Friday, September 4, 2015

Red Lodge, MT, Two Weeks in a Mountain Paradise!

We'd never have known about Red Lodge, MT if not for a chance encounter with fellow RVers during our stay in Desert Hot Springs last fall. Its location along the Beartooth Highway and nestled up against the Beartooth Mountains makes it an outdoor enthusiasts paradise.

Red Lodge sits at 5,568 feet and has just over 2,000 people, though I don't know if those are year round residents...the winters are cold! But even winter is popular here, there is a ski resort just a few miles from town. We were amazed at the number of streams and creeks in this area and many lakes can be found in the Beartooth Mountains, so fishing is popular as well.

The town has a number of charming shops, not overly touristy, and plenty of places to eat and drink. The Friday afternoon farmers market was small but well vended and attended, many of the produce vendors also sell at the excellent Billings farmers market on Saturdays.

They even have a brewery, Red Lodge Ales, whose tasty beers are sold all over Montana and Wyoming. The brewery offers tours and food and a pleasant location for a pint or two.

We were fortunate to meet several other couples at our RV park and one evening a few of us went into town to see the Red Elvises. This lively band tours the country constantly...if they come to your town, SEE THEM! They are a ton of fun!

Red Lodge is a really wonderful little town in a terrific location, we'd stay here again in a heart beat!

Downtown Red Lodge

Deer and turkey are often seen in yards around town.
In fact, turkey hunting season can bring hundreds into town for safety!

Red Lodge Ales has a terrific venue on the North end of town.
Hans plays cornhole while sipping a delicious Helio Hefeweizen.
I really enjoyed the Jack's 90 Scottish Ale.

The Red Elvises...SO MUCH FUN!

While we rarely saw large animals out on the trail, we did see LOTS of animals in town. Mostly turkey and deer...but the highlight was seeing this huge black bear! He must have weighed four hundred pounds.

We'd heard he was seen around town regularly so we would drive around hoping to see him, when finally one day Hans spotted him on the east hillside, not 100 yards from homes. As we watched he ambled around the hillside and then went in his den...scarily close to homes and only a couple of blocks from downtown.

Those are power lines cutting across the photo, he is very close to homes.

This is a BIG bear!

It was amazing how fast he could cross a hillside.

Love the tongue sticking out!
We were shocked when he went into a hole in those rocks just out of sight!

That black hole in the rocks is the bears den!
We were sitting in our truck probably 50 yards away.

Campground Review
There are many forest service campgrounds near Red Lodge and even some dispersed camping sites as well. But we like our hookups so we stayed at Perry's RV Park and Campground, just a couple of miles south of town.

Perry's has 50 RV sites with water and electric, some are right off the highway and some are down near Rock Creek. There are also numerous tent sites. Upon arrival we learned that it is okay to dump your grey water in the bushes/trees and they also let us borrow their Gator and dump tote to dump our black tank mid-stay, sweet!

We were in pull through site 34 down on the creek level. Though our neighbors were pretty close we were still situated for maximum privacy and it was very quiet at night. Some sites back up to Rock Creek, though none of those were available for our entire stay. Weekends were quite busy at this park and we learned that many folks were repeat visitors...this is a friendly, well located place to stay.

The park does not offer internet but we had good Verizon signal. Restrooms and showers are available and the owners are building a new restroom and laundry facility that will be ready to go next summer. In the meantime, the laundromat in town is excellent.

One important thing to be aware of: there is a black bear that lives somewhere near the RV park and is a regular visitor in the park! We're told it is a two year old, and it looks to be about two hundred pounds. We'd heard stories of him coming through camp (even rocking a car that someone was sleeping in!) and I finally saw him one morning while out walking Rosie.

Site #34.

Rosie hanging out by Rock Creek.

Hans using the Gator and dump tote.

Ruffed grouse came through the RV park several times...they were not afraid of people at all!

The local bear about 40 feet away from me!

We shared several evenings with Rick and Trudy, our next door neighbors.

Today we're off to Cody, WY where we'll stay through the holiday weekend.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

A Sampling of Hikes Near Red Lodge, MT

Outdoor recreation opportunities abound in Red Lodge, MT. We spent almost two weeks in this charming town and hit the trail every single day, most often within 15 miles of our RV park. Nordic sports, hiking, fishing and hunting are all a big deal around here and information on your particular sport is easy to come by.

There is lots of wildlife in this area and we were constantly on the lookout for turkey, deer, moose, elk and bear, including grizzlies. We rarely saw any on the trail, though we talked to folks who generally saw large mammals near the trailhead. Our best wildlife sightings were always near town! Carrying bear spray is a very good idea on every trail in this area.

