Montana Hiking Trails

Echo Lake- Beartooth Mountains

Echo Lake

Echo Lake

Echo Lake is a picturesque mountain lake that is just off The Beaten Path, a common hiking trail in the Beartooth Mountains. While Echo Lake is located only a mile from this popular trail, hundreds of hikers pass by it on the way to nearby Duggan Lake, or Big Park Lake. Echo Lake does offer something that these other two lakes don’t: the chance for solitude. The hike there is easy enough, the trail is well established, there are plenty of campsites, and the fishing is good. To put it simply, there are plenty of reasons why you should visit Echo Lake. You can reach Echo Lake via the Clarks Fork Trailhead or the East Rosebud Trailhead, both of which offer some of the best scenery in the Beartooth Mountains.

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07 Aug 2016

The Beaten Path- Beartooth Mountains

The Beaten Path- Beartooth Mountains

Scenery Along The Beaten Path

The Beaten Path is the name given to a route that runs 26 miles through some of the most beautiful scenery in the Beartooth Mountains. The Beaten Path leads by cascading waterfalls, alpine lakes, towering peaks, and lush forests. The fishing is also excellent on this trip, with many of the lakes stocked with hungry rainbow and cutthroat trout. The first obstacle with this hike is figuring out the logistics- you can hike this trail in two different ways, and both ways require special transportation considerations.

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27 Jul 2016

Margaret Lake- Beartooth Mountains

Margaret Lake

Margaret Lake

If you’re seeking a lake less than 3 miles from a popular trailhead, while at the same time looking for isolation from others, look no further than Margaret Lake. Although the trail isn’t as easy to follow as others (the last quarter mile is hard to follow at times), the fishing and solitude more than make up for the quarter mile of stumbling though brush. Located just a few minutes from Cooke City, you’ll pass many hikers on the way into Margaret Lake, but you’ll be almost guaranteed solitude once you arrive at the lake. This trail does lead through an area that is notorious for its bear population, so be sure that you know how to safely hike in bear country, before you leave the trailhead. This hike starts from the busy Clarks Fork Trailhead, easily accessible from Highway 212.

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19 Jul 2016

Vernon Lake- Beartooth Mountains

Vernon Lake

Vernon Lake

Located just 2 ½ miles from the Clarks Fork trailhead, Vernon Lake is a perfect day hike for travelers on their way to Cooke City, or Yellowstone National Park. The trail gains very little elevation, and offers the opportunity to see wildlife such as deer, moose, and yes- bears. Finding the trailhead is incredibly easy, since it is both well signed, and next to Highway 212. Although you’ll pass many hikers on the first mile of this hike, once you turn onto the Vernon Lake trail, the traffic diminishes greatly. Another feature of this trail is a side trip to the Flume Trail at the beginning of the hike, which offers an educational opportunity about the now-defunct hydroelectric dam that was built in 1916. This “trail” is wheelchair accessible, while of course the hike to Vernon Lake is not.

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11 Jul 2016

Avalanche Lake- Beartooth Mountains

Avalanche Lake- Beartooth Mountains

Avalanche Lake

Avalanche Lake lies beneath Montana’s highest mountain, Granite Peak, and is fed by melting snow and ice from Granite Glacier, giving the lake a beautiful teal color. What sets Avalanche Lake apart from the many lakes in the area isn’t its beauty, or its population of cutthroat trout, but the towering mass of rock above it- Granite Peak. Each year, hundreds of climbers tackle Granite Peak, usually with success. Although most climbers prefer to use the Froze to Death Plateau route, the Avalanche Lake route offers the best scenery and fishing. If you’re looking for a challenging route to Granite Peak, or for excellent fishing, Avalanche Lake will not disappoint.

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30 Jun 2016

Easy Day Hikes in the Beartooth Mountains

Easy Day Hikes in the Beartooth Mountains

The Beartooth Mountains in early June

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.

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19 Jun 2016

Meyers Creek Trail- Beartooth Mountains

Meyers Creek Trail

Meyers Creek Trail

Meyers Creek Trail #27 offers a chance to enjoy the outdoors on a well established trail, without the crowds. This trail is great for any hiker’s skill level, or physical condition. Rockhounds will be satisfied with the fossils and metamorphic rocks that are easily found on the trail, and hunters will find no shortage of wild game. For some, the trailhead is scenic enough, but to fully appreciate the trail, you’ll want to stretch your legs.

