Delicate blue larkspur, purple and orange asters and bright red Indian paintbrush still bordered the trail recently from Storm Lake to Goat Flat in the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness Area.
Not only were we treated to the fields of wildflowers, but the breathtaking views of the high peaks of the Bitterroot, Mission and Beaverhead mountains from Goat Flat makes this one of my favorite hikes. What I also appreciate is it’s not a breath-stealing hike, especially since the trail starts at an elevation of 8,186 feet that makes it an easy family jaunt to the 9,400-foot Goat Flat high-alpine meadow.
To reach the trailhead, drive west from Anaconda on Highway 1 to the Storm Lake Road turnoff. If you hit Silver Lake you’ve gone too far.
Drive south on Forest Service Road 675 for almost eight miles. The road is pretty well maintained except for the last half mile, where the road steepens and gully washers carved deep ruts. Most people manage to navigate that section, but four-wheel-drive and high clearance is suggested.
Parking is limited, and be sure not to block the road to the east, where people often camp. Cross the spillway, and the hike begins at the small dam.
Hiking around the lake offers the beginning of the great views, including 10,472 Mount Howe, which is the second highest peak in the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness.
It was quite windy initially on our recent hike, but once we reached the wooded area the blowing stopped and a peaceful quietness descended on the forest. The western larch were just starting to turn golden in the pre-autumn chill.
After passing the wilderness boundary sign, hikers begin a series of switchbacks as they trek to the 9,140-foot Storm Lake Pass saddle, nestled between 9,848-foot Mount Tiny and 9,989-foot Little Rainbow Mountain. The pass also overlooks both sides of the Continental Divide.
From there, hikers can see the trail to Goat Flat, lightly etched across the mountain cliff to their right. After a gradual short hike, the great Goat Flat meadow lays out before you. A sign lets you know you’ve reached the destination.
We typically bring a light lunch (and maybe a bonus beer) to enjoy in the high-alpine meadow, where a wide range of flora usually greets us.
People wanting an extended high can follow Seymour Creek Trail No. 131 to Upper Seymour Lake. It’s a steep set of switchbacks to reach the lake, but it has good campsites and fishing for westslope cutthroat trout.
All told, the elevation gain on the hike is less than 1,000 feet, so it’s suitable for families. Camping is allowed to the east and south end of Storm Lake, which supplies a portion of the city of Butte’s municipal drinking water.
My only regret is that despite it's name, I haven't seen any goats on Goat Flat. Guess that's another reason to return.