Five String has always wanted to visit the Kootenai National Forest and an area know as “The Yaak” in northwestern Montana. Since we were on our way to northern Idaho this past week we figured that it made sense to drive through the Kootenai National Forest on our way. This area of Montana is very rural and reminds us a lot of northern Maine. We loved how green everything was and the smell of the trees, flowers and fast flowing water was unbelievably refreshing.
Since we were quickly passing through the area we decided to spend the night in a Yurt at the Whitetail campground that sits along the Yaak River. The proximity to the river was fabulous for bird watching and getting our feet wet. We challenged ourselves with skipping stones across the river and by the end of the day we were all ready for our first campfire of the season.
The Yurt was surprisingly spacious with a set of bunk-beds and a good sized table. We really loved not having to pitch a tent for the night especially when we woke up to rain showers the next morning and were able to eat breakfast inside and stay dry and warm.
Since we didn’t have to devote time to packing up camp (Yurts really do make life easier) we were able to spend more time relaxing along the river bank. On our way out of the area we stopped off at Yaak Falls where we watched an impressive amount of water cascading down over the rocks. The Yaak area is definitely a gorgeous piece of wilderness and one that we hope to be able to return to for further exploration in the future.
As the temperatures approached 80 degrees yesterday we ventured over to Swan Lake for the maiden voyage of our new inflatable kayak (The Manatee) and our second hand canoe (The Croc 11).
Great for exploring the marsh.
The wind cooperated and we ended up paddling for most of the day interrupted only to cool off in the lake.
Steady platform for jumping into the lake.
Works great for towing your little brother!
We had debated long and hard over the winter months as to the merits of an inflatable kayak and it turned out to have been a good purchase. It saved us having to put a new roof rack on our car, the price was very reasonable, and we didn’t find the set-up time consuming at all. We especially love how stable it is in the water. The kids can jump off of it and climb back in without the fear of the kayak tipping over. It seems to handle well and it is pretty easy to tow behind the canoe when the Younger Five’s arms tire out. Hopefully we will get some good use out of both boats this summer.
We have heard great things about Tally Lake in Flathead County, Montana and wanted to get a visit in before tourist season begins at the end of the month. As the temperatures rose into the 70’s this past Thursday we figured that there was no better time to make the trip.
Tally Lake is Montana’s 2nd deepest lake at 445 feet deep. The kids were prepared for a day of swimming, but as they rushed in for their first dip they realized how cold the lake still was. The fast rushing creek adjacent to the beach looked like it would be fun to tube down, but the snow melt that it carried made even our fearless cold water swimmer, Five of Hearts, head back to shore. However, the Younger Fives still found a way to enjoy the freezing water as they built rafts out of their boogie boards and managed to paddle the lake without getting wet.
The campground at Tally Lake wasn’t yet open and besides a few people using the boat landing we pretty much had the whole lake to ourselves. The lack of people near the beach area created the perfect environment for birding and we enjoyed watching Yellow Warblers and Rufous Hummingbirds. The Richardson Ground Squirrels were also a pleasure to watch. We ended up staying at the lake until well into the evening and had great difficulty getting the kids to leave. It seems that Tally Lake will definitely be at the top of our list for camping and swimming this summer.
Back in February Five String entered us into the Sharp-tailed Grouse Blind lottery at the Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge. We didn’t really think that we had a chance in winning as the spots are limited and the blind is only open to the public three days a week between April and May. So, we were super excited when we received an email a few weeks ago telling us that there had been a cancellation and that the April 28th spot was now ours if we were still interested.
During mating season male Sharp-tailed Grouse display in a communal fashion to attract females. They do this at a site know as a “lek” which is usually a flat area free of dense vegetation. The lek or “dancing ground” where the grouse blind is situated at Benton Lake was first observed in 1988 and Sharp-tailed Grouse have been returning to it every year since.
Visitors to the blind are required to arrive one hour prior to sunrise so that they don’t disturb the grouse. For us this meant leaving our hotel in Great Falls at 4:45am. The Younger Fives were troopers at getting up and dressed even though it was pitch dark outside. From the auto road at the refuge we then had to walk about 400 yards through the dark, avoiding ground squirrel holes until we reached the blind. The grouse blind was built by an eagle scout and has seating room and viewing windows for six people.
As soon as we reached the blind we could hear that grouse already on the lek. We tiptoed inside, took our seats, and enjoyed listening to the sounds of the grouse while we waited for the sky to lighten. In no time at all we were able to view the male grouse as they displayed. Their orange eye combs and purple air sacs are really quite the sight. We were all impressed by the noise that their feathers make as they dance. We stayed at the blind for over 2 hours and while it was a chilly 40 degrees outside we were comfortable inside the blind. During our visit we were able to count 45 males and 2 females. Five of Hearts put together a short video of what we saw, so that you can share in the experience.