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01 Jun 2016

East Fork Boulder River- Absaroka Range

East Fork Boulder River- Absaroka Range

East Fork Boulder River

South of McLeod, MT, lies the East Fork Boulder River, a popular trail that leads to less than popular destinations. The trail runs 3.5 miles to the bridge over the East Fork Boulder River, where many hikers choose to fish, camp, or hike onward to the Lake Plateau. The camping at the East Fork Boulder River is excellent, with both firewood and trout in large supply. For a novice backpacker, the low elevation gained on this hike make it a good choice. In fact, the hardest part of this hike might be driving to the trailhead itself.

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08 May 2016

Ouzel Falls- Madison Range

Ouzel Falls

Ouzel Falls

Ouzel Falls, located in Big Sky, Montana, offers the opportunity for a quick hike to a scenic waterfall. The South Fork of the West Fork of the Gallatin River (which is a mouthful, to say the least) plunges over the falls, on its way to the Gallatin River. Ouzel Falls is located just .75 miles from the trailhead, making it a short hike after a long day of skiing, or an attractive detour on the way to Yellowstone. The low grade of the trail is easy for most hikers, although there are many side trips along the way if you want to stretch your calves. In winter, the trail to the falls, and the falls themselves, are the most scenic.

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01 May 2016

Cottonwood Road BLM- Pryor Mountains

Cottonwood Road BLM

Cottonwood Road BLM

Most people think of a beautiful lake or a scenic alpine view, when they think of hiking. They imagine a beautiful drive to the trailhead, where they might see a cascade of water rushing down the valley, or evergreen forests that surround the road. Most people overlook the Cottonwood Road area, which is equally beautiful in its own right. Covered only with sagebrush and a few juniper trees, Cottonwood Road’s beauty is something you have to hike away from the road to appreciate.

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01 Apr 2016

Pine Creek Falls- Absaroka Range

Pine Creek Falls- Absaroka Range

Pine Creek Falls

Seventeen miles south of Livingston, MT lies the scenic and popular Pine Creek trail, leading to Pine Creek Falls. Pine Creek Falls itself is an easy hike, with no large hills or obstacles. This makes the hike a popular hike, so expect company along on the trail. Regardless of how many people you pass along this trail, this hike is beautiful any time of the year.

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23 Mar 2016

Weatherman Draw- Pryor Mountains

Weatherman Draw/Valley of the Chiefs

Weatherman Draw

Eighteen miles south of Bridger, MT lies an unusual hiking destination, called Weatherman Draw. At first, Weatherman Draw (also referred to as Valley of the Chiefs by many Native American tribes) seems lifeless and barren. Here there isn’t any flowing water, and only the occasional juniper tree provides shade. What does make Weatherman Draw an amazing hike has to do with the history of the Valley of the Chiefs, and the geological wonders of the area.

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18 Mar 2016

Slough Lake- Beartooth Mountains

Slough Lake

Slough Lake

Underneath Froze to Death Plateau, Phantom Creek slows to a standstill, creating a scenic marsh. Inside that marsh lies Slough Lake, a shallow 6 foot deep lake filled with brook trout, and an excellent destination for a day hike. Located just 2.5 miles from the trailhead, it’s a short hike to Slough Lake, albeit mostly uphill.

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23 Dec 2015

Froze to Death Plateau- Beartooth Mountains

Froze to Death Plateau

Froze to Death Plateau

There are few places on this planet that are truly named well. Covered with ice and snow 11 months out of the year, Froze to Death Plateau more than lives up so its name. At this plateau, snow is possible any time of the year, and the air conditioning is always on. If you hike up to this plateau, you’ll be rewarded by the scenery- the West Rosebud and Phantom Creek valleys are breathtaking, to say the least.

On the topic of breathtaking, the high altitude and steep trail make this hike a moderate hike. Weather at this altitude can also rapidly change, so be sure you are both in good shape, and prepared for the weather. With a name like Froze to Death Plateau, it goes without saying that you’ll want to carry a warm jacket, at least.

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14 Dec 2015

Thompson Lake- Absaroka Range

Thompson Lake- Absaroka Range

Thompson Lake

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.

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20 Oct 2015

Beauty Lake- Beartooth Mountains

Beauty Lake- Beartooth Mountains

Beauty Lake, WY

Located in Wyoming, Beauty Lake is a popular summer day hike, for many good reasons. Beauty Lake is well named, the gorgeous scenery from the surrounding hills is reflected on its surface; leaving you to wonder if you are looking at a lake, or a mirror. The lake is below timberline, but only just barely- leaving you with shade in the afternoon, while offering alpine vistas as well. Nearby Crane Lake offers similar views, with perhaps less visitor traffic. Both lakes are easily accessible from the Beartooth Lake Trailhead, with the total elevation gain little more than 500 feet in the short 2.4 miles to Beauty Lake.

