Not only is Columbia Falls “The Gateway to Glacier National Park”, it is the pathway to a rustic and scenic alternative route to Glacier National Park at Camas Creek Park Entrance. County Road 486, also called the North Fork Road, follows along the North Fork of the Flathead River.
The North Fork of the Flathead river is the western boundary of the park and has been designated a Wild and Scenic River. It is about 20 miles north to Camas Creek entrance to Glacier. The last nine miles of the roadway are not paved.
There are many recreational sites along this rustic route, offering hiking, fishing, sightseeing, photography, canoeing/rafting and camping opportunities.
A paved road between the Camas Creek entrance and the Glacier Park
entrance leads to the trailhead and parking area.
We pick up a trail guide as we begin our walk and then follow the trail into the fire area. This walk shows us how a fire in the 1960’s started the beginning of another forest which provided food and shelter for the deer, bear and elk. The fireweed, which always grows after a fire, brings lots of color to the summer landscape and if looked at closely, the buds have delicate shades of pink and purple and are beautiful. The recovering forest area burned again in 2001 by the Moose Fire. This fire burned hotter than the 1960’s fire and destroyed some trees that survived the first fire. The new forest is mostly lodgepole pine. Lodgepole pine needs fire to release its seeds from the cones and grows quickly renewing the forest. Gradually, other trees also renew themselves and the area changes again. All the new growth provides food for the animals and we see and hear woodpeckers working the old burned trees searching for bugs and grubs.
Wild strawberry vines grow in some areas but we didn’t find any of the small-sweet berries. Some wildflowers are in bloom along the trail. A nice-easy walk to enjoy at a leisurely pace, interesting and educational.
The winter has been light on the north fork this year. Waiting for the winter snows to replenish the water supply, the land lays dormant. Silent splender surrounds us as we hike on to explore the winter wonderland of Glacier at it's best. The quiet seems to bring anticipation of what awaits us around the next corner. The sun stayed with us, moving in and out of the clouds, the icicles hang from the frozen rocks along the creek bed.