The local Ranger Station sits at the south end of town and has decent one page trail maps for groups of hikes in the area available for free. They also have a 1991 Beartooth Mountains Oil and Gas Leasing Environmental Impact Map that includes all trails in existence at that time and they give it out for free; we used this for our hikes off the Beartooth Highway.

I also discovered the very helpful Beartooth Recreational Trails Association (BRTA) website. Built and maintained by locals, this site gives excellent, brief hike details for everything within 20 miles of town.

Here is a brief synopsis of the trails we hiked. Access details for each of them are available on the BRTA website.

Lake Fork Trail
The local tourist magazine dubs this the "best-loved trail around". Starting out at 7,202 feet, you can hike 9.5 miles to Sundance Pass and hookup with the West Fork Trail for a very long hike or backpack. We chose to hike five miles to Lost Lake. The first three or so miles along a beautiful creek are a gentle ascent, the next 1.5 a bit steeper, but nothing too extreme. We even saw a moose at the far end of Lost Lake, too far away for a decent photo though! This is a very popular trail and you are likely to see others along the way.

Lost Lake's dramatic setting.
We saw several large (18") trout in this lake.

Parkside Trail
We hiked Parkside on a day when we wanted easy and this rolling two mile jaunt was just the ticket. Starting at 7,150 feet, the trail runs near several forest service campgrounds along Rock Creek. It goes through pretty lodgepole forest and across a meadow with a view, it's a nice leg stretcher.

View up Rock Creek Canyon.

A surprise in the forest.

West Fork Rock Creek Trail
This was my favorite near-to-town hike of our stay. Starting at 7,919 feet you can hike 11 miles to Sundance Pass and connect to the above mentioned Lake Fork trail for a beautiful backpack trip. We chose to hike about four miles before we turned around.

The first two miles of trail go through forest burned in 2008, I found the resurrection of life in this burned landscape to be endlessly interesting. Many tiny streams flow out of the mountainside, creating lush green swaths of life, small pines are sprouting everywhere and stands of young aspen provide green relief. Raspberries were ripe all along the trail and it was easy to see that flowers had been abundant just weeks before our arrival. There are also two wonderful waterfalls on West Fork Rock Creek in those first two miles.

After the second waterfall the skeletal burnt forest ends and the healthy lush forest begins, the contrast is striking. Wide spots along the creek spread into golden meadows and views into the Beartooth Mountains. Moose and elk sign was abundant here and we just knew they were watching us under cover of forest.

Sweet, tiny raspberries provided snacks and kept us alert for bears.

We've been amazed at the volume of water cascading out of the Beartooth Mountains!


Face of the Mountain Trail
This hike is best done on a cool day because there's not much shade. But the lack of trees makes for some awesome views. Starting at 5,680 feet you can take this trail for 12 miles. We chose to hike the first three miles and 1,700 feet of elevation gain to a saddle with some incredible views. The first mile or so crosses private cow pasture, then the trail switchbacks its way up the original road bed to the Beartooth Pass.

Clearing the cows on the drive to the trailhead.

As we switchbacked up the mountain the views just got better and better (despite the smoke haze).
Those rock formations in front of Hans are called palisades and they jut out of mountainsides all over this area.

Once we reached the saddle we bushwacked over to some rocks to the east
and were treated to more spectacular views and rock formations.

Corral Creek Trail
Corral Creek tumbles down a steep, narrow ravine and if you get an early start (before 10am) you are guaranteed shade for some of the steep climb up this trail. The first mile of trail closely follows this pretty creek through thick lodgepole forest, then turns abruptly up the side of the mountain away from the creek, where talus slopes allow occasional views into the valley you've left behind. We hiked about two miles up this steep trail, then turned back to save our legs for a bigger hike the next day.

Corral Creek.

Willow Creek and Palisades Trails
These two trails start at the same trailhead (at 6,360 feet) but are very different. Palisades trail was our first hike in the area, we chose it because we wanted something with minimal elevation gain, a training hike if you will. The Palisades trail is kind of a roller coaster hike along a hillside with few views and no water features. It's good for a workout, but not especially scenic.

Willow Creek trail ascends, mostly gently, 900 feet over two miles. Much of the trail follows Willow Creek and crosses numerous tiny streams and there are a couple of old mining remnants along the way. It ends abruptly and anticlimactically at a dirt road. This is an easy, pretty trail close to town.

Ruffed Grouse in display mode crosses the Willow Creek trail.

An old mining shack slowly returns to the forest.

Lastly, though this is not one of the close-to-town trails, I wanted to share our second drive and hike off the Beartooth Highway. You can read about our first day on the Beartooth Highway here. Once again we did not drive the entire Highway! I guess we'll have to return some year to finish the drive.

