Great Burn Wilderness Backpack

Great Burn Wilderness Backpack

One of the great wild and scenic wilderness places in Montana is located just minutes west of Missoula. Known as the Great Burn Recommended Wilderness area, it encompasses approximately 275,000 acres between Montana and Idaho. As described by the Great Burn Conservation Alliance: “Named for the Big Burn of 1910, this 275,000-acre landscape bears the ecological fingerprint of fire and its abundant legacy. Marked by old-growth forests, wide-open meadows, crystal streams and jaw-dropping vistas, it is an unprotected treasure at the heart of the largest wildlands complex in the continental United States.”

The twins and I went backpacking there on a stewardship trip with a small group several summers ago. The goal was to remove invasive weeds and clean up campsites that were not left pristine as they were found. Accessible off the I-90 in Superior, MT, one can drive on a rough dirt road (#7734) to the Schley Mountain trailhead. From there is it only a modest 2-mile hike to Kid Lake. This is a reasonably kid friendly backpack as long as they can carry a decent amount of their own gear. But mom and dad usually shoulder the heavy weight. After reaching Kid Lake, a campsite was established near the shore and tents were pitched. Within minutes, Casey cut his finger with a folding knife as he was starting to whittle. A new time record for kids camping injuries!  But nothing a band-aid didn’t fix.

The next day we started our hike towards the Cedar Log Lakes, a collection of lakes to the northwest where we to begin our mission. Fishing poles were brought just in case. After a 3 or 4 mile hike we arrived at our destination. After our leaders went to find the St John’s Wort weeds, we waited for orders and started fishing. It became one of those high mountain fishing experiences where every cast caught a trout. There wasn’t a particularly large number of invasive weeds so it was a light work load as we continued to fish and eat lunch. On the way back we did clean up some campsites along the way (and picked huckleberries).  Some of us branched out and bushwhacked up the Stateline ridge above Kid Lake which brought more incredible views.

The Great Burn seems like another world that reminded me of the California Sierras and even the European Alps, yet in its own Montana and Idaho Rocky Mountain style.

The Great Burn is accessible for both easy and strenuous backpacking and even great day hikes. It is a hidden gem not just in Montana and Idaho, but America as well. The Great Burn Conservation Alliance has been advocating for decades to designate it as a national wilderness area – and rightfully so.

More information about the Great Burn can be found here and here. For good directions to Kid Lake go here.


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