Story & photo provided by Lewistown News Argus
Overview: Grandview Trail #403 ascends the ridge above Crystal Lake with a fairly gradual climb to a magnificent view of the lake, adjacent canyons and mountain ranges from the Judiths to the Belts.
Distance and difficulty: According to trail signs and hiking time, the trail is approximately 4 miles one way, or about 8 miles out and back. We
started at the north end of Crystal Lake, from the boat launching facility, which adds another 3/4 of a mile each way. The trail gains just over 1,300 feet in elevation from the trailhead to Grandview Point.
This trail is rated Beginning. The trail is easy to follow and mostly of packed earth, a very forgiving surface. There is one short section where the trail crosses a rocky talus slope, but otherwise it is very stable underfoot. While the hike is uphill the entire way to the overlook, the trail meanders enough that most of the climbs are fairly gentle.
Directions: From Lewistown, take Highway 87 toward Great Falls. Look for the sign for Crystal Lake Road approximately 8.7 miles from town; turn left on Crystal Lake Road, which is unpaved. Stay on Crystal Lake Road to the Lewis and Clark National Forest boundary, where the road becomes paved. Follow the paved road and signs to Crystal Lake.
Park at the boat launch site, or continue on to the campground at the south end of the lake. We started at the boat launch, since there is a paved parking area with space for about 10 vehicles, and a vault toilet. Look for the Shoreline Trail at the south (left, if you are facing the lake) edge of the parking area.
Trailhead: Access the Grandview Trail (Trail 403) from Shoreline Trail (Trail 404) just below the campground at the south end of Crystal Lake. There is a sign pointing the way to Trail 403, giving the distance to Grandview Point as 4 miles. There are no facilities at the trailhead, but the campground and boat launch sites have picnic tables and vault toilets. Bring your own water -- while there is the lake and you will pass a small spring on this hike, it is not recommended to drink the water.
Description: Hikers will follow the lakeshore for approximately a quarter mile or so before reaching the “Y” where Trail 403 splits off to the left. The trail marker sign was missing here, but the trail is obvious and it is the first intersecting trail you will come to. Head uphill on Trail 403. Within a tenth of a mile, Ulhorn trail intersects Trail 403 - ignore this and continue on, climbing up the hillside above the lake through aspen, fir and spruce trees. The trail then levels out as it traces its way around side drainages and boulders and through the trees and underbrush. For much of this section the hike is very gentle and easy, a lovely stroll through the woods.
A little over a mile and a quarter from the trailhead, a side trail leads off to VJ Spring, a tiny brook flowing through a minute meadow lined with lush grasses and herbaceous plants. Since the rest of the hike is dry, it’s a nice break and hardly more than a few steps off the main trail.
After VJ Spring, the trail continues its slight climb and shortly you will see a tall rock cliff ahead through the trees. Take note of the top, because that’s where you are headed. This stretch of the trail allows for the occasional view of Crystal Lake -- you may be surprised by how far above it you have climbed already. The trees are covered with dense lichens, there is thick green moss along the trail, and in summr wildflowers such as asters, Indian paintbrush, bluebells of Scotland and pine drops poke their heads through the Oregon grape and maple leaves.
The final mile and a half of the hike is a little bit steeper than the lower section, but the trail remains good and is in the shade most of the way. There are plenty of tree squirrels and chipmunks for company, as well as the typical mountain birds, such as chickadees.
Three miles into the hike watch for a large boulder on the right hand side of the trail from which a section of rock has cracked away. Shortly after this, the trail crosses a talus slope. It is mostly stable, but watch your footing here and follow the rock cairns that mark the real trail.
From this point it is a short half-mile or less to the top of the ridge and trail intersection. Turn left for Grandview Point, about a tenth of a mile. The trail ends at a rock cliff, and provides an almost-360-degree view of the Snowies, Crystal Lake, the Judith and Moccasin mountains and, on a clear day, even further.
The return trip is back down the same route (unless you want to try for the Ice Caves, another 3.25 miles further on with some very steep uphill sections). Because the trip back is all downhill, most will accomplish it in only about half the time of the ascent.
Please note that while every effort has been made to guarantee accuracy in trail descriptions, errors in recording mileage and trail conditions can occur. Also changes occur on the land; some descriptions that were accurate when written may be inaccurate later. One storm, for example can block a road or trail. The responsibility for good health and safety while hiking is that of the user.
Ratings: Hikes are rated as beginning, intermediate and advanced. Beginning hikes are those which are mostly flat or with only short stretches of steep grades, and with well-marked, easy to follow trails. Intermediate hikes are those with very steep or very long grades, or with trail surfaces which are somewhat unstable. Advanced trails are those with very steep, or very unstable trails, those that require some climbing or those which are not well-marked or which contain stretches of off-trail hiking. None of these hikes requires technical climbing. Hikers should adjust these ratings for their own fitness and experience levels.