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Sep 18 2015

Biting into Pear Lake Basin

A circle of lakes surrounded by towering peaks is perfect for taking in southwest Montana's East Pioneers

Exploring Montana, Featured

A great way to access some of the best hiking in the East Pioneers is via Birch Creek Road, about ten miles north of Dillon off Interstate 15. Several dirt roads branch from this one, each leading towards its own adventure. For the most part, any vehicle can manage these maintained dirt roads, but there are stretches marked beforehand as primitive, requiring a high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle.

Our destination today is Pear Lake Basin, a Wilderness Study Area that would be designated as Wilderness under the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act. After we go a few miles down Birch Creek Road, Torrey Mountain appears to the north along with a number of other massive, once-glaciated mountains. 

Directly east of Sawtooth and Highboy Mountains, the first lake in the Pear Basin loop is Boot Lake, accessible by a nicely maintained trail that runs parallel with a primitive road. From Boot Lake, there is a clear view of the jagged ridgeline that gives Sawtooth its name. Mountains tower on all sides. Plenty of meadow-like terrain surrounds us, with thick tree cover hiding the several other lakes beyond. 

The approach from Boot Lake to Pear Lake winds alongside a number of flowing creeks that, every now and then, cascade over rocks and logjams. Lots of pretty scenery presents itself on this hike, and although we didn’t see any large wildlife today, birds sing almost the entire way.

Most of the lakes in the basin have been dammed. The largest lake, Pear Lake has been drained a bit, but still has a good amount of water. The shoreline is rocky, but there are comfortable areas to sit or even perhaps set up camp. Just after arriving here, we spot a bald eagle gliding high across the lake’s lightly colored waters. I’ve been told that many of the lakes and creeks back in this area offer great fishing, especially Pear.

We continue on and begin hiking the more inclined trail to Anchor Lake, which sits a bit higher than Pear and Boot Lakes. Tucked right into the base of Sawtooth Mountain, this shallow and clear lake offers an incredible view of the peak and the surrounding valley.

We don’t attempt to finish hiking the valley’s connecting loop to get out. It’s apparent, though, that you can spend an entire day or two enjoying this lush basin and its sparkling lakes.

- Zach Schmaus, MWA intern and University of Montana Western student