Echo Lake- Beartooth Mountains
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.
This hike description will assume that you are hiking from the East Rosebud Trailhead, which is a shorter hike into Echo Lake than from the Clarks Fork Trailhead (11 miles vs. 17 miles). Starting at the East Rosebud Trailhead, the trail meanders through the charred aftermath of the Shepard Mountain Fire. After three short miles, Elk Lake appears, and offers you the chance to fill your water bottle before the next three miles.
The next three miles lead through a rock field that is scorching hot in the mid-day summer’s heat. Try to make good time on this section of the trail, which is the steepest and hottest section. After these three miles, Rimrock Lake greets you from a scenic overlook. Hiking down to the lake’s edge, you cross the outlet stream on a well built bridge. It’s hard not to stop at this bridge and watch the water gush its way down, and it’s easy to see how this lake was formed by a massive landslide. Continuing down the trail, and away from this scenic lake, the trail starts switchbacking up.
For the next mile, the trail heads uphill and downhill, gaining elevation slowly. After this section, Rainbow Lake appears. From here, you hike down a mile to meet the lake’s shore (and the numerous campsites). Continuing down the trail, and crossing an inlet stream on the large log that hundreds of hikers before you have crossed, the trail enters the forest again. The trail switchbacks up to a rock field here, offering a great view of Rainbow Lake from above.
The next lake reached is Lake at Falls– two large waterfalls plunge into this well named lake. The trail here leads along the western shore, allowing you to see these waterfalls from a variety of angles. You should stop here for a moment, and really take in the scenery. Afterwards, continue down the trail for another mile, where Big Park Lake appears.
Although not nearly as scenic, Big Park Lake does offer several large camping spots on the far end of the lake. Several large parties could camp here, without disturbing each other too much. If you’re looking to get away from everyone else, though, keep hiking: the turn for Echo Lake is just past Big Park Lake. After a quarter of a mile, the trail leads over the loud and powerful Granite Creek. Your turn to Echo Lake is about 80 yards before the sturdy bridge that crosses Granite Creek. Turning right (west), the trail immediately heads uphill, and into the forest.
This large hill might make you regret your decision to hike this trail, but don’t worry: it’s over soon enough. After several hundred feet, the trail levels out, and wildflowers appear in abundance. Be sure to make noise on this section of the trail, as it leads through prime grizzly habitat. A few small creeks and puddles will try to get your boots wet, but they’re easy enough to maneuver around. After a short ¾ of a mile, Echo Lake appears.
The fishing at Echo Lake is best at the outlet, where cutthroat trout spawn. A faint anglers trail leads off to the north of the lake, and scenic Pika Peak is visible to the west. A great spot to drop your pack and take in the scenery is the convenient spot at the outlet, where dozens of hikers before you have stopped for lunch or dinner. If you plan on camping, don’t pick this spot to camp at however, as it is not far enough from the lake to meet the forest service’s 300 foot minimum.
After you’ve enjoyed Echo Lake, take the trail back down to the Granite Creek crossing, and either head back down to the East Rosebud Trailhead, or continue on the trail to nearby Duggan Lake. The Beaten Path offers many more beautiful lakes, and it would be a shame not to explore them.
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.