On this day we were very fortunate to see two separate groups of Mountain Goats on the tundra near the highest point of the highway.

When we stopped to check out the second herd of goats we saw a group of people clustered on the hillside. I'm snapping photos like crazy, while Hans hiked further up the hill and closer to the goats. He notices that there is a goat on the ground in front of these people and he sees a rifle. Sadly, these people had killed one of the goats, this happened to be the first day of hunting season, September 1st.

Neither of us is a hunter, and though we can appreciate that hunting is legal, we were incensed and heartsick to see this beautiful creature killed right off the Scenic Beartooth Highway. There was zero sport involved in this shooting as the goats were munching happily on the hillside, oblivious to the fact that it was September 1st. Apparently in Wyoming it is legal to shoot an animal 30 yards off the road. As you can imagine, this put a damper on our spirits for the rest of the day.

Mountain goats congregate under the ski lift near the high point of the Beartooth Highway.

I don't know how anyone can shoot these beautiful animals...

We continued on to Beartooth Lake where we hiked a wonderful nine mile loop called the Claw Lake Loop. The trail begins at 8,900 foot Beartooth Lake and gains about 1,000 feet overall. The trail is extremely difficult to follow in the vicinity of Beartooth Lake (and would be very marshy during spring and early summer) but if you have the 1991 map from the Forest Service you can figure it out, we did!

Beartooth Butte overlooking Beartooth Lake.

Lonesome Mountain (11,409 ft) dominates this incredible high alpine view.

The trail follows a chain of lakes for at least a mile.

Beartooth Butte is a remnant of a 500 million year old seabed. 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Hiking from the Scenic Beartooth Highway

Walking through the RV park in Desert Hot Springs last fall we happened to stop to chat with a couple who hailed from Red Lodge, MT before they hit the road. When they learned we loved to hike and would be going to Montana in the coming summer, they enthusiastically described their small home town and the wealth of trails surrounding it. A little bit of research later and we knew Red Lodge would be a perfect stop during our summer travels...gotta love those chance meetings on the road!

Nestled up against the Beartooth Mountains and positioned at the north east end of the Beartooth Highway, Red Lodge is perfectly situated for maximum outdoor activities...exactly our kind of place. For our first outing in the area we chose to drive a portion of the famous highway.

The 68 mile long Beartooth Highway winds its way along the Beartooth-Absaroka Wilderness, climbing thousands of feet to its high point of 10,947, offering up views of 12,000 foot peaks, numerous glacial lakes and alpine tundra plateaus, all between Red Lodge and the north east entrance of Yellowstone National Park.

We only drove about half of this scenic beauty but we were WOWed by every single mile! Smoke haze dimmed the view a bit but could not suppress our wonder and amazement of another of our country's incredible mountain ranges.

We saw lots of marmots on this day...we just love these photogenic critters!

Near the high point of the Beartooth Highway tiered lakes dropped away into deep canyons while snow dotted mountains stretched away as far as the eye could see (through the smoke haze).

Much of the near view at the top of the east portion of the highway is of tundra covered plateaus

The long sliver of Gardiner Lake is a popular trailhead into the Beartooth Mountains.

The Beartooth Highway snakes its way into the wilderness.
Our stopping point on this day will be the second lake pictured above.

A pullout alongside Long Lake gives access to the Hauser Lake trailhead, our hike for the day. This trailhead is one of three access points to the Beartooth Loop National Recreation Trail, a hike which would be a minimum of 12 miles including the access trail (I found plenty of conflicting information about this trail and its access points).

We chose to hike about seven miles out and back, and what a beautiful seven miles it was! Gentle rolling hills starting at about 9,500 feet elevation led us to three lakes (Hauser, Losekamp and Stockade) with views of pointy peaks, across meadows dotted with kettle ponds, alongside babbling streams with sweet waterfalls. We were on constant lookout for moose, elk and bears (this is grizzly country), though we did not see any large mammals on this day. Bear spray is a necessity in this country.

We parked overlooking pretty Long Lake. 

Less than a mile from the road is pretty Hauser Lake.

And another cute marmot sighting!

Crossing a late summer golden meadow.

Losekamp Lake.

The stream between Losekamp and Stockade Lakes was extremely picturesque. 

We could not get enough of this lovely stream...every angle was pleasing.

Stockade Lake.

The same stream as it drops into Stockade Lake.

As we made our way back to the trailhead the clouds were building.

Even under grey skies the meadows and kettle ponds are enchanting.

And we finish our hike with one last sighting of the mammal of the day!

As you can see unsurpassed beauty awaits you on the Beartooth Highway...and we only drove half of it!