Forget the Diamond and Give Me the Jewel
Unable to get enough of Jewel Basin, our summer intern hikes to the top of Mount Aeneas three times in one month
Exploring Montana, Featured
When I first heard about the Jewel Basin, located in the Flathead National Forest, I was immediately drawn to it. Most likely this could be attributed to the stories I heard about the area. I heard about lakes so clear and blue they are almost impossible not to swim in. I heard about peaks that overlook the entire valley and into different ranges. And best of all, everyone I talked to mentioned how uninhabited and untouched this land was. One of the most recommended hikes through Jewel Basin was to the summit of Mount Aeneas.
Mount Aeneas is a short six-mile hike, with relatively moderate elevation gain. Driving to the Camp Misery trailhead I felt like I was truly going on an adventure. The road to the trailhead was winding, on the edge of a cliff, and bumpy, of course. Finally we arrived at the mostly empty trailhead.
The first mile of the trail was very wide and gradual, lined with a variety of wildflowers. As the trail gained elevation, views of other jagged peaks came into view. These views truly showed how wild this area is. As far as the eye can see there is not one house, road, or telephone pole. It is all wilderness.
The trail traversed to the other side of the mountain, at which point an unobstructed view of the entire Flathead Valley opened up. Better yet, wildflowers covered the slopes. From beargrass to fireweed to Indian paintbrush, it was incredible to see just how many different colors could be found in nature.
The trail continued upwards, and after some sweat-inducing switchbacks through huckleberries, we finally reached the saddle, the site of a giant white Microwave Tower. Aside from the tower, the views from the saddle of Mount Aeneas are truly indescribable. On one side I looked down to see the flat valley, crowded with homes. On the other side I looked out to see gorgeous lakes and mountain ranges covering the horizon. And the best part? There was not one hint of civilization on this side of the saddle. It was completely wild.
The trail continued as a ridge walk to the summit of Mount Aeneas. When I first did this hike, this section of the trail was crawling with mountain goats. It definitely slowed our pace as we stopped to take photos of the goats and allowed them to pass at a proper distance.
Upon reaching the summit, even more views of surrounding mountain ranges and alpine lakes opened up. Most notable are the breathtaking views into Glacier and glimpses of the Hungry Horse Reservoir. The summit made for the perfect spot to sit down and enjoy a snack before heading back down to the trailhead.
I left this hike feeling so refreshed. It is always great to get out in nature, but something about this hike made it extra special. Perhaps it was the never-ending views that showcased the difference between the wilderness and civilization. Maybe it was the rainbow of colors found in the wildflowers or the inquisitive nature of the mountain goats. Whatever it was, this quickly became my favorite hike in Montana. In fact, I came back to do this hike two more times within the same month. I hiked up to watch the sunset from the summit, which was almost as awe inspiring as the stars that lit the trail on the hike down.
This area is a perfect reminder of how important public lands are, and how important it is to save this land not only for our own enjoyment but for the wild features that exist there.
- Maddie Matarazzo is our summer intern and a student at James Madison University.