Gardner Lake- Beartooth Mountains
If you’re traveling along Highway 212 (The Beartooth Highway), and need a quick stop to stretch your legs, stop by Gardner Lake. This trailhead is one of the highest in the Beartooths, at 10,550 ft above sea level, so be prepared to be winded on this short trail. In addition to the altitude taking your breath away, the view certainly will as well. Gardner Lake sits at the bottom of a bowl, and the hike down to the lake allows you to see Tibbs Butte and Littlerock Creek. The scenery is beautiful any time of the year, but it’s wise to hike to Gardner Lake in the late summer, due to the rampant mosquitoes. Leaving the trailhead, and hiking straight down, your quick hike to Gardner Lake begins.
Gardner Lake is one of those lakes that takes about 15 minutes to hike down to, and 45 minutes to hike out of. The steep trail loses 580 feet in just ¾ of a mile– elevation that you’ll have to fight on the way back. Try not to think about this chore on the way down, and instead watch your footing; the trail is regularly washed out, and one slip could result in you arriving at Gardner Lake sooner than expected (with a broken bone or two). After a short ¾ of a mile, you arrive at Gardner Lake’s outlet stream, which is full of brook trout. Your hike doesn’t have to stop at Gardner Lake, though.
Gardner Lake is part of the Beartooth Loop, a National Recreational Trail. It runs for approximately 10 miles, in a lollipop shape. Although most hikers start this trail at Hauser Lake, Gardner Lake is just as worthy of a starting point. The trail leads over the shoulder of Tibbs Butte, past Losekamp and Stockade lakes, and then finally stretches around to follow Littlerock Creek. The only disadvantage to hiking this trail from Gardner Lake is that you will need to fight those 580 feet back to your vehicle at the trailhead. Starting the loop from Hauser Lake results in less elevation to fight.
Gardner Lake is also a fine lake to just sit down and relax by. Brook trout dominate the fishery here, and the hungry brookies are always willing to bite on a fly or lure. This is also prime bear and elk habitat- hiking further down the trail with a pair of binoculars might allow you to see one of these animals. Speaking of bears, since this is prime bear habitat, be sure to bring bear protection with you. Once you’ve spent as much time as you like, you can start the hike back up to the trailhead. Your calves will hate you for a little while, but at least you’ll have experienced a beautiful lake just off a major highway.
Directions to the Trailhead
From Highway 212 outside of Red Lodge, drive 28 miles to the pullout on the left side of the road for Littlerock Creek Trailhead/Beartooth Loop.