A guide to the last, best month of the season
As summer sets sail and the crowds disperse, fishing in the Flathead Valley is at its bestThe terminus of summer and the transition to fall offers a veritable feast of fishing opportunities, and as the gilded leaves of aspen and larch dapple in the waning summer light, the trout, glimmering just beneath the surface of the Flathead River, experience what guides call “the need to feed.”
Some of the best angling occurs at the tail end of the busy summer season, and although outfitters and fly shops guide fewer trips, they are quick to point out that the fishing is ample.
“Most of the people are gone but the fish are still there, which makes for some really good fishing,” Darwon Stoneman, owner of Glacier Anglers and Glacier Raft Co., said.
With fewer lines in the water and a deficit of boats on the move, there is less stress on trout, he said. And as the days become shorter, the temperatures drop and the water clarity improves, the fish are eager to sip meaty bugs like mayflies, ants, hoppers, beetles and October caddis.
The flows of the Flathead are ideal on many sections and local fly shops are reporting that hopper-dropper rigs or hoppers with a flying ant off the back are also effective combinations. But it’s best to keep a diverse fly box on hand as the fish are showing interest in bugs big and small.
The Middle Fork, North Fork, South Fork and main stem of the Flathead River all are fishing well, according to local fly shops like Lakestream Outfitters in Whitefish and Bigfork Anglers in Bigfork, and foam hoppers are receiving plenty of attention. Attractors and terrestrial patterns work well in the afternoons when the fish are rising, and flying ants are turning trout snouts toward the surface.
At Glacier Anglers, Stoneman said his guides provide a variety of professionally guided fly fishing trips around Glacier National Park on the Middle Fork and North Fork Flathead River, where rainbow and brook trout as well as native cutthroat abound. Glacier Anglers, based out of the Glacier Outdoor Center in West Glacier, offers daily or multi-day trips and has six cabins for clients.
Stoneman said many of the whitewater sections on the upper Middle Fork Flathead River transform into the best fly fishing in the fall.
“Those sections hold a lot of fish in the fall and there are not a lot of people out there,” he said.
The busy season for fly fishing outfitters runs from June 20 to Aug. 20, but the guides stick around to work on equipment, guide trips and fish themselves.
“This is when we fish,” Stoneman said. “It definitely slows down after Labor Day because there is a lack of people but the fishing is just excellent.”
Off the Beaten Path
Savoring the scraps of summerIn the Flathead Valley, the remnants of summer are a dish best enjoyed outdoors. With 77 unique mountain ranges and what seems like an infinite catalogue of hiking and backpacking opportunities, it’s fitting that the Treasure State’s namesake is a Latin expression meaning “mountainous.”
And with a statewide average of 6.8 people per square mile, it’s easy enough to escape the clutter, avoid the riff raff and enjoy the high country in peace.
Still, summertime draws throngs of visitors to the Flathead Valley, and as the sky twilights earlier, the pages of the calendar fall and tourist season slows to a crawl, the post-Labor Day vestiges of summer provide the last best chance to explore this postage stamp of wild country and suck the marrow out of Northwest Montana.
Here are five suggestions from the Beacon to help you feast on summer’s decadent leftovers without having to share the scraps.
To the delight of Whitefish locals, this sprawling network of buffed-out singletrack continues to expand. Another 4.5 miles of trail is being added to the Whitefish Trail Project, a planned 55-mile trail system that wanders through state trust lands around Whitefish. To date, Whitefish Legacy Partners and the city of Whitefish have built 22 miles of new trail, which extends into the northern section of Beaver Lake, where stacked loops, scenic overlooks and scooped out turns abound.
The new Woods Lake section, which officially opens Sept. 14, offers hikers and bikers a loop trail around the lake before connecting back to the existing Whitefish Trail. One section of the new trail, a 2.5-mile lollipop, will also offer a Woods Lake vista and overlook.
