Timberline Lake- Beartooth Mountains
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.
Departing from the trailhead, Trail 12 immediately leads uphill into a section of forest that was burned heavily in the 2008 Cascade Fire. You will hike through this charred forest for the first three miles of this hike. It’s interesting to see how the forest has already sprung back to life, with baby lodgepole pine trees sprouting here and there.
As the trail climbs upward, be on the lookout for berries if you’re on this trail in mid-August. A number of raspberry plants line the first mile on the trail, slowing down all but the most determined hikers. Enjoy these- once the trail turns into the valley, you won’t see them again. At approximately one mile, the trail leads into this valley, where Timberline Creek can be heard rushing into Rock Creek below.
The trail is unremarkable here- burned forest surrounds you, and for the next couple of miles it’s about all that you can see. I can’t help but wonder what this trail will look like in 10 years, when the dead lodgepole pines have all fallen, and the new forest is still immature- I’m sure it will offer spectacular views of the valley. For now, keep pushing on, until you arrive at an intersection to Beartrack Trail #8.
Keep straight at this intersection, hiking further down Trail 12. If you have energy after the hike, you can hike down Trail #8 trail about a mile to Silver Run Lakes, or hike further to the Silver Run Plateau. Neither of these destinations offer good fishing, so remain on the trail to Timberline Lake if that’s what attracts you to this hike.
At approximately 4 miles, you pass the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness boundary. A short distance from this boundary, Lake Gertrude appears. This small lake is filled with hungry brook trout, and a beautiful lake in its own right. Lake Gertrude makes an excellent stop for a quick break, or even lunch. While the scenery is beautiful here, it still doesn’t compare to the scenery that awaits you at Timberline Lake. Don’t spend too much time at Lake Gertrude- your destination is only about 15 minutes away!
After 4.5 total miles, the trail fades away- presenting you with an awesome view of Timberline Lake, Silver Run Peak, and Silver Run Plateau. This alpine beauty is beyond description- steep rock walls enclose the valley, while jagged outcrops reach for the sky. A cascade pours into the lake from the west, carrying food to the numbers of brook trout that swim beneath the lake’s surface. The ever present snow fields remind us of the fragility of this environment- these snow fields were once expansive glaciers that ground the mountain down as they left the valley.
Regardless of your plans at Timberline Lake, make the effort to hike around to the inlet. The view there is spectacular- Timberline Lake appears to drain off the edge of the earth. You can also easily see the many brightly colored brook trout, swimming beneath the lake’s surface. These brookies see many lures and flies, but can still be counted on for dinner if you’re patient enough.
Once you’ve burned all the daylight you can spare, turn back around and hike down the trail towards your vehicle. The best part about this hike is that it’s almost all downhill, so you can expect to make slightly better time on the way down. Once you arrive in civilization, try not to miss this alpine paradise too much. As always, do a good deed on the trail, and pick up any trash you might see. This alpine paradise can be all too easily ruined by a few disrespectful visitors.
Pictures of Timberline Lake, and the Trail
Directions to the Trailhead
Just outside Red Lodge, turn right onto West Fork Road (FR71). Follow this road for 11 miles, turning left to enter the well signed trailhead parking lot.