Photo of the Month: Springtime Smoky Mountain Brown Trout

Photo of the Month: Springtime Smoky Mountain Brown Trout

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The Hunt for Bull Trout Day One: Brief Connections and a Hint of Things to Come

On our trip to Glacier National Park last summer, I wanted to check an item off my fly fishing bucket list. My amazing wife graciously agreed to an expedition for bull trout in northern Idaho after we finished up in Glacier. Going into this portion of the trip, I had high expectations. Doing my research, I felt well prepared for this adventure.

Planning the Hunt For Bull Trout

I am a planner. I don't like going into things unprepared. That goes for traveling, of course, and fishing trips especially. Most of my fishing trips are well-researched, from where to stay to what places to fish and how to target the fish. I usually have a pretty good idea of the general outline of the trip and how it will go.   For this trip, that included lots of hours spent on Google and also various maps. I ordered a National Forest Map covering the area we intended to visit.

Bull trout are what lead me to Idaho. In Montana, it is illegal to target them intentionally in all but a few select (and mostly hard to access) places. In Idaho, on the other hand, their numbers are a bit more stable and you are allowed to fish for them with some caveats. One, of course, is that the fishing for bull trout is strictly catch and release. No problem there for me, as that is all I do anyway, but it is good to note for anyone who might not have the same approach to fishing that I do.

Over several months, I read through tons of old blog posts and trip reports from several different sources. I also found info from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. There were scholarly articles with mountains of data. In fact, the scholarly articles is what helped me to finally hone into the area I settled on for this trip. The area was already on my radar, thanks to an old Fly Fisherman magazine article I remembered from my younger years. The cutthroat fishing is noteworthy for the overall quality of the fishery. These days, it is also noteworthy for the pressure the fishery receives. However, after a bit more searching, I found a portion of this overall larger fishery that seemed to be slightly overlooked. Not "we'll have it to ourselves" overlooked, but less pressured than the nearby famous water.

Planning the Camping Part of the Trip


As with most trips, I prefer to have campground reservations in place. However, most of the campgrounds in this area either didn't take reservations or were already full for the time of our visit. There were lots of small first come first served campgrounds in the area along with the usual dispersed camping options that are normally available in the National Forest lands. Thus, we ended up knowing where we wanted to go but really had no idea if it would pan out at all. In other words, I really didn't know where we were going much better than if I had thrown a dart at the wall. The only difference was that I hoped we would at least be in the vicinity of the target. I was up for dispersed camping, but figured slightly nicer accommodations would suit my wife better. Not that we were going to find anything very nice, but even a few amenities are better than none. I was looking forward to at least having a picnic table myself. The fire ring probably would not get any use, but that is also nice to at least have around. 

Finding a Campsite

Fast forward a few months, and you would find us leaving Glacier National Park. It had been one of our all time favorite adventures, but it was time to do something else. Naturally, I was excited to do more fishing than the small taste I had enjoyed in Glacier. 


After some exploring to find the old Knapp homestead, we headed on south and west from Kalispell. Eventually, we found the right town and the right road and headed towards Idaho after a brief stop for gas and ice. The road quickly turned to gravel, and we began to realize the remoteness of the area we would be in for the next several days. By the time we hit the pass that also served as the divide between Idaho and Montana, we were already close to an hour out from town and we were only halfway there.

We began the long descent down the other side into Idaho with the sun trending lower in the sky. I didn't want to be trying to find a campsite in the dark, so we were really hoping that something would be open in the first couple of campgrounds. The first one had an added bonus of no camping fee, but the crowd that was already present looked like they might be more interested in riding ATVs. Nothing wrong with that, of course, we just didn't want to hear them roaring in and out of camp all the time. There were not picnic tables and only one very rough looking pit toilet. There was a spot or two available, however. We decided to keep it as a backup plan and keep looking.

Heading further down the drainage, we began noticing large campsites along the stream. These were all informal "dispersed" camping areas, but some of them were nice. However, we still were hoping for at least a picnic table and toilet perhaps. The next campground we came to had some sites available and we quickly swooped in. After making the usual couple of laps to look everything over, we picked a campsite shaded by giant western cedars. Filling out the camper registration card took no time at all, and soon we were setting up the tent and fixing supper. The hour was getting late, but I almost decided to go fishing anyway. The desire to stay dry for the evening prevented me from trying my luck though. We were planning on wet wading, and I wanted to be dry going to bed.

Two Small Hickups

When we woke up the next morning, I was struck anew with how beautiful this campground was. There were only a few sites, so we didn't have to worry about noisy neighbors. The campsites were spread throughout the beautiful cedar grove, with none of the sites feeling crowded. We did have a couple of small bummers that had snuck up. First, the water from the well didn't seem too clean. It may have just been rust from the pipes, but we weren't interested in drinking it. Thankfully, I had a Platypus Gravity water filtration system ready to go. Except I didn't.

