Jewel Basin truly is one of western Montana’s gems. Flowing green tree-covered mountainsides are graced by turquoise lakes, sparkling clear streams, small waterfalls, wildflowers, and – as late as the end of June – summer snowdrifts. Interesting rock formations pepper the landscape, sculpted by years of wind, water and weather.
We started at the Camp Misery trailhead near Kalispell. Don’t let the name fool you – this hike was anything but miserable! This parking lot fills up fast on summer mornings, so I would advise getting an early start. The outhouses at the trailhead are the only ones you will see on your route – take advantage.
Hiking in late June, we encountered several areas where snowdrifts obscured the trail to the point where we could only navigate using our Avenza app, the app offering Forest Service maps. This app works even without internet connection. It’s kind of the answer to the old-fashioned way of navigating with a topographical map and compass. Hiking this trail without the Avenza app would have been impossible – the small fee to purchase the map was well worth the price. We are told some of these snowdrifts stay frozen year-round.
Navigation is not the only reason the snowdrifts are treacherous. Even in late June, the snow was packed hard enough to make the drifts very slick and easy to slide down – several hundred yards off the edge of a cliff or into trees at the bottom. I would suggest Yak Traks or some sort of strap-on cleats to make it easier to grip the snow. We would stomp our tracks in, taking care to point our toes out and lead with our heels. Each of us fell several times, and had a couple of close calls sliding down steep, snowdrift-covered hillsides.
Please note that there are also a few stream crossings that require you to wade through water. Waterproof shoes and wool socks helped keep us from being miserable after multiple wet crossings.
Mosquitos love to lie in wait in melted snowdrifts. I was very happy for my deet on this particular hike.
That said, for us, the risk was worth the reward. This was one of the most beautiful trails I have hiked. We passed through more than a dozen biomes, rewarded with stunning vistas, grand granite formations, wildflower meadows, mountain glades, jewel-colored lakes, sparkling streams, and endless seas of evergreens. The lakes are a striking color of deep turquoise that takes your breath away.
Our German Shepherd puppy was in her element. The snow, icy-cold lakes and streams, and cool temperatures delighted her.
Despite the crowded trailhead, we did not see many hikers during this trek. There are so many trails in Jewel Basin that it seems there are enough paths for everyone. We were treated to peace and tranquility along with some of the most gorgeous landscapes we have seen.