summit. It is not a walk-up.

Scalplock Lookout Glacier National Park Montana
Mount Saint Nicholas through the smoke

Aside from the warden, we saw just two other hikers the whole day (versus the 50+ we’d encountered at Logan Pass). Just as we got back (9 miles; 3,000 feet of elevation gain) to the trailhead, the weather turned, and it started raining. Good excuse to sit on the porch at the lodge enjoying a fermented beverage (something a little stronger than Kombucha).


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