Even though last weekend’s wintry weather put the kibosh on many popular summer outdoor activities, there’s still time to take advantage of warmer fall days that are in the forecast.
Lake Alva north of Seeley Lake sees its fair share of use during the hot summer months, and it’s a delightful place to paddle a canoe or kayak in the fall.
Covering almost 300 acres at an elevation of 4,198 feet, it’s surrounded by spruce and larch with the Swan Mountains providing a backdrop. On a recent warm autumn afternoon, when many people’s thoughts were turning to football and firewood, we set out for a serene Sunday spin around the shoreline just east of Highway 83.
Lake Alva on the Lolo National Forest is one of the handful of lakes in the Clearwater River chain. Unlike its bigger, well-known relatives — Seeley and Swan lakes — you won’t find jet skis zipping past when you set out for a leisurely paddle.
Just one family was splashing in the designated swimming area’s water, which was warmed by the afternoon sun when we launched our canoe. A 4-inch dragonfly flitted about as if to wish us bon voyage, and we paddled south toward the only other boat on the lake at the time. Lake Alva does allow motorized boats and sailboats, but all must operate at a “no-wake” speed throughout the year.
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From the water we checked out some of the 39 designated camping spots, most of which offer a mix of sunshine and shade, plus lake access. In places, natural stone stairs lead from the campsites to the shore. At $10 per night, on a first-come, first-served basis, it’s quite a deal. The two group sites are $25 and $35 per night, depending on the size, and can be reserved in advance.
Lake Alva is home to a variety of trout, including bull and westslope cutthroats. It also contains kokanee, yellow perch, largescale and longnose suckers and mountain whitefish. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks stocks both kokanee and cutthroats regularly; this year alone the state agency moved 10,000 cutthroats, which appears to be an annual event. In 2011, they stocked 48,000 kokanee, followed by 50,000 in 2012 and again in 2013, plus another 10,000 in 2015, 2016, and 2017.
By the time we hit the natural dam at the south end of the lake that was formed from — and empties back into — the Clearwater River, a family had launched a kayak and canoe. As we came closer to the loon nesting area a small sailboat also set out on the water.
The loons that frequent the west shore are a special treat. They migrate south for the winter, but notes on hiking websites mention how haunting their calls can be during the springtime. The nesting area is restricted and needs to be avoided.
We finished our lake tour with icy cold beverages that were best handled in gloves, but also were every bit as welcome in the cool fall air as in the heat of the summer. Take note: The larch around the lake are just starting to glow with their fall colors.