A day at Elizabeth Lake

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    A rose garden blooms in the Belly River.

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    Dawn, Elizabeth Lake.

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    A rose garden blooms in the Belly River.

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    Dawn, Elizabeth Lake.

There’s a reason why Elizabeth Lake in Glacier National Park is consistently one of the top five visited backcountry campgrounds in the Park — it’s gorgeous.

Getting a walk-in permit there is a crapshoot in the busy summer months, but in late June, with threatening skies and a brisk wind outside, a permit was a snap. It’s wonderful how a little rain will turn away hordes of backcountry “enthusiasts.”

We went in ostensibly to fish — Elizabeth also has grayling and rainbow trout — but the scenery was better than the fishing.

Along the way we saw two moose, a grizzly sow and cub high above the trail, a smattering of mountain goats and a host of songbirds, including a black-headed grosbeak. The Belly River region rarely disappoints.

It’s one of the few hikes in Glacier that starts out going downhill — about 700 feet. Of course, you have to go back up that hill to get out.

The straight shot hike to Elizabeth from Chief Mountain trailhead is 9.5 miles. We went to the head of the lake to fish, which added a few more miles to the day.

The one thing you won’t get much of at Elizabeth is solitude. With five campsites, it’s not uncommon for 20 people or more to gather at the food preparation area. We have been there when it’s been completely and utterly empty of humans — in late October as snowflakes fell. It’s a great experience, if you don’t mind the cold and wading across the Belly River in 20 degree temperatures.

And who was Elizabeth? According to “Place Names of Glacier National Park,” the lake was originally called Jean after Lt. George Ahern’s wife on an 1891 map. Ahern was an early explorer of the Park. The name was changed, of course, and may have been named after a Park surveyor’s daughter. The Blackfeet name for the lake translates to Otter Lake.

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