A spring hike in Christensen Meadows, together with a float on Camas Creek, will never be a popular trip in Glacier National Park, but it’s one of my favorite outings. The meadows face south, and the creek has its origin up a big and very snowy valley. Once spring truly warms up the lower Camas valley is a great place to find white glacier lilies, whitetail deer, elk, bear, and waterfowl. Later on, on the cusp of summer, the namesake Camas flower is typically found in vast profusion.
The skinny, gravel Inside North Fork road leads to the Camas Creek trailhead, but it is rarely open to cars during the proper season. Instead, ride mountain bikes from the Fish Creek campground, which is mostly uphill on the way out, and thus mostly downhill on the way back. This weekend we bumped a fat black bear while we were outbound, and on the return 4.5 hours later saw that it had eaten all the (invasive) dandelions which were growing along a good stretch of road.
The trail through the meadows is faint, more often used by ungulates than humans, and in places usually underwater, but still easy to follow. Relics from the old Christensen homestead can be seen; one assumes their ventures into farming didn’t get far. I’d suggest breaking off in the mile or so before Rogers Meadow, where one can bushwack to the creek with minimal willow-bogging. Rogers Meadow is a pleasant enough place, but paddling through it is very circuitous and slow, and escape from the creek via the sea of willow marshes is almost impossible. Those with a full day at their disposal might as well go all the way up to put in on Rogers Lake, and enjoy the maximal Camas Creek experience.
The creek below Rogers Lake is class I, with a modest current, at best. The additional speed provided by high spring water is not a bad thing, not even at flood stage. Occasional snags and beaver dams need to be dodged, but overall the paddling is as easy as packrafting in Glacier gets.
It is a great outing for beginners, or infants in the minivanraft. Mosquitoes can be an issue, so being organized and going on a day with a nice breeze are both recommended. Watch for wildlife while biking, hiking, and while rafting. I’ve floated up within 40 feet of elk on Camas, and it is easy to imagine an encounter with a surprised moose easily going wrong. I should also note that the mellow gradient does not continue below the Inside North Fork bridge. This lowest stretch of Camas Creek has plenty of fast bends, even more wood jams, and exits from the creek via nasty thickets of doghair pine laced with deadfall.
Glacier isn’t only about the huge mountains which are so in your face once you get close enough, it is about what those mountains make possible. In the case of the west-side valleys the mountains enable lush and nutritious forests and waterways, and the many critters which make a living there. These plants and animals can only actively make a living from late April through sometime in November, and use the few really productive months during that period to full advantage. Camas Creek is a good place to see that in action.