Scenic Drives for your Fall Bucket List
By Annette Jamieson & Chelsea Paschall
This is the perfect time of year to take an Autumn Scenic Drive and experience the vibrant colors fall has to offer. Here are a couple of the best-kept secret drives that are close to home for you to explore and catch some captivating views of the valley!
Just to the west of town lies the Continental Divide which offers spectacular scenery when driving over Flesher and Stemple Pass. East of town, along the east side of stunning Canyon Ferry, the road to Townsend is splashed with color and provides you with the opportunity for wildlife viewing.
Flesher Pass sits at an elevation of 6,350 feet and is about 39 miles from Helena. The road is paved all the way on Highway 279 to Lincoln. Stemple Pass is 28 miles from Helena, with an elevation of 6,349 feet and the road is gravel.
To reach this and Stemple Pass, take Montana Avenue north to Lincoln Road. Head west toward the mountains. The road begins a quick winding ascent once it reaches the mountain. There are switchbacks that offer stunning views of the Helena National Forest. From the top of the pass at 6,350 feet, you can see a beautiful panorama of the Blackfoot River Valley. The summit is on the Continental Divide which is a great area to hike and explore.
Follow the directions to Flesher Pass but watch for Stemple Pass Road which is about eight miles after you pass through Canyon Creek and before you reach Flesher. Stemple Pass will be on your left. This is a more isolated area with a gravel road. Road conditions in Montana can change rapidly, please be aware that this is an unmaintained road, and we suggest a vehicle with high clearance. Stemple Pass is a host to multiple trailheads and hidden mining history, so take it slow to see all those majestic Montana treasures.
Canyon Ferry Wildlife Management Area
Canyon Ferry Wildlife Management Area is located In Broadwater County, 1 mile north of Townsend at the lower (south) end of Canyon Ferry Reservoir. Canyon Ferry Wildlife Management Area can be accessed from U. S. Highway 287 on the west and Highway 284 on the east. Canyon Ferry Wildlife Management Area can be reached by several gravel roads. Also, from Townsend, one can follow US Highway 12 east for a short distance, then turn north onto Harrison Road. Gravel roads heading off this road lead to the Wildlife Management Area.
Canyon Ferry Wildlife Management Area is an excellent place to see migrating waterfowl and many nesting birds, including Canada geese, double-crested cormorants, American white pelicans, Caspian terns and ospreys. Commonly seen mammals include white-tailed deer, beaver, raccoon, mink and red fox. River otters and moose are seen infrequently.