I don't know what happened between the first time I used the filter and this camping trip, but it just wasn't working correctly. When I put it away after my epic brook trout backpacking trip a couple of falls ago, I had carefully followed all the instructions in the owners manual. Still, it didn't work. I should also mention that I never heard back from Platypus when I contacted them after the trip to see what I was doing wrong. In other words, I don't recommend this filter. Thankfully, I had a couple of Sawyer filters with me that I could adapt to the gravity system. Soon, we had clean fresh water again. This was our method for the rest of this trip. I also carried a Sawyer squeeze filter system with us when we were out fishing and hiking. I can't say enough good things about them. They are also very responsive when you contact them with questions. A great company and product!

The other small issue was that this campground didn't have any garbage service. It is strictly pack it in, pack it out. For the small fee of $10 a night, I understand a lack of amenities. Still, it was a little concerning keeping a full trash bag in the car every night. I'm a little paranoid about mice getting into my car due to past experiences. As me about that sometime if you really want to hear some stories. Anyway, I just hoped that the trash in the car wouldn't draw in the undesirables during the night. Of course, I wasn't interested in keeping it outside either. Choosing between bears or mice was tough, but I assumed the bears could ruin the trip even worse.

First Day of Fishing: The Cutthroat Trout

North Fork Clearwater River Idaho


I had brought too many rods as always for this fishing trip. Really, I didn't have that many, but I did have some decisions to make. To ease into the fishing and not take things too seriously, I decided to focus on the cutthroat trout for a while. After all, there isn't much that is better than casting dry flies to willing trout. At least, that is what I pictured when I thought about cutthroat. I rigged up a 9' 5 weight Orvis Helios for myself, and a 10' 3 weight Orvis Recon for my wife. The light rod and extra reach seems to work well for her.

After a short drive up the canyon looking for somewhere to fish, we hit the stream and were soon catching fish. I had to fudge a little on my hopes of good dry fly fishing. To be fair, we did catch some cutthroat on dry flies, but they clearly were getting a little more pressure than I expected and nymph droppers seemed to work better overall. Per the regulations, we pinched our barbs which meant we lost a few more than usual. Still, we both gave a good accounting of ourselves. Here are a couple from early in the day.

westslope cutthroat trout


small westslope cutthroat in Idaho

Over the next few posts, pay close attention to my wife's fish. This was one of the smallest she caught while we were in Idaho with one notable exception that I'll get to another day. In fact, on at least a couple of days, she took big fish honors. I caught a couple of dinks that were even smaller, but managed to avoid taking pictures of them. No proof so it didn't happen, right?

We continued fishing up the stream, catching fish here and there, before we came to a big beautiful pool. This particular section of river was pocket water dominant, so the pool was a welcome change. I just knew there was a good fish somewhere close by. I tried some streamers in case a big bull trout was around, but that didn't really do anything. Then, I noticed a subtle rise way over against the far bank. Crossing over wasn't really an option, so I decided to wade as far out as I could and try a reach cast with some immediate mending. The far bank was really just a big slow back eddy, so I had to get a lot of slack line into my mends to get any kind of a drift. Somehow, someway, I got everything correct and luck was on my side. The first larger cutthroat of the trip was dancing on the end of my line.

This fish was super fat and ate the big stonefly dry I was throwing just like it was the real thing. After several runs through the heavy current, I finally guided the fish over to my side. Soon, it was resting in my big Brodin net. My wife snapped a few pictures and a short video for me, and them the fish headed back for some other angler to enjoy.

Thick westslope cutthroat trout

Lunch Break

By this time, we were starting to think about lunch. Camp wasn't that far away, and it made more sense to go there where we could relax for a bit. We began looking for a good out spot to get back up to the road. That can always be an adventure on a new stream. As I was examining the stream bank looking for fishermen's trails, I started to notice the wildflowers. The shooting stars in particular got me excited. This is one I don't find often back home. I took a few cellphone pictures of these and other flowers before finding a good trail back to the car. 

Idaho Shooting Star wildflower

My wife also took the opportunity to add to her fish count. Notice that her average size catch begins to immediately creep up. 



We got back down to camp where I again stood in awe looking at the trees around our campsite. These western cedars can get really large. In an area that deals with wildfire on a regular basis, I really hope these cedar groves can avoid that destruction. I know it is a part of the natural process, but these trees take a LONG time to reach this size. Look how small our tent appears next to them. 

