Mission Mountains Wilderness

A long hike, a short hike or a boat trip all lead to Crystal Lake, in the middle of the Mission Mountains Wilderness between Seeley Lake and Condon. Skilled route-finders can also make their way to seldom-seen High Park and Lost lakes.

CONDON – Crystal Lake holds the unusual distinction of having three trails to choose from — all with different challenges, but all leading into the Mission Mountains Wilderness.

Option No. 1 takes off from Beaver Creek Road, just after the Summit Lake overlook on Highway 83 north of Seeley Lake. It takes four miles of hiking to reach your destination.

Option No. 2 starts off Lindbergh Lake Road, up the Meadow-Bunyon road spur. This trail travels just two miles, but it does so at a considerably steeper grade. By the way, both routes have the further oddity of being a descent to a mountain lake. You do your climbing on the way home.

The third option requires a boat to travel the four miles of Lindbergh Lake, before taking a gentle creek-grade trail two miles to the upper lake. This route allows the heaviest packs and least damage to aging knees, assuming you have access to a boat.

However you arrive, Crystal Lake offers a beautiful basin with a sheeting waterfall covering much of the glacially carved cliff face at its far western end. Its foot has a line of island trees that drain its overflow like a leaky dam. This makes it very wet to get to the opposite shore, should you decide you chose the wrong entry route.

Old social trails lead up both long sides to the head of the lake, but don’t expect them to be in any passable condition.

Adventure-seekers hoping to get a closer look at the waterfall or to penetrate on to Lost and High Park lakes farther up the basin will find a troublesome swamp around most of the base of that cliff. It’s better, although totally unmarked, to bushwhack along the glacial moraine ridges above either shore to reach the upper basin. Hardy anglers report the struggle is worth the effort.

Location: Lindbergh Lake or Beaver Creek roads north of Seeley Lake, in the Mission Mountains Wilderness

Distance/Duration: 2-4 miles one way, depending on choice of trail, with 4-mile canoe option. Day hike or overnight backpack experience.

Difficulty: Moderate. Two trails descend 500 vertical feet to lake from trailhead, while third route starts with 4-mile boat approach over Lindbergh Lake followed by 2-mile hike.

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Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com.

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