Easy Day Hikes in the Beartooth Mountains
If you’re looking for a quick hike in the wilderness, the Beartooth Mountains have much to offer. Located near the busy towns of Billings, Red Lodge, and Cooke City, the Beartooth Mountains are a popular destination for day hikers that want to only spend only a few hours in the wild. For those hikers, here is a short list of popular day hikes- most within the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness.
Located in the West Boulder drainage, Mystic Lake attracts anglers and day hikers alike. The relatively easy hike, combined with excellent fishing, make this trail extremely popular. Plan to hike up this trail in the morning, otherwise a large rock field on the trail will roast you in the mid-afternoon. There is something for everyone at Mystic Lake- the fishing is excellent for Rainbow Trout, and it is one of the most scenic hikes in this list. Hikers looking for more exercise can hike to nearby Island Lake, Huckleberry Lake, or Princess Lake– all of which offer excellent fishing.
Located in the East Rosebud drainage, Elk Lake offers an easy hike through a scenic valley. The drainage was burned in the 1996 Shepherd Mountain fire, which allows a clear view of the valley, and of East Rosebud Creek. Make sure to bring your camera- moose and deer are a common sight on this trail. Leave your fishing rod at home though- the shallow lake makes life hard for its few Brook Trout.
Located in the Stillwater drainage, Sioux Charley Lake is by far the most popular hiking destination in that valley. The hike runs next to the Stillwater River for almost its entire length, offering good fishing opportunities on the river, as well as at the lake itself. This is a popular destination, so expect plenty of fishing pressure. Hikers with more energy can also hike the nearby Woodbine Falls trail, to see a beautiful waterfall plunge hundreds of feet.
On the topic of waterfalls, the trail to Sentinel Falls allows you to view two waterfalls, all within a short drive from Red Lodge. The West Fork of Rock Creek plunges over both falls, creating beautiful scenes of cascading water. Anglers should leave their rods at home though, this section of Rock Creek contains very little fish. Although anglers will be disappointed, the easy trail and excellent scenery make this hike very popular in the summer.
Up the road from Sentinel Falls, Basin Creek Lakes offer a quick day hike to two peaceful mountain lakes, one of which offers good fishing for Brook Trout. The mature lodgepole forest offers a break from the sun’s heat, but feel free to jump in either lake, if you want to cool off. These shallow lakes are warmer than most, and the forest offers good cover for you to change into your swimsuit. This trail is very popular though, so expect lots of company.
Another hike near Red Lodge is Glacier Lake. Although the hike is short (under 5 miles round trip), the hike is uphill all the way. On the bright side, Glacier Lake offers good fishing, and an opportunity to explore other lakes in the area, such as Triangle Lake, or Little Glacier Lake. Don’t attempt to drive to the trailhead in anything less than a high clearance 4 wheel drive vehicle, as some of the pot holes on the road are big enough to fit a small car into.
Located on the Wyoming side of the Beartooth Highway, and only 30 minutes from Cooke City, the trailhead at Beartooth Lake leads to Beauty Lake. This lake lives up to its namesake- there are few other lakes that can challenge its beauty. The hike to Beauty Lake is short, yet satisfying, and passes by nearby Crane Lake. Save your fishing for Beauty Lake though, the Brook Trout there rarely disappoint.
Easily accessed on the Montana side of the Beartooth Highway, Rock Island Lake offers a relaxed hike through a mature forest, and is just a few miles outside of Cooke City. You’ll quickly hike past Kersey Lake (an excellent day hiking destination on its own), where both moose and deer are common along the trail. If you continue up the trail from Rock Island Lake, you’ll eventually end up at Elk Lake; this trail is so popular, it’s known as The Beaten Path. Each year, thousands of hikers travel on this trail, exploring the many lakes and mountains in the area. Therefore, you should expect many other hikers on this trail.
For More Hikes in the Beartooth Mountains
This is a good list to get you started with hiking in the Beartooth Mountains, but it only scratches at the surface of hiking trips available in this area. If you want more exercise than these short hikes provide, take a look at other Beartooth Mountains hikes on this site- there are plenty of excellent hiking destinations in this nearly one million acre mountain range. This is a popular mountain range, though, as thousands of hikers use these trails each year; remember to tread lightly on these trails, and pick up any trash that you might see.