Back in July we met up with some great friends of ours, Chaney & Lashae and their daughter Maubry for a day of driving around the Montana/Wyoming mountains.
We climbed up the Beartooth Pass, a tight winding highway up the side of the mountains above Red Lodge, Montana.
When we got out at the top to stretch we were lucky enough to see some amazing wildlife up close and personal.
We stopped for a picnic lunch at a campground outside of Cooke City. After throwing our garbage away we started to leave the campground when we noticed the campground host standing in the middle of the road watching us and looking down at a piece of paper. We stopped to see what was going on and apparently after we left the camping site he went and found someone else’s trash in the bear proof box and accused us of leaving it. He threatened to send us a ticket despite Jack trying to reason with him – thankfully we never did get a fine in the mail. Even though being falsely accused didn’t make us want to ever use that campground in the future, it is important to be good stewards of the land and also to just be safe by not leaving trash and especially trash that smells like food lying around.
As we headed down into Wyoming we began climbing another, smaller pass.
At the top is a lookout over the valley below and on the lookout are many tiny little chipmunks that have apparently been fed because they are quite fond of humans. Maubry was also quite fascinated with them.
Even though the drive up or down the Beartooth Pass can be somewhat daunting, for the explorer the great view, the great country and the great time are all well worth it!
The beginning of this February was extremely cold in Montana, with temperatures dropping all the way down to 30 F below zero. It has been ridiculous. Jack & I talked about getting away to somewhere warmer for Valentines Day, but since neither of us are very patient and the weather was due to warm up we decided to go to our favorite hot springs in White Sulphur, Montana a week ahead of time.
So Friday night after work we headed off, just grabbing some fast food because we would already be arriving late. I couldn’t complain about it though because I love traveling at night. Thankfully, the roads weren’t too icy and the drove was mostly uneventful. That is until were were in the middle of a rather intense conversation and Jack looked over at me for a split second and I simultaneously looked up at the road.
“Deer!” I screamed.
Looking back now it was silly. Obviously something that large and dark colored couldn’t be a deer, but my mind didn’t process that we were about to hit an elk.
I squeezed my eyes shut and felt the grab of the seat belt as Jack hit the brakes. I thought that there was no way that we were going to miss it and I waited for the impact. But it never came. When I looked up there was no sign of the elk anywhere. Jack (who thankfully has the presence of mind to keep his eyes open while avoiding elk) said he saw it slip on the ice for a split second before it disappeared on the side of the road. I spent the next few minutes to White Sulphur in tears, nearly hyperventilating from the sudden shock.
By the time we threw our bags into our room I was composed and thoughts of the elk disappeared as we quickly changed and made our way towards the pools. I was pleasantly surprised at how amazing it felt. The cold night and the steaming hot pools (which are kept at temperatures ranging from 98-105 degrees depending on the pool) blended almost perfectly to be a comfortable temperature. Between the darkness and the heavy steam rising around us, it was nearly impossible to see others, so it felt like we had complete privacy.
The next morning when went back out, it was even colder at zero degrees. If anything wet was out of the water for any period of time would freeze solid. That is why smart people left their shoes and other clothing items right inside the door instead of leaving them poolside like we did. That is also how Jack turned into Jack Frost.
Overall, the stay was very relaxing. We would definitely recommend that if you go in the winter to stay in a room close to the pool because the motel part is a long, cold walk away. We stayed in the new part of the hotel and we were very impressed with the large rooms and comfortable beds. My only complaint was that the walls and floors seemed thin and we could hear the guy two doors down repeatedly blowing his nose. So make sure you get a room that isn’t on the pool side if you are an early sleeper.
The water is supposed to be full of healthy minerals and I have heard people swear that constant exposure will even make warts go away. My skin and hair was incredibly soft the next morning and as always I left wishing that there was a way I could have constant access to the water there.
Shortly after breakfast we began to gather all of our belongings together. We needed to get going relatively soon to be back home at a decent hour so that we could get ready for work the next morning. We stashed our nifty grate for the fire, tore the tent down and stashed all of our gear back into our three packs. Finally, I went through and brushed all the pine needles back under the area where we had the tent.
The trek back to Cliff Lake was all downhill, the weather was perfect and we made good timing. Thankfully, we found our canoe right where we left it, as well as the dry bag with all of our life jackets which we hid way back in the hillside.
But one of our dry bags was missing.
Jack & Erik had tied it high up in a tree away from the beaten path, but it was no where to be seen. We looked all over for any sign of the bright yellow bag or any of its contents. Our first thought was that a bear had taken it, but there was not a shred of anything that remotely looked like it could have been from our gear. Besides, there is no way a bear could have reached it.
Thankfully, to the best of our memories, we could only remember it having a couple of Jack’s t-shirts, some of our dry soup and cocoa mixes and our trash.
When we decided that there was no hope of finding it, we pushed the canoe off into the water once again. We spent most of our trip back tossing around theories about what happened to our bag, but we still don’t know.
We made good timing across the lake, not stopping until we got back to the tree that we jumped off of on our first day there. Both Jack and Erik wanted to take one last swim, but I stayed on shore and watched them, not wanting to get chilled.
We took a few more minutes for some photo-ops of the three of us – which of course is not an easy feat, even with the self timer on the camera. But we did get our shot in the end.
After a few more minutes of rowing we were back on the main shore where we loaded up the car and drove off, leaving the last four and a half days of excitement behind us, waiting for when we return.
Interested in taking this trip for yourself? Here’s some of the details to help you plan:
The weather when we went during the first week of July was perfect for fishing, it was warm all day and there were rainstorms every afternoon. It was just warm enough to get you into the chill lake water – though I would have liked it a little warmer, I don’t think the guys would agree. The only downside was the insane amount of flies & horseflies.
When Jack & Erik went the first time they went the beginning of June and the weather was cooler, they didn’t do much swimming, but there were no flies. Next time I would like to try August once it dries out a little more.
The hike from the end of Cliff Lake to Hidden was short and a fairly easy hike, especially if you weren’t carrying all of your camp with you. It has some short, somewhat steeper inclines, but for the most part it is an easy gradual climb. It is also clearly marked so you have no chance of missing it.
No boat? No problem – you can reach Hidden Lake from Wilderness Edge Resort (which is located at the nearest prong of Cliff Lake), or you can reach it from the opposite direction of Elk Lake. We have never taken either of these routes, but we would love to hear from you if you have!
Fishing is definitely something to take into consideration when planning your trip. Hidden Lake is only open to fishing from June 15th – November 30th according to the FWP site (the same goes for Otter, Goose, & Elk Lakes).
We didn’t do much fishing at Hidden, but at Cliff (which is open to fishing year round) we maxed out our limit of 3 lake trout per person.
Make sure to check the current regulations before you go!
If you have been reading any of Our Escapes to this point, you will realize that when it comes to camping, privacy is one of the most important aspects to us. This trip is perfect for getting away from everyone.
We were all anticipating tons of people since it was the 4th of July weekend, but there were only a few boats out on Cliff (it helps that it is a no wake lake). We didn’t meet anyone on the trail heading back to Cliff and there were only about 3 groups of people (who weren’t even overnighters) around Hidden and all of them seemed to want to mind their own business just as much as we did.