Camping among western red cedars in Idaho

After resting and relaxing, it was time to fish a bit longer before the sun sank low and the canyon began to cool. The evenings were a great time to fish, but we mostly avoided fishing late. Getting soaked going into the chilly evening hours wasn't our idea of fun. More accurately, I should probably say it wasn't my wife's idea of fun. I don't tend to notice it as much as she would prefer. 

First Day of Fishing: Connecting With a Bull Trout

For the afternoon fishing session, we headed downstream from camp. Not far, we found a pullout with a gorgeous pool a short distance away. I decided to add a streamer rod to my arsenal. If I didn't, then we would probably find all kinds of bull trout. Helping my wife work into position, I soon had her casting to rising cutthroat. Back over on the bank, I began rigging up the seven weight in the hopes of tangling with a monster. It didn't take her long to start catching some fish. I took videos and photos of her fishing, casting, and of course, of one or two of her catch. The fish below is notable as probably the only rainbow trout we took a picture of. This river contains both native rainbow and cutthroat trout along with the bull trout. 

Fly fishing in northern Idaho

Rainbow trout in northern Idaho

Shortly after this rainbow trout, my wife hooked a really nice cutthroat trout in the 16" range. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a huge dark shadow shot out of nowhere in hot pursuit of her catch. Bull trout!!! She worked her fish hard trying to play keep away. Suddenly, as she got it in close, the bull trout retreated right about the same time her fish threw the fly. We were both left in shock, staring at the spot that the bull trout had disappeared to.

I grabbed the streamer rod and began flogging the water, to no avail. The bull trout had been pretty hot, and I figured it would eat if I could figure out what it wanted. I remembered something from a Yellowstone trip one year. Some huge cutthroat trout on the Yellowstone River had preferred a pearl and tan Zonker dead drifted under an indicator instead of an active streamer approach. It was worth a shot. I took out the Zonker with the barb already pinched from that Yellowstone trip. Tying it on to heavy 1x tippet, I felt confident my rig could stand up to just about anything.

I began casting up towards the head of the pool and allowing the current to bring the streamer back under an indicator. Again and again I cast with no result. Then, I stepped a couple more steps upstream. Casting again did the trick. The fish had moved up a little higher than I thought. Almost as soon as the streamer hit the water, the indicator dove. I set hard, almost as hard as I set when I'm striper fishing in fact. For a split second, I thought I had hooked the bottom. Then the bull trout went ballistic. Seriously. This was the hardest pulling, hardest fighting, baddest fish I've ever hooked in fresh water. I've landed stripers up to 30 pounds on a seven weight fly rod, and this fish was just as strong if not more so.

Bad Luck

Back and forth across the pool we fought. The fish began to tire just a little after about a minute. A couple of runs came dangerously close to rubbing me off on a big boulder across the stream. Still, when the fish was finally out in the middle, I started putting more pressure. Hopeful of turning the fish and quickly bringing it to the net, I pushed even hard. Suddenly, the line went limp. 

I kid you not, the hook simply pulled out. To this day, I don't know whether the barbless hook was to blame or not. More likely, I was simply pulling to hard and it ripped out. I stared in disbelief at the spot the dark shadow had disappeared to. This might have been my one and only chance. A surge of hope led me to cast a few more times. In fact, I cast all over that pool. My wife knew I was bummed out, but them I started to look on the bright side again. After all, we had only been fishing a few hours when this bull trout showed up. If there were that many in the system, finding another shouldn't be difficult.

My plan for the next day involved some highly researched water and a bit of hiking. It was time to head back to camp and get supper and rest. We wanted to be rejuvenated for a 10+ mile day the next morning.

Evening Hatch

After supper, I walked back through the woods to the stream to get water for the filtration system. Right away, I noticed bugs everywhere. This particular pool was deep and sheltered. The long shadows had long since overtaken this water. Mayfly spinners and some caddis were all dancing above the water. Several telltale rises appeared. I quickly went back to camp to tell my wife about my discovery. She agreed to walk down with me. We both stayed on the rocks, trying to stay dry with the onset of evening. I talked her into a few casts and she caught the best fish of the evening right away. 

Dry fly caught evening westslope cutthroat trout

I managed a few casts and fish as well, but only took one picture of one in the net. These are always a good way to have a memory with minimal fish handling. 

westslope cutthroat trout in a Brodin Net

Big bull trout lost not withstanding, it had been a good first full day in Idaho. We had caught plenty of fish, enjoyed wildflowers, had amazing weather, and enjoyed the awe inspiring trees in the canyon. Tired out, we headed to bed early to rest up for another big adventure the next day. Little did I know that the heartache was just starting. Would I ever find a bull trout?


