An adventure in northwest Montana in late summer

#1
Prelude: After spending almost 40 years visiting most of Montana there was one area that I wanted to really get to know a little better. So back in May of 2017 I posted a query to see if anyone else would like to join in an adventure through that part of the state. You can read about the planning and minor post trip comments here: https://www.expeditionportal.com/forum/threads/any-interest-in-a-rof-best-of-montana-in-2018.172293/ So far, it is only 37 pages long.

This was to be a Retired Old Fart (ROF) trip, and as such I had some basic premises that I wanted to follow. First of all ROFs enjoy a more leisurely pace. Next, we like to spend time together around the campfire sharing stories and reliving past adventures. So that means shorter days on the road and more time in camp. As a group, we typically broke camp each day around 9 a.m. and I attempted to have us at the next campsite by 4 p.m. each afternoon. Finally, because I had only been out "adventuring" with one member previously (Ace Brown), I didn't plan any really tough off-roading stuff.

Planning was based primarily on use of a Benchmark Road and Recreation Atlas for Montana, plus valuable input from several locals (a big thank you especially to shortbus4X4). I created a 10 day trip using Gaia GPS and Google Earth to get everything going. I had envisioned doing the entire trip prior to getting the group together, but had to have knee surgery which kept that from happening. So i focused on finding USFS or state campgrounds to spend each night in.

As things turned out, the actual trip ended up being only seven days together with the ROFs. I deleted one day of the trip because once we started I didn't think it added anything to the overall adventure. We lost an additional two days due to the local forest fire situation. But even with that the whole trip was a very positive one for me as the leader. I would gladly join any of my fellow Montana adventure ROFs on another trip in the future. I want to thank all of the participants for making this my first ROF adventure in a leadership role the most enjoyable I can imagine.
 
Last edited:
#2
Day One:

We were to meet in St. Regis, MT, on Sept. 4th. That day was selected with the idea that for most families summer vacation would be over and the kids would be back in school. My fellow ROFs would be arriving from all over the country; OH, TX, CO, OR, CA, and me from WA. Most of these folks would be traveling a lot farther than I had to. So for me that meant as really short trip from Spokane east through the Idaho panhandle, over Lookout Pass, and down into St. Regis. I left home mid-morning on Labor Day and decided prior to driving into St. Regis to check out the campsite I had picked for my first night out. The USFS Cabin City campground is just off Interstate 90 and only 10-14 miles west of St. Regis. I was there by 2 p.m. It was only one of two campsites I stayed at during this trip that required a $3.50/night expenditure. With both toilets and potable water, plus a very secluded environment, it had everything I like in campgrounds.

After a quick look-see, I headed by back road to St. Regis. To my pleasant surprise I met everyone but Gary from CA that afternoon. Most were either spending their last night for a week or so in the comfort of the local motel or had found a local campground to spend the night in. After a brief chance to meet and greet, Ace and I headed back to the Cabin City campsite where we each planned to have an early evening meal and a good night's sleep.

IbDLYFhhTxOxT5WthFrwjA.jpg

Set up for that first night in Cabin City.

7vyE5hbKQK2Ln9OBNpWXiA.jpg

Ace and Kenda relaxing prior to the next day's start of the adventure.
 

Ace Brown

Adventurer, Overland Certified OC0019
#3
Thanks Dale.

My prelude:

