Sunday, April 18, 2021

An unexpected hike to unparalleled views

| November 1, 2020 12:00 AM

I was surprised last week by the photo in my free Glacier Bank calendar when I flipped ahead to the month of November. It’s a picture of Hornet Lookout with an early skiff of fall snow.

My husband and I happened to be up there three weeks ago. But until we turned up the road leading to it off the North Fork Road, I’d never heard of Hornet Lookout.

That sunny Saturday we’d decided to drive up the North Fork to take in the fall colors. It had been years since we’d been up that way together. We used to drive up and scout for grouse during grouse season or look for game signs ahead of hunting season. The North Fork was a lot more isolated then. Polebridge and a few scattered ranches were pretty much the only thing up there. We never saw much in the way of traffic.

This time we were trailing, and being followed by, a caravan of cars, all heading up the still dusty road (though there are paved sections now I do not recall). When we got to Polebridge every single vehicle but ours turned off.

It felt good to have the road to ourselves, like in the good old days. About 8 miles up, we spotted a sign — Hornet Lookout-7 miles. We glanced at each other and, not having a particular agenda that day, turned up the road.

Those 7 miles are a tad gnarly. The road is one lane with infrequent, puny pullouts and winds and climbs fairly steeply, all while clinging to the edge of a cliff and hairpin turns.

I watched the odometer tick off each precarious mile.

At long last – about 30 minutes – we reached the end of this remote, high country gravel road. And what do we find?

There are at least a dozen rigs parked up there already. Families with kids having lunch in camp chairs. Folks having mini tailgate parties. Unsupervised kids throwing rocks from the trail down onto the road.

A simple wooden sign reading “Lookout” points up a trail. We grabbed water and started hiking up Hornet Peak, not knowing how far or how high we were going. A little way up – and it’s all up, but not bad – we chatted with an elderly woman on her way down. (Seeing she’d survived the hike was a promising sign.) She actually hadn’t gone all the way to the lookout, she told us, but did hear it was about a mile up.

Our first glimpse of the lookout was rewarding, though it was all boarded up. We had it to ourselves, took in the spectacular 360-degree views, snapped the requisite selfie and headed back down the trail for home.

Hornet Lookout was built in 1922 and at one time was a critical station for patrolling fires in the North Fork. Now it can be rented for overnight stays. At an elevation of 6,744 feet it bests Logan Pass in Glacier Park by just a little under 100 feet.

A few days after our daytrip, a girlfriend emailed me about her family’s hiking excursion in Ohio’s Hocking Hills and sent a couple of photos. I responded with details of our hike and a couple photos. My husband’s wristwatch measures elevation gain and at the time it showed we’d gained about 1,000 feet on our hike to the lookout, which I’d related to my friend, who seemed quite impressed with both the views and our apparent hiking prowess.

Jim mentioned to me later that his altimeter had been incorrect and we’d, in fact, gained more like 450 feet in the mile-long hike.

You’re wondering if I mentioned this to my friend …

Community and Entertainment editor Carol Marino may be reached at 406-758-4440 or