Read Day Two HERE

Sunday, March 28, 2021

High Water Everywhere

I'm pretty sure I have one of these posts every few months, and at least once every year or two, but here is the most recent version of water, water everywhere. Rainfall yesterday (Saturday, March 27, 2021) into early this morning produced flooding across middle and east Tennessee. My wife and I decided to go for a drive and perhaps a little hiking today and see if we could get some good pictures. The water was even more than I had expected.

Our destination was Lost Creek Falls. This out of the way gem is not much as far as a hike goes, but it is scenic and also offers some nice wildflowers. While in the area, we also like to head down to the upper Caney Fork at Big Bottoms and also stop by Rylander Cascade. We accomplished all of those, but the water was so high we almost didn't. 

We had barely left home when we started coming across lots of debris in the road from high water. Huge rocks, leaves, branches, and just normal gravel were all strewn across the road in places. We carefully drove over what looked like some serious tire popper rocks and kept going.

As we descended off the Plateau, we came across the first excellent waterfall for the day. Wildcat Falls is right on highway 70 between Crossville and Sparta but much closer to the latter. You pass the falls as you drive up or down off of the Cumberland Plateau. Today it was really rolling. We stopped along with several other people to take some pictures of what is normally a small trickle. 

Wildcat Falls on the Cumberland Plateau near Sparta Tennessee
©2021 David Knapp Photography

Wildcat Falls near Sparta
©2021 David Knapp Photography

After enjoying the impressive sight, we continued our drive towards Sparta, Tennessee before turning off to take back roads to Lost Creek Falls State Natural Area. As we meandered through the countryside, we began noticing several lakes and ponds we hadn't seen before. Then we realized it was just people's fields full of water. Several houses were completely cut off by the flood waters. Thankfully, most of them at least appeared to still be dry. 

As we made our initial drive past Lost Creek Falls, we both were in awe of how much water was going over the falls. Before stopping to take pictures, we decided to head further down the road and visit the upper Caney Fork River and Rylander Cascade. The new canoe launch down at the Caney Fork River was inundated with water. Not a good day to be canoeing!

Upper Caney Fork River Big Bottoms Canoe Launch
©2021 David Knapp Photography

The road was covered with water here. We saw a big truck drive through the flood waters and almost not make it. Next, an ATV did the same thing and came even closer to getting swept off of the road. This was a good reminder that flood waters are not a joke. If water is over the road, don't risk it. The power of flood waters never ceases to amaze me. 

Turning around, we stopped to take pictures of the water surging through fields along the main Caney Fork River channel, then we headed back up to check out Rylander Cascade. Turns out there was a little water there as well. 

Rylander Cascade Trail Crossing
Rylander Cascade Trail ©2021 David Knapp Photography

After some careful negotiating of the trail, we were able to enjoy an impressive view of the cascade before heading back to the car to finally hit Lost Creek Falls. 

Rylander Cascade
Rylander Cascade ©2021 David Knapp Photography

We carefully made it back down the trail and back to our car, ready for the final adventure of the day. Lost Creek Falls is an impressive sight no matter what the water levels are. This is very similar to Virgin Falls which isn't all that far away. Both falls emerge from caves before falling into a sink and disappearing. Lost Creek Falls is not as large as Virgin Falls, but still impressive nonetheless. Normally, Lost Creek Falls disappears immediately at the bottom of the drop. Today, however, the sheer volume of water had overwhelmed the usual outlet holes and it was flowing down through the large sink and into Lost Creek Cave. I took pictures and video of what we saw. Here are a couple of the pictures.

Spring flood at Lost Creek Falls
Lost Creek Falls ©2021 David Knapp Photography

Lost Creek Falls wide view
Wider View of Lost Creek Falls ©2021 David Knapp Photography

I also took a quick video or two of the falls. You can see it on YouTube HERE or watch it below. Remember to subscribe to my YouTube channel. Listen to the water roar over the falls! So much power in the water today...









Thursday, March 25, 2021

Yellowstone National Park Fishing License Fee Increase

Yellowstone National Park is at it again. If you remember from my piece on the Gibbon River back in 2010, park management in Yellowstone has done some rather curious things over the years. At that time, it was "restoring" a stream with a species that had never occurred there naturally. Lots of pushback appears to have encouraged them to modify that plan somewhat. Still, I'm guessing that at some point they'll have some interesting ideas about that again. In other words, the fisheries department in Yellowstone does not always operate on good science.

Now, Yellowstone National Park management has found an opportunity to hopefully increase revenue and is specifically picking on anglers in the process. Apparently we have not been paying enough for our Yellowstone fishing licenses all these years. The remedy is an over 100% average license fee increase for 2021. Yes, you read that correctly. 

Here is the overall breakdown. The 3 day Yellowstone National Park fishing license is going from $18 to $40. The 7 day fishing license is going from $25 to $55. Finally, the Yellowstone National Park annual fishing license is a true deal, going from $40 to only $75. Seriously, who dreams up these types of license increases?

