Thompson Lake- Absaroka Range
Thompson Lake, located in the Absaroka Range, offers something for everyone; cutthroat trout swim beneath the lake’s surface, deer and bears are commonly seen, the mature forest makes for great camping, and the trail to Thompson Lake is a relatively easy hike. The trail is a short 5 miles, and only gains 1,200 feet in elevation. This barely qualifies it as a “Moderate” hike, and the only reason it should be a “Moderate” hike is due to the number of hills and obstacles on the trail.
Leaving the trailhead, and immediately entering the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, the first mile of trail leads through forest that was burned in the 1988 fires. These are some of the best views on the trail, offering spectacular views of West Fork Mill Creek valley. This is also one of the sunniest sections of the trail- you’ll appreciate that you’ll use less sunblock on this hike, since most of the hike is in the shade. After approximately 1 mile, the trail leads into a mature lodgepole forest.
Hunters and wildlife photographers will appreciate the remaining 4 miles of this hike. Deer, bears, and grouse are all common on these last 4 miles. If running into a bear is not something you desire, be sure to be properly prepared against bears. Bear bells are recommended on this trail, given the low visibility due to the forest. The remaining 4 miles, however, are also the most troublesome- large bogs can await you, if it has rained recently.
Aside from the numerous mud puddles, the trail grade is very pleasant- the hills are over just as you start to tire, and they are followed by long level runs. Kids would do well on this hike, though it may be too long for a day hike. The possibility of wet feet (or, in my son’s case, a wet and muddy shirt) might be too much for some kids, as well.
After 2 miles, the only turn on this trail appears. Turn left at this clearing (after taking the time to view nearby Monitor Peak and Mineral Mountain), and hike uphill on Thompson Lake Trail 282. From here, the next 2 miles are more of the same- beautiful lodgepole trees, and mud puddles. At the end of these 2 miles, the only creek crossing appears on this trail- Thompson Creek. This isn’t a huge creek, so you can usually cross without wading. After this crossing, it’s a quick mile to Thompson Lake.
The trail leads you along the western shore of Thompson Lake, offering a good view of the lake itself. Anglers will appreciate the deeper waters on the western shore of Thompson Lake, especially since the maximum depth of the lake is only 11 feet. They will also appreciate the excellent trout habitat, although those with lures will probably curse the many submerged logs.
Plenty of campsites are at Thompson Lake, ensure yours leaves as little trace as possible- the lake receives heavy use, and can appear overused quickly. Base campers will appreciate Thompson Lake- nearby Charlie White Lake is a good day hike destination, and has plenty of cutthroat trout, should Thompson Lake disappoint. Although it would be a bit too far for day hikers, overnight hikers can easily reach this lake.
When you are ready to head back to civilization, head back on Trail 282 to the trailhead. Please remember to respect the wilderness along this hike, and pick up any trash you may see along the way. A few good deeds can keep a beautiful forest trail, like the Thompson Lake Trail, as pristine as possible.
Pictures of Thompson Lake, and the Trail
Directions to the Trailhead
From Livingston, drive 26 miles south on Highway 89, towards Gardiner. Take Mill Creek Road on the left, which is well marked. From here, drive about 10 miles down Mill Creek Road, to the well signed West Fork Mill Creek Road. From here, it’s a bumpy 6 miles to the trailhead on a gravel road. Most vehicles should be able to make it down this road, as long as the road is dry.