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Upper Marshall Lake

A jagged shoreline offers plenty of pondering spots for visitors to the upper Marshall Lake at the base of Crescent Mountain on the west side of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex.

SEELEY LAKE — The Bob Marshall Wilderness has a new front door.

The old outfitter’s trail to Crescent Lake and the Marshall Lakes Basin has been upgraded to a full Forest Service-standard path, although it doesn’t show up on any current published maps. Even Google Earth misnames the west-side cirque as Hoehn Lake.

But head up the well-signed road from Seeley Lake to Morrell Falls and the Pyramid Pass trailhead and the new route is easy to spot, a short distance uphill from a large horse corral. From there it’s a steep four miles of switchbacks rising 2,000 vertical feet across the western slopes of Marshall Mountain that eventually drops into the Crescent Lake. A distinctive peninsula on its eastern corner gives the otherwise round-looking water body its name. Although lots of bugs and ducks swim there, no fish were seen in two days of camping.

From Crescent, another good trail climbs a mile over the 500-foot headwall into the Marshall Lakes Basin. Here await the real scenic payoffs of the trip. The upturned sedimentary layers of the Swan Range mountains have eroded into dozens of narrow ridges, many holding little meltwater tarns and fields of wildflowers. The trail continues north to a real lake filled by a cascade tumbling down an angled wall of red argillite. That waterfall drains another, larger lake nestled under the cirque of Crescent Mountain, although no obvious trail leads up there. Current maps show a trail pushing much of the way from Young’s Creek up Marshall Creek Canyon to the east, but it don’t appear to reach all the way into the lake level.

For decades, the Pyramid Pass trail was the primary Bob Marshall entrance out of Seeley Lake. The pass and Pyramid Lake are fine hikes and a good introduction to the 2-million-acre wilderness complex. But they’re a hamburger joint compared to the steakhouse that awaits visitors to the Marshall Lakes Basin.

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Natural Resources & Environment Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter for The Missoulian.