Clayton Lake is another one of those places right next to a national park, in this instance Glacier that has every bit the beauty as its neighbor. Clayton located in The Flathead National Forest and is considered part of the Jewell Basin complex.
To get to the trailhead from Hungry Horse and Hwy 2 you’ll travel south along the Westside road of Hungry Horse Reservoir passing over Hungry Horse Dam to the end of the pavement (16 miles) and continue until reaching the Wheeler Creek road (FS #1633). Turn right and drive to the trailhead. The trail is rated as moderate but it’s not all that long so I rate it as easy. It’s only 2.3 miles to the lake.
Like most lake trails there is a bit of a grade but no steep drop offs and about half way up the view east toward the Great Bear Great Bear Wilderness is nothing short of spectacular. In the distance the Flathead Range rises up in your face. You can’t help but be awestruck by the incredible beauty of this panoramic view.
As you can probably tell from the photos Koty and I made our pilgrimage in the fall and I can’t image a better time of year. The fall colors were bursting out all over. Although we didn’t see any bears be forewarned the trail is loaded with bear berries and they didn’t get that name for nothing.
Speaking of bears I have some thoughts on that subject, what a surprise. I always carry a .375 revolver but my first line of defense is bear spray. They always say don’t hike alone. Well I’d do darned little hiking if I didn’t. The trick is to be aware of your surroundings at all times. Keep an eye out for fresh sign like scat. Be especially alert going around corners and hiking through thickets. Most problems occur when bears are surprised. They also say don’t hike with your dog because it my go off, encounter a bear and bring it back to you. I don’t ever go hiking without Koty but he is always on a leash. If you hike with your dog I recommend you do the same when hiking in bear country.
Considering the short distance of the trail I don’t think you can beat the beauty effort ratio. The lake is not particularly large but mountains surround it and for my money it is awesomely beautiful. There is a trail that goes around the lake but we didn’t make it because it gets pretty thick and bush whacking isn’t one of my favorite things to do. I did get some pretty fine images of the lake.
Clayton Lake in the fall is a definite candidate for your “to do” list. In the fall, in addition to experiencing the awesome colors you will most likely have the whole place to yourself as we did. I’d categorize it as a definite picnic place.
And, of course, last but not least the gorgeous Lakota Sunrise at Clayton Lake.