I left Cedaredge on August 28 and spent the night camping on a high bluff overlooking Rabbit Valley and enjoyed a full moon rise. Next morning I met David and Terri in Fruita for a quick breakfast then we headed north for the long trek to the far NW corner of Montana. On the way we did a abbreviated tour of Dinosaur National Monument. David found a secluded camp above Deep Creek where they fixed me a good dinner. Next day we had to backtrack some due to roads that went through on my map but not on David’s. Quick chat with a local confirmed we couldn’t get through. The highlite of this day was the interesting Geologic Loop west of Flaming Gorge. Left Utah for Wyoming then soon into Idaho. Thousands of acres of recently harvested wheat looked like rolling sand dunes from a distance. I was blown away by all these little towns we flew through at 65 mph because there was no slow zone. I’d hate to raise kids in one of those towns. But maybe that was Wyoming that had the crazy speed limits. Another camp in the boonies and another great meal from D&T. Two more uneventful days and boondock camps passed by. We stopped at Cabelas in Missoula for bear spray. There we parted company as they wanted to do laundry and other civilized chores. I ended up camping up near Lolo Pass. Next day found me in St Regis where I met most of our crew. Then I camped that night at Cabin City CG with Dale in the adjacent spot. The next day was our meetup in St Regis. I thought it was interesting that I had met and run with everyone there on some previous trip, some on several trips.

Trafic jam

Big Sky




Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 
#4
I took two days to get from SoCal (Costa Mesa) to St Regis, MT. I didn't rough it, but stayed in cheap motels. I found Dick as soon as I pulled in the motel parking lot in St Regis. Later, I found this suspicious character sitting on the back of his big GMC diesel truck. I asked him if he was just starting his trip or ending it. He said he was going on the trip with the same group I was going on. I decided he was not so suspicious after all and we introduced ourselves and chatted a while. Later he introduced me to his wife Terri when she came out to se what was going on. They had travelled all the way from Ohio. I found out everybody else were camping at various places that night. After a good nights sleep and a nice hot shower, I was ready to meet up with the rest of the group and start our journey through the mountain timbers of Montana.
 
#5
Day Two:

Our scheduled meetup at 9 a.m. Tuesday morning went off as expected. I could tell immediately that this was going to be a great adventure. Everyone was experienced and excited to get underway. After a brief meeting with final instructions and a change to fill up the gas/diesel tanks one last time we were off. But first, let's check out who came along and what they were driving.

Ace (CO) and I (WA) both had 5th gen 4Runners. We both were also towing small overland trailers. Ace is probabldy the most experienced ROF on the trip. Full of knowledge which he shares with all. He also graciously volunteered to be tailgunner for the entire trip. He gets to fight through everyone else's dust cloud. He also works the radios keeping us all in touch and amused with his stories. A real treasure to have on a trip like this.

Gary (CA) had his well set up Ford Ranger with a Wildernest camper. He is one of the nicest, quietest, and most competent overlander I've run into. And he is a great photographer. Oh, need an expert campfire starter? Gary is your man.

pjX%0aqWTJ+ksRsU1GAiwA.jpg

Dick was the minimalist in the group. He showed up with a Nissan Xterra. I think Dick said he was 7'4". He had magically turned the interior of the Xterra into a sweet little camper. Dick also had an answer to the most perplexing questions or problems. A great match for the professsor on Gilligan's Island. I can use that reference because ROFs know what I'm talking about.

0Ucawrq%Qe+sEzDNvnjfow.jpg

Roger and Susan drove a Ford F150 with a FWC in the bed all the way up from Texas. Roger also towed a small trailer behind the truck. Roger, help me with a picture of your rig please! Susan unfortunately couldn't stay for the entire trip due to work commitments. But Roger kept us all enthralled with the stories of his years in the Marine Corps. Friendly and helpful, and a fly fisherman to boot.

David and Terri are from Ohio. Terri is trained in emergency medical techniques. What incredible luck to have them on the trip. Two of the calmest people I've ever met. A real pleasure to get to know and I certainly look forward to traveling with them in the future. Well, heck, I'm looking forward to traveling with all these folks again sometime soon.

pIzKzwtERymX6nPqiWNjhA.jpg

So with introductions complete, we leave St Regis on the start of our off-roading adventure. In true adventure form our first 12 miles are on asphalt, the old Mullan Road, past the Cabin City campground and finally onto gravel.
 
