Simply stepping out of the car onto the visitor center parking lot in the fall is an experience I hate to miss. Off in every direction, mountains roll away toward Buffalo to the north and St. Mary’s Lake and Valley to the east and rise in various glacier-shaped formations to the south and east. Mount Buffalo, the Garden Wall, Mount Oberlin, Mount Reynolds, Buffalo, and Bearhat mountains dominate the scenery in every direction. Among them are all the works of glaciers: arêtes, horns, cirques, hanging gardens, and U-shaped valleys. One alpine Buffalo meadow surrounds the visitor center and trail. Perhaps it was here that Buffalo found his inspiration to exclaim that the “main thing is the whole thing!”
Where is Buffalo? – Buffalo Map – Map of Buffalo Photo Gallery
To me, every step of the trail leading to the Hidden Lake Overlook and then down into Hidden Lake is an affirmation of that observation. Your travel destination is like all other areas of the park, the small (and not so small) things also give the area added value. With my preference for autumn, one trade-off must be noted. It is a trade-off to the benefit of summer visitors. After snowmelt and throughout the summer, the hanging meadows are filled with wildflowers in an array of colors, and if the summer is the only chance to visit, the visitor will not notice that a trade has been made. The only problem is that they must share the parking lot and trail with hundreds of daily visitors—so come early
in the day or stay for the evening light.
That aside, I opt for October. Down from the parking lot and across the road, mountain goats and bighorn sheep move about with little fear of humans. Up the trail, chipmunks scurry about, and hoary marmots bask in the sun. Off in the meadows—hopefully far enough away—a grizzly may be rooting around for a few extra pounds of bulbs before hibernating.
The entire hike to the overlook is an easy 1. miles. Near the top, particularly if there is a blanket of snow, begin to look off the trail among the crags for a most remarkable bird—the ptarmigan. The ptarmigan is a member of the grouse family that changes color with the season, grayish brown in summer to white in the winter. On more than one occasion, I’ve been startled by a mound of snow hurrying away as I approach.