You’ll want to have your camera handy along this trail, given the many scenic opportunities that lie along it. Immediately starting from the trail you’ll pass Beartooth Butte, an outcrop that rises more than 1,500 feet above Beartooth Lake. Further down the trail, you’ll pass Crane Lake, a beautiful lake in itself. Finally, you will arrive at Beauty Lake.  You’ll appreciate the appropriate name of the lake, as you hike along its shore. 

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18 Sep 2015

Timberline Lake- Beartooth Mountains

Timberline Lake- Beartooth Mountains

Timberline Lake

Timberline Lake is an alpine lake nestled beneath the Silver Run Plateau, located within minutes of Red Lodge. Scenic vistas surround the lake, leading you to wonder which is more beautiful- the surrounding rock and snow, or the lake itself. The lake has a beautiful turquoise hue, resulting from glacial melt above Timberline Lake. Snowfields, the remains of these glaciers, feed the lake today via Timberline Creek.

Timberline Creek is crossed a couple of times on this hike, although the first two miles of the trail are dry. The trail to Timberline Lake climbs about 2,000 feet in 4.5 miles, making it a relatively steep trail. Thankfully, the grade is only noticeably steep for the first couple miles.

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23 Aug 2015

Lake Mary- Beartooth Mountains

Lake Mary- Beartooth Mountains

Lake Mary

Lake Mary is an alpine lake bordered by two high mountain plateaus- The East Rosebud Plateau rising from the west, and the Red Lodge Creek Plateau rising from the east. These two plateaus give Lake Mary  a “top of the world” appearance, which is aided by the scenic trail to Lake Mary. At 9,960 feet, Lake Mary certainly isn’t the top of the world, but it will feel like it on this hike. Fortunately, most of the hike won’t make you feel like you’re climbing to the top of the world.

This hike covers 6 miles, gaining a little over 2,000 feet in elevation. Hikers can expect to spend half their hike on the first 5 miles, and half their hike on the last mile to Lake Mary. From Quinnebaugh Meadows to Lake Mary, you will climb 1,200 feet in just 1 mile. A light pack is recommended, unless you enjoy fighting gravity.

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10 Aug 2015

Quinnebaugh Meadows- Beartooth Mountains

Quinnebaugh Meadows- Beartooth Mountains

Quinnebaugh Meadows

Quinnebaugh Meadows is a gorgeous mountain meadow that is surrounded by spectacular views of the Silver Run Plateau, and nearby Whitetail Peak. Wildflowers blanket the meadows, and line the trail all the way to Quinnebaugh Meadows. Nearby Rock Creek thunders down two waterfalls along the trail, with side trails leading to both falls. Once you reach the meadows, the number of people that you passed on the trail all seem to disappear- the meadows are so expansive that they easily swallow large and small parties alike.

Hiking to the meadows is rather straightforward, as the trail gains only 1,000 feet in 5 miles. The trail itself is well built, well maintained, and well traveled. You can expect to see company on this trail, but that won’t bother you much once you reach Quinnebaugh Meadows. There are also no turns on this trail, other than a left turn at the trailhead.

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04 Aug 2015

Lava Lake- Spanish Peaks

Lava Lake

Lava Lake, located in the Spanish Peaks section of the Madison Range

It’s hard to find a good mountain lake that is close to a city, but yet is still surrounded by untouched wilderness. Lava Lake is located just minutes from Bozeman, but is still a scenic destination in the wilderness. Although the traffic on the trail is heavy (expect plenty of company on the trail), the condition of the trail has been kept clean by the forest service- and it shows. On a typical summer day, 30+ parties are not uncommon. The large nearby parking lot ensures that unless you hike this trail in February, you can expect to bump into quite a few people on this trail. However, the fishing and beautiful scenery more than make up for the busy trail. The trail is rather straightforward as well, although it is uphill all the way.

The trail to Lava Lake gains 1600 feet in 3 miles, making it a short but strenuous hike. I’ve rated it as easy, but the trail is really somewhere between easy and moderate, given the steep grade. That being said, the trail does have a few straight runs, and offers plenty of scenic spots to take a break at. The biggest challenge of this hike isn’t the trail, but instead finding somewhere to park.

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31 Jul 2015