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After standing on Mount Aeneas in the Jewel Basin in 1919, the Reverend Eugene Cosgrove would give a moving sermon on “The Secret of Wilderness” in Helena, Montana. He said....
“Hidden away by the Gods, like a necklace of pearls, among the crags and fastness of the [Swan] Mountains, lies the Jewel Basin, the enchanted land of this our Montana.
Friends, I have seen the sun set on the minarets of Spain, and make splendid the dome of St. Sophia in Constantinople. I have watched the play of color upon the desert of Egypt, with the Sphinx and pyramids. I have made a trail through the hinterland of the Canadian Rockies, to where the Aurora Borealis from the polar skies make the northern night glorious
… but for kaleidoscopic lights and shadows, for octaves of tone and color, for unending variety of the moods and forms of Nature, Jewel Basin is the most charmed and charming spot in all the world.”
Source: Swan Journal article by Keith Hammer
There are 5 named mountains in the Jewel Basin and 11 unnamed points that present enjoyable scrambles and incredible views in this area that has pockets of lakes that teem with fish.
The Jewel Basin is located above the eastside of the Flathead Valley. Spectacular views are available to those who seek the higher country. One can also see into the southwest portions of Glacier National Park and the northern part of the Bob Marshal Wilderness.
There are 27 named lakes in the Jewel Basin and many of them have fish in them. This area is a popular area for hiking. It is not unusual to be sharing the trail with others but it is still possible to escape from the crowds. There are several campsites that are first come first served at selected lakes and most of them are an easy day hike away from the main trailhead at Camp Misery. The Jewel Basin contains 15,349 acres (62.1 km²) and 50 miles of trails. The Jewel Basin is specially designated for hiking only thus motorized vehicles and horses are prohibited.
Area History and Trivia:According to Lake Shore Country Journal, the "Jewel Basin didn't become a non-motorized hiking area by accident. Cliff Merritt, now 88 and living near Hamilton, Montana, helped secure Congressional Wilderness protection for many areas in Montana in 1964, including the Bob Marshall Wilderness, and helped form the Montana Wilderness Association to advocate for more wilderness in Montana. He and many other Flathead Valley residents, like Loren Kreck, Jack Whitney and Elmer Sprunger, then worked on getting Jewel Basin designated Wilderness, accomplishing a first step by stopping motorcycles from trashing Jewel Basin's high alpine meadows via its designation as the Jewel Basin Hiking Area in 1970."
The locals say that Camp Misery was named for the place that a local tribe spent a terrible winter. It is not impossible to imagine such a winter as the snowfall in this particular area is measured in feet not inches.
Geographic Boundaries and Getting There:
The Jewel Basin is located in the Swan Range of the Rocky Mountains in western Montana which runs north from near Seelye Lake, Montana and ends at the northern terminus at Columbia Mountain which is located near Columbia Falls, Montana.
It is located on the west side of Hungry Horse Reservoir and can be accessed from Hungry Horse, Montana via the Forest Service Road #885 which passes over Hungry Horse Dam.
The Jewel Basin is also located on the east side of the Flathead Valley which holds the beautiful Flathead Lake, the largest natural body of water west of the Mississippi River, it is also considered the gateway to Glacier National Park. The Flathead Valley also boasts 2 ski resorts and numerous golf courses for those who are inclined to play pasture pool.
When talking about the Flathead Valley the locals all say, "Have a nice VISIT in Montana". While you are visiting check out other things to do at Things To Do In The Flathead Valley.
Montana is a long way from most places. That’s why many of us live here.
It is possible to get here by:
By Air: Glacier International Airport serves as the air hub for northwestern Montana. Horizon, Delta Connection and Northwest Airlines service this area.
By Bus: Northwest Montana is served by bus service.
By Rail: Amtrak arrives daily from Minneapolis or Seattle stops in East Glacier, Essex, West Glacier and Whitefish.
By Road: The major highways serving northwest Montana include U.S. Highway 2 running east and west and running north to south are U. S. Highway 93 and Montana Highway 83. Glacier National Park is located 160 miles north of Interstate 90 which runs through the southwestern portion of Montana.
