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Hidden Paradise near Eureka - Find the beauty of Glacier just outside the park
Hidden Paradise near Eureka - Find the beauty of Glacier just outside the park

EUREKA - There remains a wonderfully wild corner of western Montana, tucked tight against the Canadian border, that looks a whole lot like Glacier National Park, smells like Glacier National Park, sounds like Glacier National Park, in most every way feels like Glacier National Park.

As you might have guessed, it is not, in fact, Glacier National Park. But it is paradise. That's paradise with a capital P, as in Paradise Lake, an easy getaway in the middle of nowhere not far from Eureka.

The five- or six-mile loop trail offers a small but satisfying sampling of wildlands long poised for protection under the 171,000-acre Winton Weydemeyer Wilderness proposal.

(Weydemeyer first suggested wilderness protection for the Whitefish Range back in 1925. He went on to become a successful rancher, tree farmer, Grange leader, Republican legislator, geologist, photographer and founder of both the local Soil Conservation District and the Montana Wilderness Association. But at his death in 1991, the Whitefish Range still had no formal wilderness designation.)

The trick to hiking in the mountains around Paradise Lake, also known as the Ten Lakes Wilderness Study Area, is access.

Trailheads here are not really close to anything, not on the way to anywhere else, and it takes some doing to get away to the getaway. But once you're on the trail, it's a simple walk in the woods.

Just head north out of Whitefish on U.S. Highway 93, about 45 miles to Grave Creek Road. Turn right, to the east, and your windshield fills with Weydemeyer's wilds, still about 30 winding miles distant.

For the first 10 miles or so, a narrow strip of pavement tracks the course of Grave Creek, matching the water's twist for turn until the blacktop finally gives way to dirt.

Follow the signs to Little Therriault Lake, 18 miles from the last patch of pavement, 28 miles from Highway 93.

Then find a shady spot to park, and tread the steep trail up the right side of the lake. Keep an eye out for huckleberries below, mountain goats above. About a half-mile along, the path crosses scenic Trail No. 339; hang a right and follow it under crumbling limestone cliffs.

That trail humps up over the ridge for about a mile, offering big views, then drops into beautiful Bluebird Basin.

Both Upper and Lower Bluebird lakes offer fine fishing and wild mountain vistas, but to find true paradise take the right fork onto the Paradise Lake trail before you get to the lower lake. If you hit Bluebird's waters, you've walked a couple of minutes too far.

After edging around the clear cold of Paradise Lake, the loop trail drops down through thick forest for a mile and a half or so to another trailhead, a stone's throw from the one you came in on.

Just follow the dirt road back to where you began, to an icy cooler and some sandals and a soft seat for the bumpy ride out.

In fact, the trails in the Ten Lakes area are often in better shape than the road, which has been known to eat a tire or two.

The trail treads, however, are excellent, a perfect place to explore with the entire family.

It is, in all the ways that matter, just like Glacier National Park. Except in one way: Here, there is no such thing as a crowd.

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