Buffalo Lakes: Mountain wetland flush with wildlife

2014-07-23T06:00:00Z 2014-07-24T14:07:07Z Buffalo Lakes: Mountain wetland flush with wildlifeBy TOM KUGLIN Independent Record The Billings Gazette
July 23, 2014 6:00 am  • 

EAST GLACIER — If you hike to Buffalo Lakes and beyond in the Badger-Two Medicine area, you’ll probably spend as much time staring across the valley into the eastern peaks of Glacier National Park as actually trudging uphill.

To access the unmarked trailhead, drive 4.5 miles west from East Glacier. A small pullout on the south side of U.S. Highway 2 makes this a tricky spot to locate. A barbed-wire fence blocks an old access road and the fence provides a hiker walk-through, but be careful of snagging that expensive backpack on a barb.

The trail to Buffalo Lakes in the Lewis and Clark National Forest offers a short but steep climb to a mountain wetland teeming with waterfowl and also hosting beaver, moose and grizzly bears. Sitting just above 4,000 feet from sea level, the lakes lie unexpectedly nestled against a ridge two miles from an unmarked trailhead.

The protruding crags of Dancing Lady Mountain, Bearhead Mountain and Red Crow Mountain punctuate the skyline to the north while the trail tunnels through a lush forest of pine, aspen, shrubs and wildflowers. Each thicket looks like it could hold a griz, and with plenty of signs including tracks and scat, one probably was not far away when we hiked through a cool drizzle in early June.

Upon first arrival at the lower lake, a pair of bufflehead ducks greeted us with the flapping of wings. The hen and drake flew to the opposite side of the lake and landed again, seemingly content with our presence.

With the Prairie Pothole Region extending onto the flats of the Blackfeet Reservation to the east, the wide regional expanse makes these mountain potholes all the more inviting for waterfowl.

A beaver dam industriously constructed with surrounding debris and mud separates the two lakes and provides a slippery passage to the continuing trail. Once across, we continued uphill to Lubec ridge, providing the first panoramic view of the Badger-Two Medicine roadless area and the distant summits of the Great Bear and Bob Marshall wilderness areas to the southwest.


Location: The hike begins from an unmarked trailhead 4.5 miles west of East Glacier off U.S. Highway 2.

Distance/duration: From the pullout on the south side of U.S. Highway 2, hike along a well-marked trail for two miles to the first lake. Once there, the trail continues over Lubec Ridge into the Two Medicine River drainage for several more miles.

Difficulty: Moderate due to elevation gain.

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