#6
Day Two (Cont.):

Getting a trip underway is always a bit nerve wracking. So it was a relief to finally hit the dirt. We immediately drove through a series of switchbacks to reach the high point of the day, Brooks Mountain 5,706'. Following several ridge lines we pass through Knox Pass and turn onto the Old Henderson-Thompson Road which we continue on until arriving at the Gold Rush campground. We had made a few stops along the way to the top of the ridgeline to take in the view. It was interesting to note that the south facing slopes were covered in Western Larch. These trees typically turn bright yellow in the fall and their needles fall off. But we were a little early to see that. The underbrush was well on its way to fall colors.

2C3tigvmTGCQRY5viFCtVw.jpg
Standing behind Roger's trailer are Dick, Gary, David, Terri, Susan, Roger,and way in the back Ace.

The USFS Gold Rush campground is probably the smallest one we stayed in. Although there was room enough to spread out in it, we spent this first night pretty much bunched in together. The day had been a short one with only 35 or so miles of actual dirt driving. Setting up our camps, eating supper, and sitting around chatting afterwards, we had a canopy of pine trees above our heads with just a glimmer of a few stars shining down on us as nightfall descended.
 

Ace Brown

Adventurer, Overland Certified OC0019
#7
Here we are gathered in that first camp listening to Roger tell tales about his life as a Marine. Frenchie is usually the story teller (always tells the truth or lies), but in his absence Roger is filling in quite well.



Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 
#9
9:30 am – The group meets in the parking lot across from the motel and we start our adventure. 40 F and clear.

Took old highway 10 west to a forest service gravel road heading north. Up the mountain, over hill and dale just easing along looking at the scenery.

1539347712662.png
 
#10
Day two:

9:08 – Underway. 40F. More FS roads then we find our way to Thompson Falls for gas
10:11 – Underway from Thompson Falls headed north.
12:20 – Fishtrap Creek camp ground for lunch. 59F and clear.
1:05 – Leave our lunch stop and head north for Fishtrap Lake. Oops, the road we wanted to take is closed. No problem, we make a big loop up and over and back down to the Fishtrap Lake CG – which is a very nice campground. 76F and clear. 58 miles today just easing along. Sydney - the wonder dog in the bottom right of the picture.

1539364714529.png
 
#11
Day Three:

To be perfectly honest, because I had not been able to recce a single mile of the roads we would be on prior to leaving for this adventure, I was a bit fearful that the entire trip could end up being pretty boring. My biggest concern was that these roads would not be exciting, nor would they have any really beautiful scenery. Boy, was I wrong! In fact, I think the last bit of trail we undertook to get to Fishtrap Lake CG this day would end up being one of my favorites of the trip. But I am getting ahead of myself.

To clarify something prior to moving on, to me this will be Day Three, the third day since leaving home. Dick's comments above relate to this day which is Day Two of the Montana Adventure.

So back to the adventure. Everyone was up, fed, packed up and ready to abandon Goldrush CG by 9 a.m. We quickly made our way north to the community of Thompson Falls where we stopped for fuel. It was about this time that Ace let me know that my mic key was sticking in the on position after transmissions. I then began to switch between 2 meters and CB for much of the rest of the trip. Guess my old IC-207a was beginning to show its age.