Getting there: To access the new Woods Lake section, head west out of downtown Whitefish on U.S. Highway 93 and, after about seven miles, turn right on Beaver Lake Road. Travel about 1.5 miles until the Beaver Lake trailhead appears on the right side of the road. Follow the unpaved road as it forks left and Murray Lake comes into view on the left and turn right at the first intersection. Stay left on this road and follow it to the kiosk that marks the Woods Lake trailhead, which Reid Sabin, owner of Green Space, LLC, is putting the finishing touches on in advance of the grand opening.
Sabin, who also owns the nearby Stillwater Mountain Lodge and Nordic Center, said access to the Whitefish Trail keeps improving.
“We have miles and miles of trail right outside our back door. How lucky are we? We’re ecstatic,” Sabin said.
Bear Dance Trail
This rugged ribbon of single track takes hikers, bikers and runners from the eastern shoreline of Flathead Lake south of Bigfork to the ridgeline on Crane Mountain. From the trailhead, several options will appeal to a wide range of users and abilities. Trail No. 373 climbs 450 vertical feet over 4.4 miles, while Trail No. 76 gains 2,200 feet climbing 6.7 miles. A third trail, Trail No. 314, ascends 1,200 feet in 2.8 miles.
All of the trails are moderate and offer views of Flathead Lake, while a network of trails on Crane Mountain is specifically designed for a style of technical mountain biking called “freeride.”
A short drive from the trailhead provides easy access to craft beer and snacks at Flathead Lake Brewing Co. or The Raven Brewpub and Grill.
Getting there: From Bigfork, travel south on Highway 35 past Woods Bay and park at mile marker 23, eight miles from Bigfork. The trailhead is on the east side of the highway, but a small parking lot is adjacent to the lake.
Alpine Trail no. 7
This spectacular ridgeline trail runs for more than 50 miles along the crest of the Swan Range, skirting alpine lakes, offering outstanding panoramic views of Northwest Montana and passing through the Jewel Basin hiking area.
The trail begins at the terminus of the Swan Range on Columbia Mountain and runs 54.7 miles to Inspiration Point in the western edge of the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
Getting there: To reach the Columbia Mountain trailhead, drive east of Columbia Falls on U.S. Highway 2. Shortly after the junction with 206 and 3.5 miles from Columbia Falls, turn right on an unmarked dirt road just past the House of Mystery. Follow the dirt road until the trailhead appears on the right. A steep trail leads to the summit of Columbia Mountain and the intersection with Alpine Trail No. 7
To reach the trail from the Strawberry Lake trailhead, turn east on Foothills Road north of Bigfork and, after three miles, turn right on Krause Creek Road (Forest Service Road No. 5390) and drive three miles to the trailhead. At the trailhead, begin climbing up trail No. 5 to Strawberry Lake, where the trail meets Alpine Trail No. 7. Travel north from here another 27 miles to the base of Columbia Mountain and the terminus of the Swan Range, or access the Jewel Basin and fish Wildcat Lake.
Great Northern Mountain
Named after the Great Northern Railway, this shining gem studding the Flathead Range reigns over the Great Bear Wilderness and receives little traffic, despite offering scenery on par with the high country of Glacier National Park.
A steep trail climbs north of Hungry Horse Creek, gaining 4,300 feet over seven miles to the summit, where hikers will enjoy views of southern Glacier Park, Mount Grant, Stanton Glacier, Hungry Horse Reservoir and the Middle Fork Divide. After climbing above the timberline, the trail stays on a high ridge and eventually becomes faint, but the obvious ridgeline serves as a guide to the summit.
Getting there: From Columbia Falls, head east on U.S. Highway 2 past the town of Hungry Horse and turn right to Martin City.
Drive along the east side of the Hungry Horse Reservoir until the pavement ends after two miles, then continue 13 miles until a sign for “Spotted Bear 39” and “Firefighter L.O. 4” appears.
Make a sharp left turn and continue a half-mile to the trailhead at the end of the road. Parking is available before and after the bridge.
