Seeking to expand our hiking horizons and see more of Montana, we spent the weekend at a campground near Seeley Lake and hiked to Morrell Falls. I was loaded for bear but… ran into something else.
Morrell Falls is a 5.8 mile, there and back, hike along a well-used, not very strenuous trail, at the edge of the Bob Marshall wilderness near Seeley Lake. Like many trailheads in Montana, the ride in is almost as much of an adventure as the hike. The six-mile access road was well marked and not scratched into the edge of a cliff like many forest service roads. It was, though, filled with potholes and my Silverado is still mad at me.
There’s a decent sized parking area that even has a pit toilet. The trail to the falls is well used and winds through a mostly flat valley recovering from a forest fire. New growth has begun but the scars remain. At almost every trailhead in Northwest Montana there are all kinds of warning signs: BE BEAR AWARE. Among the other wild things that eat meat in the area, there are bears here. Black bears and grizzly bears are not uncommon with the still protected grizzly population making a come-back.
I wasn’t worried. The trail was well used. I had bear spray and, since this was Montana, my 10mm pistol. We walked and talked partially to let any of those wild things I mentioned know we were coming. Despite the ice dripping from the trees in late May it was great hiking weather.
About two miles along, the trail wound up a not very steep hill and took a sharp left turn. Thick growth along the trail didn’t allow you to see what was coming down towards the turn as you hiked up.
Did I mention I wasn’t afraid of the bears? Well, that didn’t mean I didn’t keep a good lookout for them. Coming up to the sharp turn I looked left and saw a pair of fuzzy ears moving above the young tree growth. Being the experienced outdoorsman I am, I immediately knew they weren’t human ears. Too much fur. A split second later, not ten feet away, the furry ear turned into a head. Startled, I grunted loudly, aaahh! The furry creature, a deer, jumped. I didn’t know deer can jump straight up. She did. She jumped, spun around like an Olympic gymnast and landed sprinting back up the hill.
Close encounters of the Cervidae kind.
After explaining to my wife, Kat, that it was a manly grunt and not a scared scream we continued onward. The rest of the hike went on without me scarring the local animal population into stampede. Morrell Falls are impressive and definitely worth the hike. Snow-melt from the mountain tops cascading down seventy feet into a large pool at the bottom. Pretty cool.
This is just one hike in an area filled with hidden lakes and treasures. I’m sure you won’t find a more scenic place to hang out than in the Swan Valley.
But don’t forget the deer spray!