Welcome to the Trail Well Traveled!
Each Friday, in partnership with Montana Wilderness Association we will feature a new western Montana trail and then give you some helpful details and tips to get on your way!
This week, grab those skis and get to your healthy resolutions off the bat with a short jaunt to a lake loop with beautiful views of the Swan Front just north of Seeley.
Clearwater Lake Loop Trail
Round Trip: 2.6 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 141 feet
Directions: From Missoula, head west on Interstate 90 to the Bonner exit and then north on Highway 200. When you get to Clearwater Junction (the “big cow”), turn left onto Highway 83 and through Seeley. About 13 miles past town, turn right on Clearwater Lake Loop Road. At just under 7 miles, you’ll arrive at the trailhead.
What to expect: The trail is very easy to follow and actually drops about 100 in elevation from the parking area to the lake. You’ll arrive at the lake in .32 miles from the trailhead (elevation 4,805 feet).
As you approach the lake look for a trail heading south or to your left. That’s the trail you’ll want to take, but first enjoy the views and surroundings. Once you are ready to head out follow the trail leading your south along the lake.
A pair of loons nest on Clearwater lake most years. Watch and listen for the loons, but don’t be surprised to see eagles looking for the loons as well. If you are lucky enough to see the loons, listen to the various calls they make while communicating. You’ll likely see additional waterfowl as well as native west slope cutthroat trout and brook trout feeding.
This is excellent wildlife habitat. It’s common to see loons, eagles, beautiful dragonflies, and a wide variety of birds. I always carry bear spray in this area and recommend you do too.
The views of the Swan Range and the colors of the lake will entertain you throughout your walk around the lake. In 1.6 miles you’ll come to a bridge complete with handrails. The stream under the bridge is the very beginning of Clearwater River. It flows through an additional five lakes before joining the Big Blackfoot, then the Clark Fork of the Columbia, and on to the Pacific ocean.
In 2.26 miles you’ll be back where you first enjoyed the lake. Take the same trail you used to get to the lake. Once you are back at the trailhead you will have enjoyed walking, skiing or snowshoeing 2.6 miles.
Note: After your trek, drive south from the parking area rather than heading back the same way you came. That way you’ll see the entire Clearwater Lake Loop Road. In 3 miles you will come to a junction with a road that goes to the Sunday Mountain trailhead. If you are seeking additional adventure, that’s a great area to explore. If not, stay on the Clearwater Loop Road which takes you back to Montana Highway #83 in 3 miles. At the highway turn left to return to Seeley.
Learn more about this trail, file your own trip report and photos, or check out some other great hikes at hikewildmontana.org. And don’t forget to tune in to the Trail 103.3 each Friday at 9:45 am for the next featured trail and your chance to win!
Big thanks to Rangitsch Bros RV for sponsoring the Trail Well Traveled. Proudly serving Missoula for over 56 years, whatever camper best suits your needs Rangitsch Bros has got it!