Leaving town we headed east for a short distance on highway 200 then turned to the northeast and followed the Thompson River. The river valley itself is beautiful. Roger and I both chatted on the radios about how nice it would be to drop a fly on the water and see what the trout population was like. After too short a time along the river we turned north and followed Fishtrap Creek road and began to gain elevation. The day was glorious with sunny skies and warm temps. Turning west we edged along Beatrice Creek for a short distance before again switching north and switchbacking up to the top of a ridgeline. The Forest Service roads we're on typically are wide enough for two vehicles in the flatlands but turn to single vehicle lanes once we start gaining elevation. Near the top of the ridgeline we ran into one of the few people we would encounter on these well maintained trails. A lone hunter stopped to let us by. He was out searching for deer, elk, and bear. Wishing him good luck we continued on our way. Zigzagging back down the far side of the ridge we stopped for lunch at Fishtrap CG. I can't overemphasize how beautiful the forest draped mountains along our route are. A few cotton ball cumulus clouds floated above us in that big Montana sky. Too soon it was time to move on. We continued along Fishtrap Creek once more for another four miles or so when suddenly a change of plans had to be made. The road I had wanted to drive up to Fishtrap Lake CG on was closed. This was most fortunate as it forced us to travel further west and up another ridgeline following FS7553. Topping that ridge we once more dropped down into a narrow valley then swithcbacked up to the next ridgeline. Once there we tied into FS7593, one of my favorite segments of the trip. The road paralleled the top of the ridge for a short distance before descending to our campsite for the night. The drive was spectacular; the ridge line on one side with a sheer drop on the other. A single lane drive for several miles, it was lucky that we didn't meet up with anyone coming from the opposite direction. With three trailers in the group and nowhere to turn or get out of the way such a meeting could have been uncomfortable for us all. (I mention the specific FS roads here because I feel they are well worth exploring for anyone who enjoys a bit of excitement with their mountain driving.)

Fishtrap Lake CG is fantastic. The site's rolling countryside covers a huge area, has enough trees for shade, yet is open enough to allow for large dispersed crowds. Fortunately, all those kids were back in school and mom and dad back to work. Post Labor Day overlanding in Montana is the way to go. Once settled in (early in the afternoon) David assisted Ace in getting his paddle board down to the lake. I think he had the whole lake to himself. The rest of us took it easy. A few went off for a hike while the remainder finished setting up for the night. Chairs were pulled around a fire pit and we waited for the sun to set. After dark, with Gary starting a magnificent blaze, we sat and shared our overlanding tales with one another. Roger once more outdid the rest of us. The night sky was filled with shimmering dots of light and the temperature was warm enough to keep most of us up late.

For some stupid reason I didn't get a single picture of this day's events. I think part of it was that the drive, especially just prior to reaching the camp site, was stealing all of my attention. This campground is so good and the drive in is so great that I know I will be coming back here with my wife to share its beauty and remoteness with her.
 
Last edited:

Ace Brown

Adventurer, Overland Certified OC0019
#12
Dale I’m really enjoying your report. You mention details that I’ve forgotten already. But it has been a month.

Fishtrap Lake was a great paddle. I circumnavigated the entire shoreline while enjoying some cold beverages. My estimate was five miles of paddling.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 
#13
Our Prelude:
After months of looking forward to finally stepping foot (tire) in the beautiful state of Montana we hit the road on Saturday Aug. 25th and headed west on I-70. Anxious to leave the heat and humidity behind as well as knowing not much scenery between Ohio and Colorado, we put the hammer down and turned the music up. Overnighted in Hayes, KS and arrived in Gunnison, Co mid afternoon on Sunday the 26th.
We were in Colorado to meet up with Ace to do some exploring on the way to St. Regis, MT.
Got up early Monday morning for breakfast and a trip to Gene Taylor sporting goods store in downtown Gunnison. They have pretty much anything you need for camping, fishing, hunting, kayaking, and hiking jammed into 2 floors and an adjacent building. Had been there five years ago on a elk hunting trip and it had not changed at all.
From there we headed west towards Black Canyon National park. Although we lived in Colorado for 10yrs we had never been. I must say it was much more impressive than what we had expected.
DSCN0387.jpg
DSCN0388.jpg

Moved on to Ouray (also a town we had never visited) and stayed at the historic Beaumont Hotel. Pretty cool place. Had a cocktail from a rooftop bar and relaxed.
IMG_0072.jpg
Next morning we had breakfast and headed south on 550 to hit some famous sw Colorado trails. Now our rig is no rock crawler but we had fun none the less.
DSCN0401.jpg
DSCN0403.jpg

Would have loved to do Blackbear to Telluride but not with our fat girl so off to Silverton. Seemed every tour bus in Colorado was stopped there. After getting the "let's hit the trail for Montana" from Ace we decided to head north for Grand Junction to our old stomping grounds at Mesa State University where Terri and I met for the first time 38 years ago almost to the day as college freshman far from home!

