By Robert Lucke
For the family that wants a winter getaway but can't get away overnight, don't overlook Beaver Creek Park in the winter.
Remember that often when there is not a tad of snow in Havre or on the prairie and not enough snow to ski on at the Bear Paw Ski Bowl, things are not that way in the upper reaches of the park.
From Mooney's Coulee, south to the end of the park, cross-country and snowmobile trails hold their snow as they wind through thick aspen and pine forests. As the Beaver Creek Canyon narrows, it provides a natural environment for snow when there is none elsewhere. Not only that, but the thawing chinook winds do not reach those areas. That makes for cross-country skiing, sledding, and snowmobiling when there is none elsewhere.
As a rule, the snow is not deep enough to obscure Beaver Creek hiking trails this time of year. And without foliage to obscure, views and vistas from trails are nothing short of spectacular in January and February.
One winter climb not to miss is to go to the top of Mount Otis. This is an easy to slightly moderate climb with views from all sides of the mountain on the way up. The trail is a series of gentle switchbacks winding around the open hillside and through thick fir forests. This time of year, the biggest problem is getting to the trailhead from the Beaver Creek Highway. Head up the highway to Mooney's Coulee, which is located south of Camp Kiwanis. Head up the narrow and winding Mooney's Coulee road until you get to a sign on the left side of the road that announces the trailhead. Be careful of the Mooney's Coulee road this time of year. Often it is very icy, particularly on the small hill at the entrance to the coulee.
Another great walk this time of year is to head up Beaver Creek to Rotary Falls. The falls are great mounds of ice. The sound of water trickles up from far beneath the ice. It's a very beautiful and easy walk, even though there is no well- defined trail.
The trail starts just below Rotary Hill. Although it is not marked, it is the only large hill that Beaver Creek Road goes up before getting to Kiwanis Camp. Park at the bottom of the hill and wander up the creek on the left side of the highway. The waterfall can be seen from the highway. The north side of the creek provides the easiest access.
Strolling past the waterfall and up Rotary Canyon to Bear Paw Lake provides a nice woodland setting between steep canyon walls. The hillside above Rotary Falls was at one time a youth camp built by the local Rotary Club. Signs of it can still be found in the aspen groves that cling to the north side of the canyon.
Probably the best of all winter walks is the easiest too. It is to view the Rainbow Falls and the grotto at the bottom of the falls. To get to Rainbow Falls, leave Beaver Creek Park by its south entrance and enter the Rocky Boy Recreation Area. Head up the road until reaching a sign that says Miner's Gulch. Slow down there, go around a shallow curve and there you will see a fence with a wooden gate on the right side of the highway. Walk through the gate and up a narrow and steep path for not even an eighth of a mile to the grotto and falls. This time of year it is a cascade of ice stalagmites cascading down some 20 feet. On a day that the sun shines on the ice, it turns many colors, hence the name Rainbow Falls.
Remember that Beaver Creek Park is a fee area winter or summer. Don't overlook it for a morning or afternoon of wilderness just some 30 minutes from Havre.
For further information, contact park headquarters at 395-4565.