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Howe Lake and beyond ... Biological diversity abounds on this relatively short journey

by CHRIS PETERSON
Editor | June 19, 2024 7:55 AM

Sometimes you do a hike in Glacier National Park for the fun of it and other times they become an exploratory mission. Sunday’s hike on the Howe Lake Fire Trail was the latter. To get to the Howe Lake Fire Trail you simply hike to Howe Lake off Glacier National Park’s Inside North Fork Road and then keep going.

The trail will get quite a bit fainter once you leave Howe Lake proper as it winds up the side of Howe Ridge. Having said that, the views open up quite a bit and while the trail itself is pretty brushy there are plenty of openings to view the peaks surrounding Lake McDonald.

The Howe Lake drainage is a unique one in that it’s burned over in wildfires not once, but twice in the past 21 years. First in 2003’s Robert Fire and then again in the 2018 Howe Ridge Fire.

As such, there’s a host of different age class trees along the route, from larch that survived both blazes, to willows that are coming back in force after the Howe Ridge blaze to trees that are post-Robert Fire and are about 20 feet high.

It’s a real ecological stew and pretty interesting to the observant eye, but not the most aesthetically pleasing landscape, diversity or not.

I had never completely done the fire trail and what I was really interested in is whether the Howe Ridge Fire Trail, which runs from Howe Ridge to the Trout Lake Trail, had been rehabbed after the Howe Ridge Fire.

The short answer is it hasn’t, at least not from the junction of the trails to the east. There’s a bright shiny new sign, but just hints of the trail remain at that point, as it’s badly brushed in and choked with downfall.

It would be easier to bushwhack Howe Ridge than to follow the old trail.

At any rate, we turned around and headed back, taking photos along the way. We ran into some other photographers/birders from Michigan who had already recorded some life “firsts” as they’d seen a Lewis’s woodpecker and some other Western species.

“What else are you looking for?” I asked.

“A black backed woodpecker,” they said.

We hiked down the trail together aways and I heard a tap-tap-tap on a tree. I looked up and sure enough, a black-backed woodpecker.

I waited for them to catch up and pointed the bird out to them.

“There’s your black-backed,” I said.

All in a day’s work.

If you decide to hike the Howe Ridge Fire Trail to the end, it’s about 3.4 miles one-way with some modest elevation gain.