To the Grizzly Highway

Day 3: Sparwood to Butts Cabin (57 miles)

From Sparwood, we had two route options: head east into the mountains to the Flathead River—called the “Grizzly Highway” by locals in the area (according to our guidebook)—or continue south along on a shorter and more moderate alternative route through the valley, toward Fernie.

Intrigued by the challenge of the backcountry and promise of rugged scenery, we’d opted to head for the hills. Since we’d have around 110 miles without resupply, we packed up food and gear for two days and a night out on the trail, and set off, planning to meet Anna, Silas, and Eleanor in two days in Eureka, Montana.

The first 20 miles of our route followed paved roads gradually gaining elevation all the way to Corbin. Upon reaching Corbin, we turned south on Flathead Valley Road, a decent dirt road that climbed gradually to Flathead Pass.

From the top of the pass, we began a rough decent down the other side. Significant portions of the road had been washed out, and we picked our way through gravel and large stones, which tested our technical abilities with weighted bikes. (We found ourselves walking multiple sections.)

Eventually, we arrived to the valley and Flathead River, which runs all the way down to Flathead Lake in Montana, passing on the West side of Glacier National Park along the way—unfortunately for us, we’d have to climb a couple of ridges to the West to get back to a paved road and legal border crossing. At a different time in history, we’d just follow the Flathead south.

Dave above the Flathead River.

After following along the east bank of the Flathead for several rolling miles along a dirt road, we arrived at the river, where a bridge was out. Thankfully, the water was low—about knee high (and we’d known about the missing bridge and low water in advance)—so were were able to carry our bikes across with few difficulties.

On the other side of the river, we passed a recreation area, where camping was permitted, on our left and continued a number of miles before arriving at Butts Cabin—a public cabin available on a first come-first serve basis until beds are full. We ended up having the place to ourselves.

Following a dirt road along the west side of the Flathead River toward Butt’s Cabin.
Look’in good.
Butts Cabin.
Glad we weren’t eating dehydrated meals every night.

Throughout the day, we’d been very cautious about bears, trying to make as much noise as possible, due to the warning in our guidebook that the Flathead River Valley was a major thoroughfare for grizzlies and had the highest density of grizzly bears of any location in North America. We, however, didn’t see any bear signs–no scat, no paw prints, no sightings. A bit of a let down, but certainly not a disappointment!

Not quite a bear…

Tomorrow, we’ve got a lot of climbing as we head east on our last day in Canada on our way to Montana.