OverviewThe Thoma Lookout is located in the extreme northeastern corner of NW Montana's Whitefish Range. Originally built in 1930, until recently, the lookout had been decommissioned and was last used for emergencies in the 1970's. However, the Flathead National Forest began a rehab project in 2010 and has actually staffed the lookout the past two years.
The day we hiked the lookout there was no one present but it was quite clear that a restoration project was underway, as there were sawhorses and construction materials strewn about around the outside of the lookout. A worthy project it is...this lookout has commanding views of the Whitefish Range to the west and south and the rugged peaks of the Northfork area of Glacier National Park to the east and the pristine southern Canadian Rockies to the NE. Views to the north are blocked by the continuation of the ridge to Mount Hefty, which actually straddles the border between the USA and Canada.
First of all, we went this way because we had never been on this portion of FS Road #114 and wanted to see what it was like and whether it was a viable shortcut to the NE portion of the Whitefish Range and the Northfork area of Glacier National Park.
From downtown Whitefish drive 43 miles north on Hwy 93. Turn right onto Grave Creek Road, at 10.3 miles the road forks, take the right fork. Drive 3.9 miles and turn right as #114 turns east and crosses through the Whitefish Range. Drive 13.7 miles on #114 until you come to the TH for Trail #15 on your left. Forest Service Road #114 is not in good shape-very rocky, you must drive very slow and you must have good tires. The western portion of this road is very remote!! If you break down on this road you better have the mechanical know-how to fix the problem yourself or be prepared to do some major hiking to get help as it is definitely the road less-traveled.
The recommended way is as follows. From Columbia Falls drive east on Hwy 2 for 16.2 miles to the West Glacier entrance to Glacier National Park. Drive through the park for two miles approaching the Apgar area. At the first stop sign, turn left and drive up the Camas Road for 11.7 miles until it intersects the infamous Northfork Road. Turn right and drive 27.9 miles up the Northfork Road. Parts of this road are not so good, but by going through the park, you miss the absolutely worst portion of the Northfork Road. At 27.9 miles you should be turning left onto FS Road #114 and then driving for 3.39 miles to the TH for Trail #15 on the right.
A single vehicle entry pass for Glacier National Park for one week for the year 2011 is still $25 and a one year pass is $35. Whether you're visiting the area or a local, you'll already more than likely have one or the other.
Route InformationThe trail begins by heading east through an old burn but quickly turns to the NW as it begins to ascend the heavily wooded ridge. Occasionally, as you gain elevation, there are glimpses of the NE shoulder of Cleft Rock Mountain to the south, but generally speaking, the views are few and far between...until you hit the beautiful wild-flower filled meadows higher up on the ridge...pictured below.
However, early on, we were fortunate enough to photograph a grouse Mom and one of her chicks.
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Views of the Lookout
Camping and RedTapeThe Thoma Lookout is located in the Flathead National Forest, which is bear country. Don't hike alone, make noise as you hike, and carry bear spray and know how to use it, the Whitefish Range is chock-full of healthy-sized black bears and grizzlies.
A map of the Flathead National Forest is helpful. Bug repellent is an absolute necessity in Montana in June, July and August. There is no water available on this hike.
The closest official campground is Tuchuck Campground.