Hungry Horse: A Hidden Gem

Kalispell Montana is often home base to those visiting Glacier National Park.  It’s a short 30 minute or so car ride to West Glacier from the main hotels in town and Kalispell is home to some great dining as well.  However if you merely drive to and from Glacier and you don’t stop to check out the places in between you’re doing yourself an injustice.

Tucked away a little past the half way mark to West Glacier along Highway 2 is West Side Road.  Breaking away from the highway and heading south this unsuspecting looking road will lead you past Lion Lake and the surrounding campgrounds.  For those wanting to camp and avoid the peak season hustle and bustle of Glacier these campgrounds offer a great alternative outside the park and closer to Glacier than Kalispell hotels.  Don’t stop your journey down West Side Road here however, the real treasure lies farther down the road.

As you progress down the pavement of West Side Road you’ll soon see a large arch style dam come into view.  Hungry Horse Dam was completed in 1953 after 5 years of construction.  At the time it was the third largest and second highest concrete dam in the world.  The dam was originally commissioned for the purposes of hydroelectric power generation, irrigation and flood control.  No irrigation facilities were ever constructed, however, and today the dam’s main purpose is to provide electricity to the surrounding communities.  The body of water created by the dam, Hungry Horse Reservoir, is over 34 miles in length and covers over 23,000 acres.  The reservoir provides recreational opportunities and the views of mountain peaks towering in the distance are not to be missed.  West Side Road ultimately takes on the designation of National Forest Road 895 and follows along the southwest shore of the reservoir until it meets East Side Road / FS 3734 near Spotted Bear Ranch.  The first 16 miles or so of West Side Road are a well maintained paved surface, but beyond that the road turns to a unpaved track leading through the forest.
Multiple FS roads split away from West Side Road often following along a tributary supplying the reservoir.  While here in the fall of 2015 my hiking partners and I took the opportunity to explore Lost Johny Road / NF 895B.  This track leads away from the reservoir and parallels Lost Johnny Creek as it climbs away from the campground that bears it’s name on the shores of a cove below.  While not requiring 4 wheel drive when dry this road could become more difficult with a change in the weather.  Rock surfaces become slick with rain, and freezing or snowy conditions would quickly render a 2 wheel drive vehicle useless as 895B gains elevation and heads up Hash Mountain.  There are several established dispersed campsites along the path and a small parking area at the road’s terminus.  While there we saw signs of individuals that had entered the area on horseback and continued into the wilderness on trails that lead away from this parking area.
While climbing up the road Lost Johnny Creek will jump in and out of view through the drivers side of your vehicle, but with the windows down you’ll never stray from the sounds of it’s waters.  Large pines fill the hillsides and berry laden bushes attract wildlife preparing for winter.  As you reach the dirt parking area at the end of the road you’ll be treated with several cascading falls to explore and while there we took the time to hike around and climb several.  The brush here is thick and forcing your way through bush is difficult when exploring the cascades.  There are several well worn trails in the area and if you continue on some of the westbound paths toward the ridge you’ll find Lamoose Lake.
This is another area of Montana where I would strongly recommend having a printed map on your person if you plan on exploring the back country.  GPS signal can be spotty here due to the surrounding peaks affecting signal.  Google maps highlights several NF roads that are regularly gated, and others that are inaccurate or incomplete.  While driving this area we utilized Google maps while near the reservoir and then changed over to Backcountry Navigator when exploring the NF roads.  We had a National Geographic map of Glacier and the surrounding area as a backup.  Local maps can also be obtained from several outfitters in Kalispell, although I would strongly recommend seeking them out at the local bookstores for a better price.

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