Island Lake- Beartooth Mountains
Island Lake offers the ability to sit back and relax, on one of the busiest trails in the Beartooths. Although many hikers each year start this trail, very few hikers make it as far down the trail as Island Lake. The lake itself is beautiful- a description used commonly in the Beartooth Mountains.
From the trailhead, the hike starts at the Mystic Lake hydroelectric plant. Going uphill from there, the trail continues to climb through mature Lodgepole Pine forests, with the occasional Aspen. This is the toughest part of the trail, with the steepest grade. The trail continues over a sturdy bridge (crossing the West Rosebud Creek), and weaves in and out of Lodgepole Pine stands, and Apen stands. Along the way, you can appreciate the need for preservation of this forest, as there have been numerous travelers that have carved their initials into the Aspen trees. This is forbidden by wilderness area rules, and national forest rules. Yet, there are always a select group of individuals that seem to enjoy ruining such a pristine forest. At the end of the forest, you are then presented with a rock field.
This rock field is a bear to cross, during noon on a Summer day. Do yourself a favor, and plan your hike so that you cross this field either in the early morning, or in the late afternoon. Otherwise, if you drink as much water as I do when it’s hot, you’ll need to pack an additional water bottle. This rock field is approximately a mile long, and contains a healthy number of switchbacks. As you climb, be sure to take plenty of pictures! One of the most scenic parts of this hike is the view of the West Rosebud valley. You can easily see the pipeline that is used for the hydroelectric plant, from this vantage point on the trail.
When you are crossing this rock field, pay particular attention to where you place your footing. In 1979, a Boy Scout trooper named Mark E. Vonseggern fell from a spot on the rock field, and perished. There is a plaque on the trail, near the trailhead, that remains today. This is a reminder that although the wilderness is a fun place to recreate in, it is still a deadly environment. The rock field into Mystic Lake is especially treacherous in the early season. Large snowbanks can block the trail in the early season, leading to accidents. For inexperienced hikers, I recommend hiking this trail from June-August only.
At the end of the rock field, you hike into a small stand of Lodgepole Pine. There are a couple nice places to rest at this spot, if you’re hiking this trail in the early afternoon. Pushing on, you are greeted with one last reminder from the forest service- please do not camp closer than 300 feet (100 yards) from Mystic Lake. This rule is important especially in this area, since this trail is one of the busiest trails in the Beartooths. Once you move past this last reminder, you are greeted with one of the most beautiful overlooks in the Beartooths- Mystic Lake. Rest at this overlook, and take in the beauty of the nearby Tempest, Mystic, and Granite Peak mountains.
From here, the trail follows the shore of Mystic Lake for another three miles. The grade on the trail is rather easy, although it does have the occasional hill. At the end of three miles, you are greeted with Island Lake, which is located near the Mystic Lake inlet stream.
Fishing at Island Lake is excellent. You can either fish the inlet stream of Mystic Lake, or the outlet stream of Island Lake. There seems to be less competition among other fishermen at Island Lake, so that’s usually where I like to concentrate.
Campsites at Island Lake are limited, and most are too close to the lake. Instead, consider camping about a quarter mile before Island Lake, where there is a large selection of campsites. If the weather permits, the swimming at Island Lake is quite excellent, as it is one of the few lakes in the Beartooths with a sandy beach. You also will have a relative amount of privacy, at Island Lake. During the Summer months, it’s common to see just a couple other parties per day.
Day hike destinations are abound, at Island Lake. Nearby Silver Lake and Huckleberry Lake are an easy day trip, with Princess Lake and Avalanche lakes a good trip for experienced hikers. If you really want to get away from other hikers, cross the outlet stream at Island Lake and head to Silver Lake, and beyond. Very few hikers make it that far up the West Rosebud drainage.
Pictures of Island Lake, and the Trail
Directions to the Trailhead
From Absarokee, head south of town on Highway 78. Turn right a couple of miles outside of Absarokee, onto Highway 419 (there will be a gas station at this turn). Drive down Highway 419 for 6 miles, passing through Fishtail. Once you drive through Fishtail, drive one more mile down Highway 419, and then turn left onto West Rosebud Road. Follow this road for seven miles, turning left at the sign to Mystic Lake. Travel down this gravel road for about 14 miles (passing Emerald Lake and West Rosebud Lake), and park at the trailhead. This is the end of the road (the rest of the road is closed to the public), and the trailhead is easy to find.