I'm tired of hearing about how costs have been increasing as has been argued locally when license fees have increased. If wages had increased over 100% since the last fishing license fee increase, then this would have made sense. By the way, the last fishing license increase for Yellowstone National Park was apparently in 2012. I sincerely hope your paycheck has increased over 100% in that time. Mine hasn't and I'm guessing most other people haven't been so lucky either. 

So, in only nine years, Yellowstone National Park needs more than double the fishing license revenue? That is absurd. Thus, now you have a Park who has obviously poorly managed their resources in the past (go back and read the article I mentioned above before disagreeing please), looking to get more than double the revenue for managing the same resources

If you are interested in the full press release from Yellowstone National Park, you can find it HERE. While Yellowstone is still extremely high on my list of favorite places to fish, I'll be making far fewer trips now than before. If I'm going to pay fishing license fees on par with what states are charging (part of their logic in raising fees this much), then I'll buy one for a whole state where I have a lot more fishing options at my disposal. I love Yellowstone. This won't completely prevent me from visiting, but it leaves a bad enough taste in my mouth that my overall number of visits are going to be drastically reduced. And maybe that was their goal all along. If they can reduce the number of visitors and anglers, then some of the crowding issues will be resolved. Hopefully for those of you that still visit regularly, that can be a possible silver lining. 


Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The Old Homeplace

One piece of my trip to Glacier National Park last summer was much more personal than just great scenery or even good fishing. You see, my grandpa, great aunt, and great uncles on my dad's side were originally from near Kalispell. I have heard about Glacier National Park for many years, especially from my great aunt. It was clearly her favorite national park, and now I see why. The one thing I hoped to do, but really didn't have much expectation of pulling off, was to find the old homeplace just west of Kalispell.

So, on the day we left Glacier National Park to head towards Idaho, we had a mission. That morning, we packed up camp. In the process, I got a few last good pictures of the local wildlife. Then, it was on towards town where we intended to make one last grocery stop to stock up for a long week of fishing in Idaho. The coolers needed to be topped off with ice, and we were hoping to find a good safe option for takeout at lunch. 

Camp food is delicious and filling, but since we were traveling, something delicious like pizza was going to be a lot easier. After a little searching, we selected Bullman's Wood Fired Pizza which proved to be a winner. We got pizza takeout twice on this trip, and both times were delicious. At Bullman's, we were so hungry we ordered two pizzas, settling on the Gallatin pizza and the Pesto & Goat Cheese pizza. Both were delicious although we got full before we made it through two entire pizzas. Oh well, they made an excellent snack a few short hours later.

After getting the pizza, we took some hazy directions west out of Kalispell on highway 2, hoping to find the old homeplace. The Knapp's had settled here on 80 acres and raised my grandpa and his three siblings. We followed the directions we had, but there was so much new development that it was very difficult to follow. In fact, we made one or two wrong turns and were actively considering giving up when we found another possibility. A couple of turns later, we were looking at something that was incredibly similar to the description I had. I took a few pictures including a couple of the cellphone variety. 

Then, I had a brainwave. I called my great aunt to ask a few details about the property. She still remembers it well, and when I started to describe what we saw, she assured me that it was the property. Later, she again confirmed that the pictures were it. I had found the old Knapp homeplace. The 80 acres were still intact, and I was left wishing that it was still in the family. I semi joked with my wife that we should ask the owners for right of first refusal. I think it would be pretty neat to live back on the old Knapp farm again. I'll probably never have that kind of money though. This beautiful land close to Kalispell is now worth quite a lot. It is nice to dream though! If you ever want to buy me a really big present, now you know what to get. Here is the old place we found...




Friday, March 19, 2021

Glacier Day Eight: Hiking to Siyeh Pass and Hiking to Piegan Pass

We did not mean to save the best for last. Even now, my wife and I debate which day in Glacier National Park was our favorite. One thing we don't argue about, however, is that our last day is right up there at the top. The closest possible competition was the day we hiked to Sperry Glacier. We still debate which of those two days were our favorite. Gunsight Lake would have been high on the list if it hadn't of been for the bugs. A good day, for sure, but the bugs guaranteed it wouldn't be our favorite.

On our last day in Glacier National Park, we really wanted to do a big hike that my friend John had told me about. Siyeh Pass is best done as a through hike that utilizes the Park's shuttle system to get from one trailhead to the other. Of course, with COVID going on, this wasn't going to be an option. We briefly considered just making the hike up or down the road. In the end, however, we decided to begin and end at Siyeh Bend. This would strictly be an out and back hike. Our goal was a quick hike up to Siyeh Pass to enjoy the wildflowers in Preston Park.

