Rat Lake- Gallatin Range
Rat Lake, located just outside of Bozeman, MT, is a day hike that attracts many hikers, anglers, and tourists. The quick hike, combined with the close proximity to Yellowstone, Bozeman, and Big Sky, draw in many locals and tourists each year. The high traffic on this hike shouldn’t discourage you, though. Anglers will appreciate the trout fishing, hikers will be encouraged to hike further down the trail, and tourists will love the quick chance to stretch their legs. This trail even offers a chance to stay overnight in a US Forest cabin- Rat Lake Trail #416 offers everyone a quick trip into the Gallatin Range.
Starting from the crude trailhead parking lot, the trailhead sign is easily visible on the south side of the lot. A large sign marks the trailhead, as well as the direction towards the Garnet Mountain Lookout, and Pioneer Lakes trail. It’s easy to see why this trail receives so much use- two mountain lakes and a mountaintop are all within a single day’s hike of this trailhead. Leaving the trailhead, the trail immediately leads up a small hill.
Small hills are the rule to this short hike- only 250 feet of elevation are gained along the .75 mile stretch to Rat Lake. Hikers of all ages can easily manage this short hike, which adds popularity to this trail. Thankfully, the trail runs over a closed road, which gives hiking parties plenty of room to pass each other along the busy trail. After .5 miles, a fork appears in the trail.
Turning right at this fork, the trail briefly leads uphill, and then back down to the lake. The highest point on this trail is here, but it is hardly a challenge. From the top of this short hill, the trail leads down to Rat Lake, where a great view of the lake awaits. The nice thing about Rat Lake’s photogenic qualities is its teardrop shape; Rat Lake is easily photographed from this part of the trail. Once you arrive at Rat Lake, a short trail leads around the western shore, passing by campsites and rising trout. Trails run along both shores, ensuring that visitors aren’t that irritated at one another’s company.
Once you’ve hiked the short trail to Rat Lake, you might find yourself in need of additional exercise. Fortunately, this trail delivers enough exercise to exhaust even the most ambitious hiker. Leaving Rat Lake, and hiking straight past the turn for Rat Lake, the trail leads southwest, toward three different scenic areas. Pioneer Lakes, Garnet Mountain, and the ridge before the Garnet Mountain sign are all easily reached from this section of the trail.
Garnet Mountain, located 3 miles from Rat Lake, offers a steep hike to a mountain summit, and the chance to spend the night at a US Forest Service cabin. Pioneer Lakes offer a longer hike, and the possibility to enjoy the mountains by yourself. The closest point of interest from Rat Lake is the ridge just before the Garnet Mountain sign, it’s only 2.5 miles from the trailhead, making it an easy turn around spot for a quick day hike.
Regardless of whether you spend the entire day at Rat Lake, or if you decide to hike further, be respectful of the trail, and the surrounding forest. Greet every hiker you pass, and give extra room to those that need it. This is a busy trail, with some people experiencing their first afternoon in the Gallatin Range via this trail. The most important thing that this trail attracts is our future generation of hikers. Inspire these new hikers by displaying excellent manners on the trail, and picking up any trash that you may see. Expect to see many of these eager hikers along the trail, and politely greet them as they form their childhood memories of Gallatin National Forest.
Directions to the Trailhead
From Four Corners (west of Bozeman), drive 16.7 miles south on US-191, turning left onto Storm Castle Road. Follow this road for approximately 5 miles, and then turn right past Spire Rock Campground. Follow this road for a bumpy mile or two to the trailhead, and park in the small trailhead parking lot.