If you're having trouble finding a sunny weekend to hike a ridge to enjoy the fall colors you might want to give the Montana Creek Trail a try. Alder, cotton wood and muskegs along the way are making their change from summer green to winter gray and brown, so check it out before it's to late.
Montana Creek itself changes in appearance from day to day depending on the weather. Sometimes it is beautifully clear, sometimes it is muddy depending on the amount of rainfall or snow melt, or it can be dark brown depending on the drainage from the muskeg meadows along its route. In the fall it is alive with spawning salmon. Even a short walk either up or down stream brings a sight to enjoy.
The fisherman's access trail is to the left and downstream from the bridge at the end of Montana Creek Road. Unfortunately, this trail has not been maintained for several years, however, the first quarter of a mile or so is easy to follow and offers some scenic places to sit and watch the creek and perhaps eat a sandwich.
Salmon spawning in Montana Creek in late summer and fall are great food for bears. To avoid unwanted contact with these bears make lots of noise to let them know you are there. If you continue on up the trail, it follows the creek in the woods for a two- to three-hour hike to the meadows at the summit of the trail where the flowers are nice in summer and the colors are beautiful in the fall. Going on down the trail toward Windfall Lake, the trail passes through the "Trail of Giants," a beautiful old-growth forest. The tall, large, straight trees are a sight to truly admire. The trail approaches Windfall Lake from the east and sometimes in spring or fall one is fortunate to see swans and a variety of other birds on this beautiful lake.
One day a short way downstream, we were sitting eating our lunch at the top of a high bank overlooking the stream when I remembered how Whitehorse, Canada, had gotten its name. The riffles on Montana Creek reminded one of a herd of small white horses with flowing manes racing upstream, just as early folks had seen similar riffles on the Yukon River before the dam was built near Whitehorse. Across the creek in this area are the tallest spruce trees I have ever seen around Juneau.
The upstream route was once a part of a trail system from Montana Creek to Echo Cove, officially established in 1907-1909 by the territory of Alaska, to service Juneau Gold Belt mining sites. The strip of land with gold bearing-rock known as Juneau Gold Belt ran from north of Berners Bay to south of Point Bishop. One of the mines, served by this section of the trail, was up McGinnis Creek to the east at the end of the old Montana Creek Road. Other mining activity was carried on in the headwaters of Montana and Windfall creeks.
The Forest Service cabin is below the trail near the middle of the lake. You can rent this cabin for an unforgettable experience watching the twilight and then the night come across the lake. Beyond the cabin the trail becomes the Windfall Lake Trail and leads 4 miles to its trailhead off Glacier Highway at 27.3 Mile.
The trailhead for Montana Creek Trails is on the Montana Creek Road at the upper Montana Creek Bridge. The old road continues on as a trail for another approximately 1.5 miles. This section of the road had many improvements with water drainage and culverts two years ago and provides easy walking. In the summer, the old road is shared with horses used for riding tours. At the end of the old road the trail narrows and continues 8 miles to Windfall Lake .
On the Trails is written by members of Trail Mix, a nonprofit group on the Web at www.juneautrails.org/.