Camping, Hiking and Traveling in Montana
Books & Maps
Beartooth Lake on the Beartooth Plateau
Beartooth Lake is a spectacular high-mountain lake located along the famous Beartooth Highway (U.S. Hwy 212). The lake is a very popular destination that offers fishing, boating, camping and great hiking and backpacking in a pristine alpine setting. Beartooth Lake is immediately adjacent to Hwy 212 which is both good and bad as it makes access very easy but it also promotes heavy use.
Beartooth Lake is easy to find. It's about 23 miles east of Cooke City (40 miles west of Red Lodge) on the Beartooth Highway (Hwy 212) The lake is visible from the highway and the turn to the lake is well marked. The main development is a USFS campground with 21 sites that are available on a "first come" basis. Be aware that the campground is often full during the summer months. In addition to the campground there is a boat launch area and Beartooth Lake is a major trailhead for backpackers exploring the Beartooth Plateau backcountry.
The campground at Beartooth Lake is operated by the Shoshone National Forest and administered from their Cody, WY district office. The campground is open to tents, RVs and trailers and offers vault toilets and potable water. The campground does not offer hook-ups and is not handicap accessible. There is a nightly camping fee and a maximum stay limit of 16 days.
This is bear country and the Shoshone Forest has implemented special food storage requirements that read "All food and attractants, pop, beer, canned goods, toothpaste, lip balm, game meat, garbage, dog food, livestock feed, etc. need to be suspended at least 10 feet high and 4 feet from a post or tree or stored inside a vehicle, bear-resistant container, or hard-sided trailer." Please be sure to always follow recommended storage procedures!
At 8,900' Beartooth Lake is subject to severe weather conditions any time of the year. While it is not common to have an August snow storm it is not unusual so be sure to account for changing weather when you visit. Also, campers need to be aware that it can often get quite cold at night - even in the middle of summer.
Beartooth Lake is a jumpong off point for many hikers and backpackers. There are a number of different trails and hiking opportunities range from short day hikes to multi-day wilderness exeriences. For hike suggestions in the area check the descriptions at Island Lake
Fishing & Boating Beartooth Lake
Beartooth Lake is popular with both boaters and anglers. While the lake is open to motorized boating, it is more popular for paddlers. The lake 110 acres with a maximum depth of 85ft. Beartooth Lake is the terminus of three lake systems draining down from higher on the plateau. From the lake's outlet Beartooth Creek begins a rapid descent to its junction with the Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone River. It can't drop any faster than it does at Beartooth Falls, a 100 ft beauty of a water fall that is reached by an easy hike on the trail at the outlet of the lake.
Beartooth Lake is a popular fishing destination. Like most of the lakes in the area it is populated by brook trout which easily reproduce to provide lots of fish. While many of the neighboring lakes only hold brook trout, Beartooth Lake has more variety. Each year Wyoming Game & Fish stocks the lake with 2,750 rainbow trout and 2,750 cutthroat trout. In addition the lake has a small population of lake trout which have been stocked to try to reduce the population of brook trout. A few of these lake trout get very large and occasional reports of 20 pound plus fish being caught. However, fish this size are very much the exception and the average lake trout is well under 20 inches. The rainbow and cutthroat trout are often about a foot in length while the brook trout tend to be smaller.
The shorelines of Beartooth Lake are a mixture of coniferous forest and open meadows. For the most part a shore angler can count on being able to fish most of the shoreline of the lake. Of course, anyone with a boat can access all the water of the lake.
Beartooth Butte Geology
When you visit Beartooth Lake you will immediately notice the large butte on the opposite (west) shore of the lake. This is Beartooth Butte; a formation that has a completely different geologic origin than the surrounding area. During the Devonian period (420 - 360 million years ago) this entire region was covered by a vast sea. For several million years sediments deposited on that sea bottom compacted tighter and tighter to ultimately become sedimentary rocks. The resulting layer of rock, named the Beartooth Butte Formation, was at least 150 ft thick. Here on the Beartooth Plateau, the layer has been eroded away everywhere except here at Beartooth Butte.
The sedimentary rocks that make up Beartooth Butte are loaded with fossils from the various organisms that died and were buried in the ancient ocean. Geologists and rock hounds visit Beartooth Butte to sample rocks from the formation.
While Beartooth Butte is the namesake of the Beartooth Butte formation, the layer of rock is found in other mountain locations in Montana and Wyoming. Although these locations are hundreds of miles apart, there is no doubt that all of the areas were once part of the same inland sea.
Learn more about Beartooth Butte Geology