Keyser Brown Lake- Beartooth Mountains
Keyser Brown Lake is a beautiful mountain lake that is easily accessible from Lake Fork Trail #1, in the Beartooth Mountains. This forested lake is at 8,700 feet, making it one of the easiest to access lakes along the Lake Fork Trail. The trail to Keyser Brown Lake only climbs 1,600 feet along the seven mile trail, which is what makes this lake so easy to reach. Keyser Brown Lake also excels as a base camp, supports a good brook trout fishery, and will help you escape the busy crowds on their way to Lost Lake. Leaving the paved parking lot, and crossing a sturdy bridge over the Lake Fork of Rock Creek, your trip to Keyser Brown Lake begins.
Lake Fork Trail #1 is well built and maintained, handling the many hikers that use this trail each year. This is one of the busiest trailheads in the Beartooth Mountains, owing most of that popularity from its 20-minute drive from Red Lodge, and its location along the Beartooth Highway. This trail receives use in the winter as well, where people snowshoe, ski, and climb to many of the valley’s features. The Lake Fork of Rock Creek runs along the trail for the first 5 miles, so bring your water filter- you’ll have plenty of access to fresh water along this hike. The Lake Fork of Rock Creek is also well named- water from its nearby 10 different lakes surge over large boulders to create a scenic creek that is a worthy destination for some hikers.
Perhaps the oddest lake you’ll pass along this trail is Broadwater Lake. This isn’t much of a lake at all, and you might not even know it was a lake as you hiked by. In reality, Broadwater Lake is just a spot along the Lake Fork of Rock Creek where the stream slows down to a crawl. Early surveyors must have thought that the smooth section in the creek was a lake, compared to the creek’s otherwise turbulent flow. Broadwater Lake makes a great spot to stop for lunch- it is the halfway point (3.5 miles) on the way to Keyser Brown Lake, and offers several large boulders to rest on. If you don’t stop for a break, at least fill up your water bottle here- the last 2 miles of the trail won’t have water this accessible.
The trail for Lost Lake appears less than 2 miles from Broadwater Lake, at around mile 5 ¼. A worthy side trip, Lost Lake supports a grayling and cutthroat trout fishery, as well as a scenic view. Hiking past this trail intersection, another sturdy bridge soon appears. Black Canyon Lake lies up the improvised trail to the left; bear right at this intersection instead, and cross the bridge over the Lake Fork of Rock Creek. The trail immediately starts leading uphill, climbing away from the creek, and into the forest. The next 3/4 of a mile stays in the forest, until finally arriving at the trail sign for Keyser Brown Lake.
Turning left, and heading downhill, it is a quarter mile to Keyser Brown Lake, and a half mile until the prime campsites are in view. The best campsites at Keyser Brown Lake are located near the inlet stream, so resist the urge to camp at some of the mediocre sites that are too close to the lake, and instead camp in the forest near the inlet. The bugs are also less at the inlet (a good thing, since Keyser Brown Lake is bug heaven), making these sites far more desirable than the sites at the outlet.
While Keyser Brown Lake is an excellent destination in itself, it really shines as a base camp. Lost Lake, Black Canyon Lake, First and Second Rock Lakes, September Morn Lake, and Sundance Pass all are easily reached from your camp. The most strenuous of these side trips is Sundance Pass, which gains 2,350 feet in three miles. The campsites at Keyser Brown Lake also can accommodate large parties, thanks to a couple of larger-than-average sites.
Whether if you are base camping, or just enjoying Keyser Brown Lake on a day hike, be sure to bring lots of bug spray. The marshy areas along the shore provide a perfect habitat for mosquitoes, flies, and various other biting insects. Although the brook trout do enjoy this ample food source, you might not appreciate all of the bugs in your face. A high DEET spray will easily repel this nuisance, and is advised on this trip. When you’ve had enough of the bugs, or when your day hike/backpacking trip to Keyser Brown Lake is over, retrace your steps back to the Lake Fork Trailhead.
Directions to the Trailhead
From Red Lodge, head south of town on Highway 212. After 10 miles, turn right on Lake Fork Road. Follow this road for another 2 miles, and park at the trailhead. The road is in excellent condition, and paved all the way. The trailhead is easy to spot in the parking lot.