If you find yourself visiting the Flathead Valley and love hiking, Ousel Peak (trail #331) is an absolute must-do! Ousel Peak is in the northern part of the Flathead Range, towering at 7,157’ feet above the Great Bear Wilderness. The trail is short and steep, gaining over 3,800 feet in just over 3.5 miles. According to the Hiking Project, the average grade is 20% (11°) with a max grade of 44% (24°). The views from the top are nothing short of spectacular, and the trail’s pitch makes you feel like you actually earned them. Additionally, we saw virtually no one else on the trail, making it a really peaceful outing.
It’s hard to find fault with this hike, but if I had to pick one shortcoming, it would be the location of the trailhead – just steps off a blind corner along Highway 2, a 70-mph road connecting East and West Glacier. If you’re traveling from the west, you won’t see the trailhead before pulling off. Rather, you’ll see a small parking area on the left side of the road between mile marker 159 and 160. The trailhead is about a hundred feet further up the road on the right, marked by a brown and white highway sign that points across the street to Ousel Peak. Consequently, you do have to walk briefly along the highway (with not much of a shoulder) and then cross the thoroughfare. Be super careful, because the cars do move quickly through here.
As soon as you step off the highway, the trail begins climbing steeply, and the first two-thirds of the hike is through a dense forest. Before heading out, we’d read a hike report that claimed there were 22 blowdowns en route to the summit, and that the trail hadn’t been formally maintained in years. After encountering about a dozen fairly massive blowdowns on the Cedar Lake Trail the week before, we wondered if we’d be doing some major bushwhacking/clambering. However, the trail proved to be in great shape. I did count, for those who are curious, 19 blowdowns along the trail, although most were insignificant and easy to just step over.
After emerging from the woodland, the trail opens up onto a false summit less than a mile from the top. From here we got our first vistas of the majestic peaks of neighboring Glacier National Park. We were fortunate to have the most beautifully clear day, and we couldn’t imagine what the views would be like further up.
From here it was a pretty quick ascent to the top, though we both seemed to be stopping every 15 feet to snap a few photos. When we finally reached the summit, the views were remarkable! The 360-degree panoramas were just breathtaking – with the peaks of southern Glacier, Harrison Lake, and the Flathead River to the northeast, and the dramatic ridgeline of the adjoining Flathead Range peaks to the southwest. A small path follows a short portion of the ridgeline out toward Pyramid Peak and the contiguous summits, soaring so close by you feel like you could just step to the next mountaintop.
If you have any fear of heights whatsoever, you may find yourself a little uncomfortable at the top of Ousel, as there are extremely sheer drop-offs from either side of the summit. The track is wide enough that you do feel safe, but the seemingly encroaching edges can make your stomach turn a bit.
With views like that, we could have sat up there all day. We enjoyed a quiet lunch, took in the stunning scenery, and snapped photos of the stunted, alpine wildflowers that clung to the rocky summit. In the hour or so we spent up there, we never saw another soul. It was absolutely perfect.
If you’re looking for an easily accessible, lightly trafficked hike, consider checking out Ousel Peak. For a shorter trail that’s right off the main drag, it seems to be a little gem that’s hidden right in plain sight.
Total distance: 7.3 miles
Elevation gain: 3,848 feet