Events After Labor Day? Absolutely!
Local festivities continue on through September and into OctoberSummer is the high season in the Flathead for tourists, and each year, local communities and business organizations are finding ways to extend the summer traffic into the autumnal shoulder season.
Not surprisingly, most of these efforts have resulted in a lot of fun in the pleasant September weather, and, if the weather decides to be inclement, there’s usually plenty of tent space for everyone.
September is a time when the valley takes a deep breath after the summer rush. Here are a few major events highlighting the best month of summer. Visit www.flatheadevents.net for daily updates and events.
Sept. 7-8: Montana Dragon Boat Festival; Bigfork
Head over to Bigfork and join as thousands of spectators watch and cheer for over 90 teams racing their 41-foot boats along the shores of Flathead Lake.
The Montana Dragon Boat Festival is in its second year and has already grown so much as to need two days to contain the excitement.
For more information, check out the back page of this week's newspaper.
Sept. 7-8: Whitefish Summer Games; Whitefish
These games went dormant for three decades, but are now back in full power. With more than 20 events over two days, there should be something for everyone to enjoy, either to play or to watch.
Games include a 3-on-3 basketball tournament, ice hockey and lacrosse matches, stand-up paddleboarding races, cribbage, poker and pool contests, shooting from horseback, and more.
For a full event calendar, visit www.wfsummergames.com.
Sept. 14: The Huckleberry 100; Kalispell
Named for one of the Flathead’s favorite fruits, this 100-mile bike race takes riders all over the valley, from Bigfork to Whitefish and everywhere in between, with a total ascent of 1,541.99 feet and maximum elevation of 3,293.96.
After the ride, partake in the Bikes and Berries Food Fest to help the participants gain back some of the calories they burned on their century ride.
For more information, visit .
Sept. 19-28: Festival of Flavors; Flathead Valley Community College
Now in its sixth year, the Festival of Flavors is a week of culinary delight, which also happens to raise over$100,000 in scholarships for Flathead Valley Community College students.
The kickoff event features a farmers market of local food and drink, followed with themed dinners in private homes and local restaurants.
It all ends with the popular Grand Wine Tasting at the Hilton Garden Inn.
For information and tickets, visit www.fvcc.edu.
Sept. 26-28, Oct. 3-5: Great Northwest Oktoberfest; Whitefish
What better way to celebrate the end of summer and the start of autumn than with traditional oom-pa-pa music, authentic Bavarian food, dancing, log-sawing competitions, stein-holding contests and keg-hurling championships?
Oh, and did we mention beer? There will be plenty of beer in Whitefish’s Depot Park on these weekends.
The Great Northwest Oktoberfest, thrown by the Whitefish Chamber of Commerce, is only in its fourth year, but it’s already gained quite a reputation for being a pretty awesome time.
Be sure to check out the event schedule at www.whitefishoktoberfest.com.
Oct. 19: Cinch Bucking Horse Championships
Head over to the Majestic Valley Arena to watch the best of the bucking horse business compete for over $70,000 in prizes.
The contests includes some of the nation’s best cowboys riding some of the toughest saddle broncs around, and ends with a dance spurred on by live music.
For more information, visit www.majesticvalleyarena.com.
Your Own Private Park
The mobs of tourists are gone. Now’s your chance to see everything Glacier has to offer before the snow fliesThe park is ours again.
On average, 2 million people visit Glacier National Park every year – most of them in June, July and August. Now that Labor Day has passed, the swarms of tourists and out-of-state plates are (mostly) gone. Even though the National Park Service and its associates are getting ready for winter, there is still plenty to do inside Glacier’s 1 million square acres. Here’s a list of five things to do in the park before the snow flies.
Hit The Road:
While rehabilitation work continues on the Going-to-the-Sun Road, most of it will take place on the east side. That means those of us here in the Flathead Valley will be able to enjoy the stunning fall foliage from one of Glacier’s most iconic attractions. The entire road from West Glacier to St. Mary will remain open until Sunday, Sept. 22. After that, Logan Pass will be accessible from the west side only until Sunday, Oct. 20, weather permitting. While paving has been completed on the west side, crews will still be working on few projects between Avalanche Creek and Logan Creek, so expect the occasional delay.
