Simply getting there is a slice of sightseeing nirvana

Story by Myers Reece

In 1977, the Montana Wilderness Study Act designated the Ten Lakes Scenic Area as a Wilderness Study Area, the closest a piece of land can get to full-fledged Wilderness without achieving the designation. It was recommended for Wilderness classification in 1984, and though that never happened, it’s still managed to preserve its wilderness characteristics, meaning motorized vehicles and equipment aren’t allowed.

Ten Lakes is particularly special because simply getting there in, yes, a motorized vehicle along Grave Creek Road is a slice of sightseeing nirvana in itself, regardless of whether you choose to explore the actual backcountry scenic area or just turn your car around after a pleasant day-trip drive. It’s not a bad bike ride either.

The well-maintained road, partly paved and partly gravel, is flanked by a number of informational signs and pullouts, offering tidbits about local flora and fauna, original Indigenous inhabitants and geological formations. There are also trailheads and turnoffs for U.S. Forest Service roads, which lead to mountain lakes. The area boasts a wealth of subalpine vegetation and wildlife, including grizzly bears, bighorn sheep and three native cat species: lynx, bobcats, and mountain lions.

Grave Creek Road eventually dead-ends at Little and Big Therriault lakes, which have nicely maintained campgrounds surrounded by glacial cirques and rimrock basins. The lakes can either be a turnaround to your day-trip drive, an endpoint camping location or a base camp for exploring the surrounding Ten Lakes Scenic Area.

Camping, hiking and horseback riding are all popular in Ten Lakes, which has 90 miles of trails cutting across gorgeous primeval scenery, which was shaped by alpine glaciers. Visitors are asked to stay on trail to avoid compromising the fragile soils. The scenic area encompasses nearly 15,000 acres, with the Canadian border serving as one of its boundaries.

For more information, contact the Kootenai National Forest or visit its website at https://www.fs.usda.gov/detailfull/kootenai/ and search the “Special Places” section.