Rental cars can be secured in the Flathead Valley at and near Glacier International Airport. See Car Rentals in Montana.
Red Tape:A permit is not needed to camp within The Jewel Basin. When choosing a campsite find one away from trails, meadows, lakes and streams to reduce your impact on fragile areas. “Leave No Trace” camping and hiking needs to be observed. Do not cut switchbacks and remember to “Pack It In - Pack It Out”
Campfires are permitted in the Jewel Basin but it is asked that you use a lightweight camp stove. No open campfires are allowed within 500 feet of Birch, Crater, Twin and Picnic Lakes, to prevent further damage around the lake shores.
There are pit toilets located at Camp Misery, Birch Lake and Crater Lake. The USFS requires that a cathole be used and be located at least 200 feet from water.
The Peaks:Due to the nature of the geology there is little technical climbing available in the Jewel Basin. Most of these peaks are enjoyable scrambling to enjoyable ridge walks that lead to summits. Reaching those ridge walks can be a challenge unless good planning and route finding are used. There is a thick layer of brush blocking most of the trails which lead to frustrating bushwhacking approaches.
Many of the peaks are not named and we have designated these unnamed points to correspond with the lakes that they are near. This is merely a taxonomical method to help identify and clearly communicate with the reader regarding location and specifics related to the peaks.
|Summit Name||Elevation in Feet||Latitude||Longitude|
|Big Hawk Mountain||7,542||48.09212||-113.85422|
|Mount Aeneas On SP||7,508||48.14834||-113.91962|
|Three Eagles Mountain||7,462||48.11215||-113.87069|
|Point 7300 (Cliff Lake Peak)||7,300||48.15599||-113.8994|
|Point 7272 (Pilgrim Lakes Mountain)||7,272||48.1037||-113.86316|
|Point 7268 (Southern Boundary Peak)||7,268||48.08777||-113.86942|
|Point 7210 (Seven Acres Peak)||7,210||48.14913||-113.88735|
|Point 7175 (Black Lake Peak)||7,175||48.1591||-113.90881|
|Point 7164 (Twin Lakes Peak)||7,164||48.17433||-113.93875|
|Point 7110 (Noisy Creek Peak)||7110||48.18551||-113.94758|
|Point 6948 (Birch Peak) On SP||6,948||48.1331||-113.92193|
|Point 6888 (Wildcat Mountain)||6,888||48.19431||-113.9629|
|Point 6850 (Squaw Ridge) On SP||6,850||48.12441||-113.91594|
|Point 6805 (Clayton Mountain)||6,805||48.20126||-113.90093|
|Crater Mountain On SP||6,787||48.11592||-113.9135|
|Point 6677 (Wheeler Peak)||6,677||48.07938||-113.88426|
Hiking the Trails:
With over 50 miles of established trails the Jewel Basin offers the opportuity to stretch your legs and reach a number of beautiful destinations.
All of the trailheads are serviced by gravel roads that some would describe as poor at best. Plan on using a four wheel drive to arrive at your chosen trailhead.
The National Forest Service has a cabin at the Camp Misery Trailhead that is usually staffed with helpful volunteers who will direct you the proper trail if asked. There is a 12 person limit for groups. The National Forest recommends groups that are 4 – 6 persons in group size for camping.
Primary Trailheads for the Jewel Basin include:
The trails in the Jewel Basin are clearly marked and most a graded enabling most hikers to eventually make it to their destination. For those who are in good physical condition the trails will not present much of a challenge.