While exploring Glacier on your own is a great experience, those park rangers you often pass know a thing or two about this amazing preserve. Ranger-led activates are a great way to see something amazing and learn something new and there are several in the Lake McDonald Valley through the end of September. See www.nps.gov/glac for a full list of interpretive hikes, campfire talks and tours.
Take A Hike:
Glacier’s 734 miles of trail don’t get rolled up and put away once autumn is in the air. There are dozens of great hikes for you to enjoy during these final days of summer and early days of fall. The Mount Brown Lookout Trail is a tough but rewarding hike that takes you high above the Lake McDonald Valley, but pack an extra layer because the air can get chilly at 7,487 feet. If you want to be a little closer to the changing foliage, try the Southern Boundary Trail from West Glacier. The foliage through John Stevens Canyon along the Middle Fork Flathead River is always spectacular. Be sure to check in with the park service for the latest trail conditions.
Pack A Tent:
There are plenty of places to pitch a tent in Glacier Park and, as most of the visitors hit the dusty trail for home, it’s even easier to find a spot. Some campgrounds in the park, including ones at Apgar and Quartz Creek, are open into October, while others close near the end of September. Many campgrounds are also available for primitive camping during the offseason at reduced rates. Check online for the most up-to-date information.
End of an Era:
This year’s closing ceremony at the Lake McDonald Lodge will be extra special with the recent announcement that 2013 will be Glacier Park, Inc.’s final year as the park’s concessioner. After the final checkout on Sunday, Sept. 29, the staff will hold its annual closing ceremony with a few speakers around 12 p.m. After that, three bellhops grab the last burning log from the lobby fireplace and run with it into Lake McDonald. Consider heading up early that day and grab breakfast at the restaurant before observing the end of an era in Glacier National Park.
Keeping it Real Fresh
Late-summer farmers markets a good time to pick up fruits and veggies for eating, canningOne of the best ways to get fresh, local produce and crafts from Flathead farms and artisans is to attend the many farmers markets that take place all throughout the valley all summer.
A farmers market is a quintessential part of summer, but the harvest continues well beyond Labor Day. September is a great time to peruse the produce and load up with fruits and vegetables for immediate use or for canning.
Pat McGlynn, Flathead County’s Montana State University agricultural extension agent, said most commercial farms or gardeners use high tunnels to protect their crops from frost in the spring and the early fall.
This lets the growers get away with harvesting long after summer is considered over, until the first and second week in October in some cases.
“It enables them to continue bringing fresh products to the market longer in the season,” McGlynn said.
September foods include sweet corn, melons, apples, peaches, eggplant, pumpkins and other produce that doesn’t necessarily require a lot of heat to thrive, such as lettuce and spinach.
The flowers offerings also switch up a bit in September, with sunflowers, blanket flowers, rudbeckia (commonly called Black-Eyed Susans), hydrangeas and more to bring into the house for a late-summer feel.
Some of the September crops – such as certain types of plums – need a frost to help with the harvest, McGlynn said, and frosts can happen in the Flathead as early as the second week in September.
Other classic summer crops, like tomatoes, will likely keep coming in strong at the markets from producers with the frost protection.
Here’s a list of markets to hit through September for your local food fix:
Whitefish Farmers Market:
Every Tuesday until Sept. 24, 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
The farmers and artisans set up on the north end of Central Ave., in and around Depot Park.
There is live entertainment, along with food vendors to whip up creations for dinner while shopping.
For more information, visit www.whitefishfarmersmarket.org.
Kalispell Farmers Market:
Every Saturday until Oct. 19, 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Booths for this expansive market are set up in a north parking lot at Flathead Valley Community College, near U.S. Highway 93.
