Ernie Strum Trail is a beautiful, undeveloped-feeling trail in the Fishtail, MT area. It is a fairly new trail created in 2014 thanks to the persistence Ernie Strum, an area local and the first proponent for the trail. He worked for around 15 years to make the project happen . This trail is great for people who like variety; it passes over hills with expansive views as well as dipping into valleys with forest, grassland and swamp. In spring, wildflowers are abundant. The trail meets up with an old two track road that lands at Lily Pad Lake (after about 2.5mi), a beautiful mountain lake that at the right time of year is filled with lily pads. The two-track road continues on to Crater Lake where it ends.
The trailhead can be very easy to miss. There isn’t a designated parking area and besides for a small sign it isn’t well marked. The trailhead is located off of West Rosebud Road and is located about two miles after the second river crossing. There is enough shoulder space on the side of the road to find a spot to park.
The trail begins with a half-mile forested climb uphill to the top of the ridge where you break out of the trees to view the northern face of the Fishtail Plateau and the valleys on either side. There are two log benches here to rest, and take in the spectacular view.
The trail continues on the other side of the hill, climbing down the forested slope. Nearing the bottom, the trail enters State Land (previous is BLM). In the valley the trail crosses a stream – where an occasional frog can be spotted – and through swamp land which feels alive with wildlife.
The trail starts to ascend again through large, open meadow which leads you to an old two-track road. A note on this portion of the trail: the meadow has overtaken the trail in parts.
The two-track continues gently uphill, through forested terrain, where there will be a fork in the road. Going left will take you down a short path to Lily Pad Lake and going straight continues on to Crater Lake where the two-track ends.
A few more notes. The trail has a few fallen logs blocking the path so a few gymnastic moves are handy :). And if you are wanting to stay overnight, there is plenty of room and flat space on the shore of Lily Pad Lake – along with a few stone fire rings and a log shelter of sorts.
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