Most junctions contain signs that mark both direction and distance to the next lake or junction. The Jewel Basin Map is also a useful reference for the trails and peaks.
|From/To||Total Distance (Mi.)||Elevation Gain (Ft.)||Elevation Loss (Ft.)||Difficulty Rating (Relative)|
|717 & 7||Camp Misery Trailhead to Birch Lake||3.0||610||-160||Moderate|
|8 / 68 & 7 / 392||Camp Misery Trailhead to Picnic Lakes||2.5||1778||-588||Strenuous|
|8 & 721||Camp Misery Trailhead to Twin Lakes||2.5||770||-200||Moderate|
|719||Black Lake to Jewel Basin||0.5||240||-320||Easy|
|719||Jewel Basin to Blackfoot Lake||1.6||0||-440||Easy|
|8 / 7 & 55||Camp Misery Trailhead to Clayton Lake||6.2||0||-770||Strenuous|
|420||Rd. 1633 to Clayton Lake||2.3||1420||0||Moderate|
|717||Camp Misery Trailhead to Mount Aeneas||3.0||1778||0||Strenuous|
|717||Mount Aeneas to Picnic Lakes||1.2||0||-888||Moderate|
|8/7 & 723||Camp Misery Trailhead to Wildcat Lake||4.3||850||-360||Moderate|
|717 & 7||Camp Misery Trailhead to Crater Lake||5.3||610||-560||Moderate|
|64 & 7 & 722||Wheeler Creek Tailhead to Big Hawk Lakes||5.6||1000||-250||Strenuous|
|717 & 7 & 722||Camp Miery Trailhead to Big Hawk Lakes||9.0||610||-838||Strenuous|
Along the Ridges and On The Peaks:
Most of the peaks in the Jewel Basin are easy scrambles from the trails to their summits. Initial bushwhacking may be required before breaking out into the alpine areas of the Jewel Basin.
Most of the peaks are within a short distance from the main trails that occur throughout the entire area.
Please refer to the "The Peaks" section for specifics on each peak.
The rock in Northwestern Montana is widely varied and it is not unusual to find several different types of rock on any given route. Know your rocks and be certain of your safety. J. Gordon Edwards has an excellent section in his guidebook, A Climber's Guide To Glacier National Park, on rock and climbing safety. Be safe and know your limitations as well as those who are climbing with you.
Also refer to the following links for further details: GNP Rock and Grading System and the GMS Climbing Guidelines.
Fishing the Lakes:The Early History of Fishing in The Jewel Basin:
Most of the lakes in the Jewel Basin were initially planted from horseback by Forest Service packers in the 1920s and 1930s. There was no understanding the differences between differing sub-species of trout. A cutthroat trout was considered a cutthroat. With the scientific advances fish biologists have identified many different subspecies of cutthroat trout.
The Current Problem:
In Northwestern Montana the Westslope Cutthroat Trout is the native fish and part of its home range has been threatened by planting other sub-species of cutthroat such as the Yellowstone Cutthroat, which is not a native to northwestern Montana.
There are also strains of rainbow trout that where planted in the Jewel Basin as well. Rainbow trout are not natives of this area. These fish have hybridized with the pure Westslope and now their offspring threaten the South Fork's native population.
The streams flowing east from lakes in the Jewel Basin are potential sources for hybrid trout in the mountain lakes to enter the South Fork water system which includes the river itself as well as Hungry Horse Reservoir. The South Fork is unique due to the Hungry Horse Dam blocking any non-native fish from entering the system. The South Fork empties the Bob Marshal Wilderness System and is teeming with wild catchable Westslope Cutthroat Trout and Bull Trout. See a picture of a 15 pound Bull Trout.
The Planned Cure:
The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MTFWP) has embarked on an ambitious and controversial plan to protect the South Fork of the Flathead River and keep the Westslope Cutthroat population pure. Long time users of the Jewel Basin, like my father-in-law, feel that they will never again experience the fishing they had back in the day as they feel it will take years for these lakes to become re-established. The MTFWP says not so and they are confident that fishing will be quickly resored. The next decade will show who was right. Here's to hope for the future!
An excellent article covers some of the history of how trout were planted in Montana’s mountains as well as the rationale behind the WCTCP. This plan calls for treating up to 21 high mountain lakes spread over a 10-year period (about two lakes per year) in the late fall using rotenone, a fish toxicant, to remove hybrid fish. The hybrid fish will be removed so they won’t interbreed with Westslope cutthroat trout downstream in the South Fork of the Flathead River. The treated lakes will then be restocked the following spring with pure Westslope Cutthroat trout.