Built in 1928-29 and manned full-time until 1971 this lookout stands at 7,487 ft
The Mt. Brown Fire Lookout is a fantastic feature in the Lake McDonald Valley. You’ll find spectacular views, migratory birds, flora and fauna, and currently you can see just how close the Sprague fire came to destroying this historic structure. This hike however, is not a casual hike and should only be attempted by those in excellent physical condition.
The Mt. Brown trail boasts the most elevation gain of any official trail in the park at 4,325 vertical feet. This is accomplished in only 5 miles so be prepared for a continuous uphill slog! Find the trailhead directly across the road from the Lake McDonald Lodge parking area. The shared trailhead also branches off to Snyder Lakes, Fish Lake, Comeau Pass, and Sperry Chalet.
We hiked this trail in October 2018, just after the Howe Ridge Fire wreaked havoc in the park. It was a weekend of perfect Fall weather. Temps were cool, wind was mild, and skies were clear. An early cold snap weeks earlier turned the trees so the colors were in-your-face vivid.
The Sprague Fire of 2017 burned out much of the area surrounding the trail so there were sustained views along the way that were not available in the past. And there was something oddly beautiful about all that black char on the skeletal remains of trees towering around us. The new undergrowth was fresh and green and spoke of new beginnings.
As we got higher and higher along the trail we began to appreciate the prominence of the mountains around us. Peaks in immediate sight were Stanton, Vaught, McPartland, Little Matterhorn, Edwards, and Gunsight. To the south we could see Lake McDonald in its entirety. And we saw from the southern base of Stanton the area of the 2018 Howe Ridge Fire and where it met up with the 2003 Robert Fire.
You will see quite a few people on this trail because of its popularity but it rarely feels “crowded” because the dauntingly steep grade tends to spread people out sparsely. We saw only a dozen people on the trail this day, but despite the difficulty they ranged in age from adolescent to geriatric. I hope I’m climbing 4,300′ a day when I’m in my 70’s!
Mid-to-Late October is a time of year when migratory eagles are passing through this area. We came across two volunteers from the Citizen Science Program who were doing annual raptor counts on one of the rocky outcroppings where the view into the Snyder Valley was prime for seeing birds. Sometimes the lookout is used as a base camp for the raptor count activities. Want to get involved in projects like this? Go here: GNP Citizen Science
Of course the views from the lookout are fabulous! We took our time getting the photos we wanted, which certainly included panoramas. Then we had a quick bite. Lunch always tastes good on a mountain and this was no exception. And today our dessert included some Ibuprofen because we knew we would “kneed” it for the pounding our joints would take on the way down.
This is a fairly popular winter trail as well. I have snowshoed this trail before and I plan to ski it this year. Who knows, maybe I will even do a winter ascent of the Mount Brown summit!