Met up with Ace and his trusty side kick Kenda the next morning and the move for Montana was on! Up thru Douglas Pass and on to Dinosaur. On the road in to the park from the south we stopped for lunch sitting on the edge overlooking a beautiful valley. There was a little smoke pollution but not too bad.
DSCN0413.jpg

Decided not to continue up to the park but instead south and then west to Vernal for fuel and then to Flaming Gorge. Very cool place! Unlike the rest of the reservoir's we had seen so far this one did not seem to be far below normal. Cannot say why it was different.
DSCN0419.jpg
Moved on and found a nice boondock campsite for the night. Had a nice dinner and sat around after catching up as we had not seen Ace since the Eclipse Trip to Wyoming last summer. It was like we never left. Very traveling with Ace and Kenda again. Ace's easy going manner and experience was welcome. He has a way of slowing down the pace and enabling us to see and focus on the journey, not just the destination.
Next morning we traveled through Sheep Creek Gap to a neat canyon road around Flaming Gorge highlighting the geology of the area.
DSCN0423.jpg

Heading north through Utah and passed the sight of the first mountain man rendezvous held in 1825 on the Henry Fork of the Green River.
Supplies and trade goods brought in from St. Louis by mule trains headed by William Ashley and accompanied by Jim Bridger, Jedediah Smith and others. Ashley sent back Easy to imagine this lush valley filled with 500 mountain men and thousands of Crow, Shoshone, Nez Perce along with their horses.
Bet that was a hell of a party!

1826-Willow-Valley-Rendezvou1.jpg
Through Kemmerer and north on 233 to the Bridger-Teton National Forest for another beautiful star filled night. Heard a couple of bull elk in the night getting warmed up for the full on lady chasing rut. DSCN0432.jpg

More to come.
 
#14
Next morning on the trail came upon a sheepherder on horseback, his flock, and dogs. The Pyrenees protect dogs were very large with heads like a bear and scarred faces from fighting off predators bent on lamb chops for dinner. Also had herding dogs.
DSCN0435.jpg
DSCN0436.jpg
DSCN0434.jpg

Headed down into Cokeville for fuel and supplies. Then north to Afton, Wyoming. Sorry for the angled pic. Terri was hanging out the truck door window going 30mph at my request. Oops
DSCN0443.jpg
DSCN0447.jpg

Camped north of Alpine close to Palisades Reservoir. Had an awesome evening watching the eagles followed by another great meal from Terri. Campfire, cocktails and stories into the night.
DSCN0451.jpg
DSCN0454.jpg
We needed to beat feet for Montana so we did not hit as much dirt as would have liked. Heading north and east thru the Teton River valley was a picture of contrast with the wheat, potato, and sugar beet fields on the rolling ground with the Teton range as a back drop. Amazing country.

Kept on to the north and finally crossed into Montana driving up the Madison River valley. Turned west at Ennis and past thru Virginia City and Nevada City as fast as we could. It was Labor Day weekend and wall to wall people. No thanks.
Decided it was time to find a camp site south of Twin Bridges. Ace has a sixth sense about finding awesome boondock camp sites. He led us up a forest service access road I would have driven right by. It did not look promising at first but we kept climbing finally reaching Deer Lodge National Forest. Camped in a high meadow by the old Paymaster mine with amazing views.
DSCN0460.jpg
DSCN0461.jpg
DSCN0464.jpg

Thats all for the prelude. Will have more of the actual Montana trip.
 
#15
Great story David, thanks for joining in. Give my regards to your gracious wife. Nanc and I expect to have our new trailer down in the Ouray/Gunnison area early next August. Can't wait to visit that area again as we lived in Montrose back in the mid-70's.

Dale
 
Last edited:
Top