I've got a peculiar curiosity about the Flint Creek Range, west of Deer Lodge. They're not included in many guide books. There's no designated wilderness. No glamour destinations. But I've always wanted to know what's up there. I got the chance on Oct. 2 when my friend Geoff Birnbaum invited me to overnight at Trask Lakes, a group of tarns scattered across a large basin high above Rock Creek Lake.
We picked a fantastic weekend—warm, barely a cloud in the sky. I didn't even need my long underwear, and that makes getting out of the sleeping bag in the morning so much easier!
To get there, head west from Deer Lodge to Rock Creek Lake. The lake's part of the swanky Rock Creek Cattle Co. golf resort, owned by William Foley, the same guy who owns Whitefish Mountain. For now, it's no problem to drive across the ranch to the lake, which is nice, but Rock Creek Lake itself is not. Virtually every tree within 100 feet of the bank has been cut and left lying on the ground, creating a scene of remarkable devastation. I'm not judging, but it's an indisputable mess. You'll find a designated parking area at the far end of the lake, near several private cabins hemmed in by the rubble.
From the parking area, the trail follows an old mining skid about three miles to an extremely robust bridge across Rock Creek. Beware of springtime conditions, though. I imagine the trail might be very wet. Even during a moisture-free stretch of fall weather, seeps in the bottomland sections flooded the trail in many places. From the bridge, the trail narrows and begins a more deliberate climb to the lakes, about seven miles from the trailhead.
We had the trail to ourselves all weekend. But we saw recent tracks from at least one dirt bike that managed to get five miles or so up the very rugged tread. It's not entirely clear to me whether motorized use of the trail is actually permitted or not.
We camped at Elbow Lake, tucked against the northern ridge of the basin about a half mile northeast of the Trask Lakes. To get there, take the right fork in the trail at the first mudhole you see. (It was bone dry when we arrived.) For the Trask Lakes, continue straight on. You'll reach the first one in less than half a mile, and another just a quarter mile beyond that.
We didn't proceed any farther, but the trail continues up over Racetrack Pass, and from there to Alpine Lake on the other side. If you explore up there for while, the map shows that you should eventually come across at least two other lakes in the Trask basin.