The whole trip would be about nine miles, just a quick jaunt at this point in our trip. We decided to skip carrying lunch for such a short hike. This was a small mistake but not one that we would notice too badly. That morning, we almost thought we wouldn't be able to do the hike. We woke up to thunder and lightning and a much needed rain shower passing through. The early morning was gloomy, but soon gave way to the dramatic. 

Sunrise in Glacier National Park

As the rising sun slanted over the top of the mountains, the rich early light lit up the appropriately named Heavens Peak. We had checked the radar and thought we would be able to hike, but the sky was quite foreboding at this point. Here is a closeup of Heavens Peak along with a wider angle shot showing the dramatic sky. 

Heavens Peak in Glacier National Park
Heavens Peak at Sunrise ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Morning Sky over Heavens Peak in Glacier National Park
Sky On Fire Over Heavens Peak ©2020 David Knapp Photography

The dramatic light did not last long. The sunlight was slanting under the clouds from the east and lighting up the sky to our west. These shots were taken from Trail Ridge Road looking west. The light was just barely coming over the top of the ridge to our east before the clouds covered the sun. This is looking up towards Logan Pass from the same place. 

Sunrise looking towards Logan Pass, the Garden Wall, and Bird Woman Falls
Looking Towards Logan Pass at Sunrise ©2020 David Knapp Photography

The dramatic quickly turned a flat gray. It seemed obvious that we were about to get wet and our hike would either be delayed or ended completely before it began. This is higher up towards the pass looking south. 

Mt. Oberlin, Clements Mountain, and Mt. Cannon with Bird Woman Falls below
Bird Woman Falls ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Surprise Bonus

Around this time, we came across another special bird that I had last seen just days before near Sperry Glacier. The ptarmigan is a neat bird that I had always wanted to photograph. Somehow, on this trip, I got two opportunities! This one wasn't great in terms of the setting, but I did have another picture of a ptarmigan. This one was in full summer dress with just hints of white left from the winter coat and blended in perfectly with all the rocks and brush nearby. 

 

Ptarmigan on the Going to the Sun Road
Ptarmigan Beside Going to the Sun Road ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Parking at Siyeh Bend and Preparing for Our Hike

We soon resumed our trip towards the parking area at Siyeh Bend. As with all other mornings, we got there early to snag a parking spot. It was a good thing we got there when we did. Breakfast came out next and we watched as the last few parking spots were taken. If we had been 30 minutes later, there would have been no hiking or at least a much longer hike. As we ate breakfast, the sky turned even more dramatic before starting to look like things would clear up. Mammatus clouds loomed over Going to the Sun Mountain and also off to the south before drifting on to the east. 


Dramatic sky over Siyeh Bend
Dramatic Clouds Over Siyeh Bend ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Mammatus clouds over Going to the Sun Mountain
Mammatus Clouds and Going to the Sun Mountain ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Looking back towards the west, we finally started to think this hike would happen after all. Neither of us wanted to get caught above tree line in a lightning storm. Thankfully, the area of disturbed weather seemed to be passing us by finally. We got our packs ready, loaded with water and grabbed our cameras. We had already experienced some incredible scenery and dramatic views and we hadn't even hit the trail yet!

Beginning Our Hike to Siyeh Pass

Just across the road, we began hiking up the short bit of trail that parallels Siyeh Creek. The wildflowers that were blooming there were just a foreshadowing of things to come. This hike would easily win for best wildflower hike of our trip. At this point, however, we didn't yet know that and were just glad to be finding some amazing color and scenery. 

Siyah Creek looking towards Piegan Pass
Siyeh Creek Looking Towards Piegan Pass ©2020 David Knapp Photography

It didn't take long before the trail started heading rapidly higher. Coming around one sharp corner, we ran into our only up close big animal for the day. This skinny looking doe was eating as much as she could and clearly needed still more food. We quickly snapped a picture or two and then kept going. 

deer beside the Siyeh Pass Trail hiking to the Piegan Pass Trail
Doe Mule Deer Spotted While Hiking to Siyeh Pass ©2020 David Knapp Photography

We were in a hurry so to speak. You see, much of this hike is through exposed terrain without any canopy to keep off the hot sun. At this point, we were still fortunate to have widespread clouds to shade us a bit longer and wanted to make the most of this nice cool morning. Climbing rapidly higher, the trees started to thin out as we approached our second trail junction of the day. Our first trail junction happened when we turned onto the Piegan Pass Trail. This second junction was when we finally turned off on the Siyeh Pass Trail and began ascending into Preston Park. The wildflowers were already amazing. Without knowing how stunning things would be yet ahead, we began taking a lot of pictures and our pace slowed dramatically. 