With food available from vendors and crafts from artisans, this market is a great way to enjoy a pleasant September morning.
For more information, call 406-881-4078 or visit the market’s Facebook page.
Columbia Falls Farmers Market:
Every Thursday through Sept. 12, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
This market embraces the theme of “Grow Local, Eat Local,” giving the community of the Gateway to Glacier a place to converge and enjoy each other’s produce and craftsmanship before fall.
Everything takes place in Pinesdale Park on Fourth Avenue West.
For more information, visit www.columbiafallschamber.org/farmers-market.
Bigfork Farmers Market:
Saturdays, 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.; Wednesdays, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Enjoy the late-summer harvest in the village by the lake, with the annual Harvest Festival taking place Sept. 28 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Find berries, eggs, baked goods, produce and crafts at the market’s location at the Masonic Temple, located at 8098 Highway 35, across from Harvest Foods.
For more information, visit www.bigforkfarmersmarket.com.
West Glacier Farmers and Artisans Market:
Sept. 6, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.
This summer market has its last event on Going-to-the-Sun Road in the village on Friday, so be sure to stop by and enjoy the final offerings of the summer.
For more information, visit the market’s Facebook page.
Weather or Not
What to expect – or hope for – from Mother Nature this fall and winterBenjamin Franklin would likely be chuckling.
The Farmers’ Almanac stirred up quite the flurry last week when it hit supermarket stands across the U.S. The 197th edition of the annual periodical forecasted the upcoming winter to be “biting, bitterly and piercing” across two-thirds of the nation, declaring “the days of shivery” are back.
Enjoy the fleeting comfort of autumn, according to the almanac’s winter outlook, because Montana and other Rocky Mountain states will experience “piercing cold with normal snowfall.”
The bold prophesy even went so far as to forewarn fans that Super Bowl XLVIII, which is being played in New Jersey’s outdoors stadium in early February, will likely experience “heavy winter weather” and turn into the “Storm Bowl.”
Of course, this is all an educated guess, at best. Though enjoyable and stimulating, Farmers’ is little more than a colorful soothsayer; the old uncle whose tall tales are sprinkled with bits of truth. It keeps alive the tradition of the father of American almanacs, Franklin, who published a whimsical compilation of weather predictions, poems and maxims in the mid 1700s as his fictional persona, Poor Richard.
Yes, Franklin was a devoted student of weather patterns and weather-related phenomena. Farmers’ Almanac, too, commits itself year after year to analyzing the complex nature of meteorology, although its editors keep secret the exact methods that inform its forecasts.
Yet inevitably, the act of predicting weather beyond the here and now, especially in Montana, is rather slippery.
Especially these days. Scientists are having a hard time foreseeing what’s in store for the near future. Unlike years past, the weather systems that reliably foreshadow winter — El Nino or La Nina — have yet to materialize.
“For winter, overall, it’s tough to say for sure right now,” Ray Nickless, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Missoula, said last week. “We’re in a neutral state, which means it can really vary on our winters. We can get some that are pretty moist and others that are dryer.”
Meanwhile, Western Montana should enjoy a favorable autumn, though, Nickless said. The Climate Prediction Center is showing above average temperatures for Kalispell and other cities in the region this month. Predicting the upcoming rainfall is more difficult because of the current weather patterns, Nickless said.
Western Montana suffered a noticeably dry summer, which doesn’t bode well for fire season ending soon. Many counties received only 50 to 70 percent of the average precipitation, Nickless said. Kalispell received only .31 inches of rainfall in July, compared to the average, 1.45 inches. Kalispell was also 3.4 degrees warmer than the historical mean. The average maximum temperature was 87 degrees, compared to the normal of 81. The average minimum temps were only about one degree warmer.
Missoula received .09 inches of precipitation in July, compared to the average of .99. The mean temperatures were nearly five degrees warmer than usual.
Aside from last month, Kalispell remains near normal for temperatures and moisture for the calendar year, according to the NWS.