Standing at an elevation of 7,196 feet, Standard Peak is an easily accessible summit at the southern end of northwest Montana’s Whitefish Range. About 20 miles northwest of Columbia Falls, Standard Peak offers gorgeous panoramas out to Glacier National Park’s imposing summits as well as views into the Flathead Valley.
Standard Peak is the lone summit on Smoky Range Trail #270. This trail runs for 9.3 miles (roughly east to west) from McGinnis Creek Road to NF-316, on the north side of Whitefish Mountain. Standard Peak’s summit sits about one-third of the way from the eastern terminus of the trail, giving a few options for hiking: (1) 6 miles roundtrip to Standard Peak’s summit from McGinnis Creek Road, (2) 12.6 miles roundtrip to the summit from NF-316, or (3) 18.6 miles roundtrip for the full-length of the trail. It should be noted, though, that road NF-316 is seasonal, typically not opening before July 15th.
Because NF-316 was still closed the weekend we hiked (we planned to hike option (2) above), we opted for the 6-mile out-and-back from McGinnis Creek Road. To reach this trailhead, travel roughly 13 miles north of Columbia Falls up the North Fork Road. Take a left onto McGinnis Creek Road (NF-803), and follow it for about six miles. The trailhead is marked by a small sign on the left for Smoky Range Trail #270. There are a few pull-off areas both before and after the trailhead that can accommodate a handful of cars (note: there is a steep drop-off on the right side of this stretch of road).
The first section of trail was somewhat reminiscent of the nearby Demer’s Ridge Trail to Glacier View Mountain – skirting the edge of an open, rocky slope with very little shade. Along with Demer’s Ridge, this area sustained significant damage in the 2001 Moose Fire. Evidence of the fire’s wrath is still visible today – with trees standing like singed matchsticks across the hillsides. Amongst the scars, though, we discovered an assortment of colorful wildflowers bursting from areas of revitalized flora.
The trail continued to climb fairly gradually, transitioning in and out of swaths of regenerated forests, which provided a nice relief from the warm sun. The summit appeared almost unexpectedly as we ascended the last wooded area, giving way to a clearing blanketed with glacier lilies and offering stunning views out to West Glacier and the Flathead Valley.
As we descended back to the trailhead, we were already plotting a future, late-day return to the summit. The views from the top suggested that a retreating sun might provide some gorgeous directional light on Glacier’s towering peaks. And with a total [moving] time of around three hours, it was a hike that could easily be completed with a late-afternoon start time. If you’re looking for a route with some beautiful wildflowers and impressive views, we’d highly recommend a trip up Standard Peak.
Total distance: 6.0 miles
Elevation gain: 2,073 feet