Mount Siyeh and wildflowers along Piegan Pass Trail
Mt. Siyeh Looming Over Everything ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Wildflowers and looking towards Siyeh Pass
A Hint of Extraodinary Things to Come ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Wildflowers Of Preston Park 

Soon, we found ourselves wandering slowly up through Preston Park. Again and again we found ourselves stopping to take pictures from different angles of the extraordinary scenery we were passing through. I was going from one extreme to the other. I wanted to capture the entire view and also all the details. The sheer number and volume of wildflowers had me really wishing that I had carried my tripod on this hike to get some better pictures. Alas, I have just another good reason to go back someday. 

Large Mountain Monkey-Flower along Siyeh Pass Trail
Large Mountain Monkey-Flower ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Alpine Forget-me-not near Siyeh Pass
Alpine Forget-Me-Not ©2020 David Knapp Photography


After the wildflowers, I looked around and took what would become one of many. The views back down Preston Park to the west and southwest were just incredible. I think I could dedicate a whole day just to take various versions of these pictures. To the right is Piegan Mountain with Heavy Runner Mountain in the distance in the middle. The left side of the first picture is the side of Matahpi Peak. Sometime, I want to go back and climb some of these mountains, but especially Piegan and Siyeh. 

Piegan Mountain, Matahpi Peak, and Heavy Runner Mountain views from Preston Park
Matahpi Peak Flanks, Piegan Mountain, and Heavy Runner Mountain ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Looking down Siyeh Creek towards Heavy Runner Mountain
Heavy Runner Mountain and Siyeh Creek Headwaters ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Shortly after taking these pictures, I came across one of my favorite wildflower displays of the whole trip. Yellow Columbine were high on my list of favorites from this trip, and I found them growing in such numbers that it was literally overwhelming. I didn't even know which way to point the camera, but somehow I managed to snap a couple pictures. 

Yellow Columbine near Siyeh Pass Trail in Preston Park
Yellow Columbine Along Siyeh Pass Trail ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Of course, it wasn't long before I was looking at the bigger picture again. At some point, I had wandered out ahead with my camera while my wife was further back taking some closeups. I cannot remember if she was taking pictures of flowers or ground squirrels, but I'm guessing it was the latter. She was always on the lookout for animals on this trip!

Preston Park hiker below Heavy Runner Mountain and Piegan Mountain
My Wife Looking for the Next Shot ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Siyeh Pass

Another large mammal encounter awaited as us we finally made it to Siyeh Pass itself. This female bighorn sheep wandered out across the stark and now barren landscape of the pass. I can't imagine how incredibly harsh this environment is during the winter months. Intense winds and snow scour this landscape every winter. In the warmth of summer, however, the wild critters venture through this otherwise wild landscape to feed on the transitory abundance. The wildflowers take advantage of the brief growing season before going dormant for yet another long cold winter.

Bighorn Sheep at Siyeh Pass
Siyeh Pass Bighorn Sheep ©2020 David Knapp Photography

As we enjoyed the views from Siyeh Pass, we were reminded that lunch would be nice by the other hikers enjoying their lunches there. Briefly, we contemplated enjoying our raspberry fig bars, but instead decided to make a quick descent back to the car for a full blown lunch. Funny how our plans don't always happen the way we think...

Panorama just below Siyeh Pass
Panorama Just Below Siyeh Pass ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Siyeh Pass selfie
Selfie Near Siyeh Pass ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Descending the Siyeh Pass Trail Through Preston Park

As we began descending, I couldn't just walk away without a few more wildflower shots. Okay, maybe a lot of wildflower shots. Up close, further back, landscape scenic shots still featuring wildflowers, more yellow Columbine, I just couldn't get enough. We were just about to have our day extended, but at the time, I just figured we had a quick descent and a few extra minutes wouldn't hurt. 

Dwarf Fireweed near Siyeh pass Trail
Dwarf Fireweed Near Siyeh Pass Trail ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Rocky Ledge Penstemon along Siyeh Pass Trail
Rocky Ledge Penstemon ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Piegan Mountain and wildflower foreground
Piegan Mountain and Wildflowers ©2020 David Knapp

Yellow Columbine
Yellow Columbine ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Wildflowers Galore in Preston Park
Preston Park Wildflowers ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Shortly after taking this last picture, I ran into the most interesting gentleman. He was retired and lived in nearby Kalispell, Montana. He was a Vietnam Veteran who spent most of his free time in Glacier National Park, hiking, enjoying photography, and otherwise having great adventures. We struck up a conversation and soon he was telling me more about the surrounding landscape than I could have ever read in a trail guide or other book. He mentioned that he would probably go up on Piegan Mountain for the day, but since the day was still young, he wasn't sure what he might end up doing yet. I asked about Piegan Pass, to which he replied that we really needed to go up there to see it. "It is only a couple of miles up there," he said. Our short nine mile day with just a couple of snacks and two liters of water each was about to morph into yet another thirteen mile hike.

