Elk Lake- Beartooth Mountains
Rising from the sleepy vacation homes in Alpine, Montana, the trail to Elk Lake is a beautiful hike that is sure to impress all. Surrounded by jagged peaks and rough canyon walls, the area is breathtaking to say the least. Starting at the trailhead, the trail follows the East Rosebud Creek for three miles. During this hike, there are no large hills to cross, no tiresome switchbacks, and the trail is kept in immaculate condition. As expected on any easy day hike, the traffic on the trail is high, particularly in Summer. In the Winter, however, you can easily have the valley to yourself.
From the trailhead, the hike starts at East Rosebud Lake, which is mostly closed to public access. After about a half mile, you cross the wilderness boundary, and the far shore of East Rosebud Lake. From there, it’s another 3 miles of hiking through timber that was burned in the 1996 Shepard Mountain fire. Early in the season and late in the season, this timber can add a few obstacles to your hike. Fallen timber blocks the trail in many places, during the off-season. By the time that June comes around, the forest service has usually cleared all the dead fallen trees from the trail, and the forest service keeps the trail cleared well into October. This is a hike that quickly goes by, as even the most novice hiker can easily hike the trail within an hour and a half.
This is one of the easiest trails in the Beartooth Mountains, if you want to see wildlife. The best time to see wildlife is in the early morning, or later in the evening. Elk, Moose, and Whitetail Deer are all common in this area. As with any hike, be sure to bring bear spray, or an equally effective alternative. This is bear country (as are all the mountains in Montana), and special precautions should be taken when hiking in bear country.
Camping opportunities are limited at Elk Lake, but there are a couple of spots. Current forest service regulations stipulate that all camps must be 300 feet from any lake, or 100 feet from any stream. These regulations are there for a good reason- signs of previous campers are always present at Elk Lake, and they are an eye sore. When camping at Elk Lake, it’s crucial to practice zero impact camping.
Fishing opportunities at Elk Lake are limited. The area does not support a decent fishery, but the creek itself does occasionally have a pan-sized brown or rainbow in it. Fishermen should concentrate either close to the trailhead (at the inlet of East Rosebud Lake), or they should hike further up the trail towards Rimrock Lake. Although the trail to Elk Lake is a short one, the potential from Elk Lake is almost limitless. Every year, thousands of hikers hike “The Beaten Path“, a 26 mile hike that starts at the trailhead at East Rosebud Lake. Elk Lake is just the first stop on this large hike, which covers many more scenic vistas and pristine mountain lakes. For beginners, I recommend pushing on to Rimrock Lake, which is a beautiful lake, and a short 6 miles from the trailhead (2.5 miles from Elk Lake).
Pictures from Elk Lake, and the Trail
Directions to the Trailhead
From Absarokee, take Highway 78 south of town. About 13 miles down the highway, turn right at Roscoe (East Rosebud Road). Follow this road all the way (about 5 miles), until the road sharply turns to the right (if you drive straight, you will hit Luther Roscoe Rd). There is a bridge just before the turn, and a large forest service sign at this turn, so it’s easy to spot. From here, it’s another 10 miles to the trailhead. The road is usually in fair condition, and is mostly gravel. At the parking lot, the trailhead is easy to spot.
Map to the Elk Lake Trailhead