By Robert Lucke
If there was ever a time for you and your family to get out to the Bear Paw Mountains and take advantage of winter recreation opportunities, this is it.
Snow levels at this writing are higher than they have been for a couple of years, and persistent winds have caused huge drifts to form throughout the upper areas of Beaver Creek Park. In fact, while lower levels of the park are not heavy with snow, areas above Rotary Hill have from 6 to 12 inches of snow with reports of more on the way.
Ice anglers report great success both on Bear Paw Lake and on Beaver Creek Lake. The trout in Beaver Creek Lake, which had been tiny for so many years, are now grown up. Reports are of 14- and 15-inchers being taken through the ice.
Spear fishermen at Beaver Creek Lake report great luck now with both walleye and northern pike. Some huge fish have been dragged out of that lake in the last week.
For people tiring of sledding on the college hill, try the hill just west of and above Rotary Hill in Beaver Creek Park. That hill is long and steep but not too steep and gets a lot of action when there is snow. These days, not only is there snow, but high drifts make for even more exciting sledding.
Don't overlook ice skating, either. Bear Paw Lake is perfect for that sport. It is sheltered and yet westerly winds help to blow snow off the lake, making for rink-like conditions every so often. With the cold spells of late, ice is thick and solid. However, chinooks come quickly in the Bear Paws and they can weaken ice almost overnight, so whether ice fishing or ice skating, always check for conditions before venturing out on the ice.
There are numerous cross-country and snowmobile trails in the area of Beaver Creek Park south of Camp Kiwanis and the Taylor Road. Conditions for both cross-country skiing and snowmobiling are ideal right now, as trails are hard-packed and deep. The Beaver Creek Trail, which runs up the west side of the Beaver Creek Valley, is very popular when there is snow like there is now. Brough's Coulee and Blackie Coulee are popular cross-country ski areas as well.
Into winter walking? Trails are usually broken going up Mount Otis, with the trail head in Mooney's Coulee. Parts of the trail will have blown open, and there is enough traffic on the mountain that it doesn't take long from a snowfall to have a good path all the way to the top.
In the Rocky Boy Recreation area, don't overlook a winter walk up to Rainbow Falls. The ice is magnificent, and on a sunny morning, that ice turns into a rainbow throughout the grotto where it's located. Head to Miner's Gulch and stop at the sign. Around the corner to the south and on the west side of the highway is a hand gate. Go through that gate and up the path to the waterfall.
Don't overlook skiing knee deep and cheap these days at the Bear Paw Ski Bowl. Snow was slow in coming this year, but when it did come, it really came. Plenty of fun to be had there most every weekend for awhile now.