We continued talking for a good long while. I asked about the large mammals that he had seen. Apparently he had seen just about all of them. Then, I asked about wolverines. When planning this trip, I had read that Glacier National Park is the best place in the Lower 48 to see a wolverine. Everything is relative, of course, but I still thought that was pretty intriguing. As it turns out, that is one animal this gentleman had not seen. He had missed seeing one by about fifteen minutes one time, but never had he seen one himself. Just another reason to return to this amazing National Park!!!

After finally wrapping up my discussion with this interesting guy, I talked to my wife and explained what he had told me. She agreed that we should go ahead and head up to Piegan Pass. We both knew we might get pretty hungry, but this was a potential once in a lifetime trip. You just never know when you'll be on an adventure to Glacier National Park again. 

Hiking to Piegan Pass


We quickly hiked back down to the trail junction with just a couple of stops for pictures. One interesting flower we spotted was the western anemone. This flower has a beautiful silky fruiting head after the flower blooms. These silky heads were so incredibly soft. You have to see and touch it to grasp just how soft these are!

Siyeh Pass Trail western anemone or western pasqueflower
Western Anemone ©2020 David Knapp Photography

By the time we got back down to the junction with the Piegan Pass Trail, the sun was high overhead and beginning to finally break through the clouds. This would be a bright sunny hike along a very exposed section of trail. The hike was absolutely worth it, however! We had to cross a couple of large snowfields that were still drifted over the trail. We carefully took our time. If you start sliding on some of these snowfields, the final landing spot is on rather jagged rocks far below and you don't want to make that mistake. Here are a couple of views of the trail.

Piegan Mountain and Piegan Pass
Looking Towards Piegan Pass ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Piegan Pass Trail looking towards Piegan Pass
Piegan Pass Trail ©2020 David Knapp Photography


As we ascended closer and closer to the pass, the bulk of Piegan Mountain was well off to our left, providing impressive views. Suddenly, we noticed some specks moving across the large expanse of white on the flanks of the mountain. Upon closer inspection, we realized we were looking at a couple of bighorn sheep. Here is what we saw. 

Bighorn sheep crossing a snowfield on Piegan Mountain
Mountain Sheep and Snowfields ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Piegan Mountain and Snowfields
Can You Find the Bighorn Sheep? ©2020 David Knapp Photography


At this point, we were nearly at the pass. As we entered the pass, we found amazing views down towards the Many Glacier portion of Glacier National Park. We had hoped to spend a lot of time on this side of the Park. Alas, they had closed it down due to COVID, greatly adding to the crowding and congestion in other portions of the Park. Oh well, next time we'll explore this area. We took some quick pictures, finally ate our snack, and then finished off our water. We now had a good long walk ahead of us before we found water again. It was time to head downhill. 

Looking north from Piegan Pass
The North Side of Piegan Pass ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Looking towards Many Glacier from Piegan Pass
Big Views at Piegan Pass ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Selfie at Piegan Pass
Piegan Pass Selfie ©2020 David Knapp Photography

The Hike Back Down

The return hike went rather quickly. This trail is a nice gentle grade without too many steep sections. We were able to make incredibly good time. At this point in our trip, we were both in peak hiking condition and could really crank out the miles. The only thing that slowed us down was the wildflowers. I know, big surprise, right?!?!

I found some beargrass blooming and had to make a few more photographs. This is an incredible wildflower and iconic of Glacier National Park. In addition to photographing a few more flowers, we also stopped at the first good stream crossing to filter some fresh drinking water. We were both getting a little parched at this point!

Piegan Pass Trail Beargrass
Beargrass ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Siyeh Pass Trail Beargrass
Beargrass Trailside ©2020 David Knapp Photography

Scenic Beargrass and Matahpi Peak
Beargrass Looking Towards Matahpi Peak ©2020 David Knapp Photography 


We made it back to the car in good shape, just a little more hungry than we had intended. Lunch happened and then we turned our car back towards camp for our final night in Glacier National Park. One adventure was wrapping up, but another was just about to begin. The next phase of our trip would involve a little more fishing and chasing a bucket list fish for me, the bull trout. On our way back to camp, we found the bighorn sheep hanging out at the Logan Pass Visitor Center Parking lot again. We had to take a few more shots of them of course...


Logan Pass Visitor Center Bighorn Sheep
Bighorn Sheep at Logan Pass Visitor Center ©2020 David Knapp Photography

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