Flathead Lake and the Mission Range Blacktail Mountain with the Electronic Station circled in red.
Layout designed for best viewing on a "1024 x 768" screen.
Blacktail Mountain, the fourth tallest peak in the Salish Mountains
, may just be the easiest mountain to “summit” in the Salish Range. A 14 mile Forest Service Road from U.S. Highway 93 in Lakeside, Montana leads all the way to just below the summit.
This mountain can easily be driven to in about 25 minutes on a good gravel road but why not make it a bit more of a challenge? Walk, run, ride a horse or mountain bike to the summit from Lakeside.
No matter the method or arrival at Blacktail Mountain the views of Flathead Lake, The Swan Range
, The Mission Range
, the Salish Range, The Jewel Basin
and even the tall peaks in Glacier National Park
are worth the time and effort to get there.
Blacktail Mountain, has served in defense of our homeland. During the Cold War, the U.S. Air Force had a radar base just above Lakeside. When the USAF no longer needed it the base’s barracks and other buildings near Lakeside sat unoccupied until they were bought by Youth With A Mission (YWAM)
as a missionary training base in June of 1985.
The radar installation was located at the top of Blacktail Mountain. I remember touring it as a child while it was still operational. It has since then been dismantled with the exception of the current Electronic Station. There are also an array of radio antennas and towers near the summit. The most noticeable feature is a large half-dome on an elevated stand. This is an electronic site that is currently used for airline navigation.
Most of the long-time locals still refer to this area as "The Radar Base" and in this article Radar Base and Electronic Station both refer to this installation. Officially it is now an "electronic station." Semantics are everything in this day and age.
Blacktail Mountain Ski Area
now serves as a ski resort with 1,440 vertical feet of runs on a little over 1,000 acres in the Flathead National Forest. The average 250 inches of snowfall help this resort stay open later in the year than many other resorts in Montana. On sunny days skiers enjoy views down to Flathead Lake and the Flathead Valley. One of the unique features of Blacktail is that all of the runs start from the top of the mountain. This is an "upside-down hill" where the parking lot is located at the top of the resort.
Blacktail Mountain Ski Area has a small town feeling to the resort. They even allow all area 5th graders to ski for free for the entire ski season. They also have special rates for "more experienced" skiers.
Before heading off to ski Blacktail make sure to look at their official web site for pertinent details regarding closures and hours of operation.
Blacktail Mountain also boasts so pretty excellent Nordic trails
. The North Shore Nordic Club maintains a network of trails
that range from easiest to more difficult. The trails are groomed every 3-5 days depending on conditions.
Blacktail Mountain is also be an excellent place to snowshoe. When its cloudy in the valley many locals head up Blacktail or to Whitefish Mountain Resort to get some much needed winter sunshine.
There is also a recreational trail being established that will travel from southwest of Kalispell near Foys Lake to Blacktail Mountain. It is called the Foys to Blacktail Trail
. There is a group of citizens raising funds to secure easements as well as purchase 340 acres of land which will be added to a county park called Herron Park. When completed this trail will be about 15 miles one way. It is currently possible to get to Blacktail from Herron Park on Forest Service Roads but requires a map and good route finding skills.
Blacktail Mountain Fire Lookout
In his 1984 book, Fire Lookouts of the Northwes
t (p. 349), Ray Kresek writes that
"Situated amid a maze of electronic gadgetry consisting of an Air Force radar station, 2 microwave towers, a television transmitter and 93 smaller radio repeaters, reflectors, and remote slaves, there somehow remains room enough for a fire tower at the summit of Blacktail Mountain.
Signs at the floor of the stairs warn of "RF" radiation, leaving one to seriously question the state of health of anyone who'd live there. Yet with much help from the 'men in blue' next door, the Montana Department of State Forests still 'persons' the tower each summer with a good deal of success long after the 'boys in green' gave up.
The 12 mile drive from Lakeside (actually 14 miles) does offer the tourist a fine view of Kalispell, Flathead Lake, and the rugged Mission Range of the Rockies....if you can find a spot to see between all the iron, aluminum, concrete, fiberglass, and slabwood shacks on the summit."
Blacktail Mountain Lookout was established in 1934 with a 40' pole L-4 tower.
In 1962 a 53' treated timber L-4 tower, was built. The cab from the original L-4 cab was probably moved over from the original from the previous tower.
Sadly the Fire Lookout was destroyed in 1989.
This writer visited the site in April 2009 and there was still numerous feet of snow so the actual fire lookout location could not be photographed.
This photo shows the fire lookout situated on the left side of this photo. To the far right is the remaining dome that shows prominently in the Overview Section.
Blacktail Mountain Ski Area sign
Blacktail Mountain is located on the west Shore of Flathead Lake.
Getting there is easy. Access from U.S. Highway 93 is located at the base of a long hill on the south side of Lakeside and is well marked in both directions with signs designating access to National Forest Access as well as Blacktail Mountain.
There is a grocery store surprisingly called Blacktail Grocery at the start of the road.
Follow Forest Service Road (FRS) # 917 for about 14 miles through various switchbacks. After about 4 miles the pavement ends and the graded gravel road is good enough for passenger cars.
Please refer to the Flathead National Forest web site for the Red Tape under the FAQ
Follow FSR # 917 from Lakeside to the top of Blacktail Mountain. Park where it is convenient and walk up to the summit just above the Blacktail Electronic Site. This site looks like the top half of a soccer ball on a stand.
The true summit is located just to the south of this installation.
When to Climb:
This climb can be done at any time of the year because the road to Blacktail Ski Area is plowed during the winter. It is possible to drive it in a 2-wheel drive vehicle but a 4-wheel drive may be able to handle the route during the winter.
Take a pair of skis or snowshoes and get off the road for better views and great snow.
If the preference is for no snow plan on a trip to Blacktail Mountain anytime between May and the end of October.
If the weather window below is not working please see: Lakeside Weather
You can generally camp anywhere on National Forests, unless the area is posted otherwise. If you need your vehicle to camp, there may be some restrictions on where you can go. You may not drive or camp where you will cause resource damage, such as making vehicle ruts off roadways or damaging trees or streams. We recommend that you camp at least 150 feet from all lakes and streams. The distance you may pull your vehicle off an established roadway will vary, depending on the travel management policies of each forest. Generally, you may not drive more than 300 feet off a roadway to park, but this distance may be less in some areas. Please contact the local office near where you want to go.
The nearest campground is a state park called West Shore State Park
. For Montana residents entry into the park is included with purchase of their vehicle license plate. Out of state visitors pay $5 for entrance to parks that charge a fee. There also is a camping fee for overnight use. The campsites are available on a first come basis.
Get there in: a vehicle, mountain bike, snow shoes, skis, horse, running shoes....
External Links:Visit Montana
Flathead National Forest