Heart Lake and Homer Youngs Peak
The secret Idyllic elk meadows and an imposing summit lie just a few miles from a little-used trailhead.
Maybe the reason so few people know about the upland beauty here is the ordinary approach. But a few miles into this 12.2-mile (round-trip) overnight trek, the scenery begins: tranquil ponds, rolling meadows, and a treeline view of the vast, open ridgelines of Homer Youngs Peak. Let most people be fooled; you’ll share this spot with elk and black bears instead. Start where Trail 187 leaves the Upper Miners Lake Road (the second unsigned two-track that climbs north after Miners Lake Campground). At mile 1.9, trace the brook upstream along a faint trail (402) for 1.4 miles to reed-filled Kelly Lake, set in a subalpine cirque surrounded by gray cliffs. Round the lake to the south and climb another 1.4 miles up the Kelly Creek drainage as evergreens shrink and views grow, making toward a saddle due east of Heart Lake. The entire timberline region here offers scenic camping, accessible water, and enough evidence of black bears to make food canisters a good idea. To add a summit view to your trip, go off-trail atop the rocky ridgeline at mile 4.8. After 1.3 miles and 1,200 vertical feet of class 2 talus, you’ll earn a view across the wrinkled topography of the Continental Divide. If water is more your scene, descend a steep boulder slope to Heart Lake. Trailhead 121 miles southwest of Butte; 45.308164, -113.603904Map Beaverhead-Deerlodge USFS Visitor Map Central West (CW) Region; bit.ly/HomerYoungsContact Beaverhead-Deerlodge NF; (406) 689-3243; fs.usda.gov/bdnf
Ajax Lake and Ajax peak
The secret A long dirt-road approach to the trailhead dissuades most hikers from attempting this magnificent summit, but they don’t know about the five-star car camping en route.
Slope-side boulder fields and an old wildfire scar make this whole 6.7-mile (round-trip) route open and scenic—from the ruins of a 19th-century silver mine to infinity views at the summit after an easy-to-navigate scramble. Drive in on 25 miles of dirt roads (with camping) and park at the base of a steep climb (just after a hairpin right turn). Hike up the now-4WD road 1.9 miles to broad, deep Ajax Lake (with good fishing for lake trout and cutthroat) and a rundown miner’s cabin on the far shore. Trace the shoreline north on a fisherman’s trail. Turn west where a talus fall reaches the water, and hike up naked scree to a lonely, old-growth pine that sits in the bowl beneath the Ajax/point 9,522 saddle. Keep climbing west 780 vertical feet to gain the ridgeline. Turn north and climb 500 feet of class 2 talus, then boulder-hop to the roof-gable summit, with vistas north and south along the spine of the Beaverheads. Strong hikers can descend back to the saddle and follow cairns south along the class 2 ridge to bag point 10,042 as well. Trailhead 68 miles northwest of Dillon; 45.351303, -113.695633Map & Contact Same as above