H Paradise Valley
S. Fk. Deep Creek
Pine Creek H,C
Passage Creek Falls
Big Timber Area
Creek Falls H,C,V
Boulder Meadows H,C
Twin Lakes H,C
Lava Lake H
Little Belt Mountains
MT Railroading V
Gap Wind Farm V
Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness
Rocks Rec Area V,C
Lake State Park V,C
Lake and the Big Snowy Mountains
The Big Snowy Mountains are another of
ranges that dot
central Montana. They are south of Lewistown Montana and area a
fascinating mountain range for those interested in exploring new
places. This is a significant range of mountains measuring as
much as 10 miles north to south and 25 miles east to west. The highest
peaks are at 8,600 ft and there are many miles of ridge line that can
followed at 8,000ft or higher. The primary loop hike into the Big Snowy
Mountains begins and ends at Crystal Lake and is officially recognized
as the Crystal Lake National Recreational Trail. This is a fantastic
loop trail that begins and ends at the campground. The hike is about 12
miles in length and starts with a tough 2,000 ft climb in the first
three miles. After you reach the top it is easy hiking along the
mountain tops. Be sure to take the side hike down to the ice cave to
explore an unusual feature. There is no water available on this hike so
be sure to take all you need with you.
The Crystal Lake Campground
typical US Forest Service campground. It is laid out in a single large
loop with campsites located on both the inside and outside of the loop.
There are about 30 campsites total and, as is typical for USFS
campgrounds, most sites are fairly close together. However, there is
adequate privacy and a few sites are somewhat isolated. Each site has a
picnic table and a circular steel fire pit. There is running water
seasonally but don't count on it early in the season or in the fall.
For more information about camping at Crystal Lake contact
& Clark National Forest.
The Forest Service charges a camping fee during the peak summer months
but early and late season visitors are allowed to camp for free.
Seen from the northeast side of the lake, Crystal
Lake shows its beauty.
Crystal Lake itself is very
interesting. This 45 acre lake is a natural feature found at about
5,700 ft elevation and is a very shallow lake. In the spring after snow
melt the lake reaches a maximum depth of less than 15 feet. The Big
Snowy Mountains are actually quite dry. They get good winter
snows but no consistent rain in the summer, so, little water enters
the lake after snow melt. Since the rocks underlying Crystal Lake are
porous limestone, water seeps out of the bottom of the lake all year
late summer the water level falls dramatically and by fall
the lake is little more than a large shallow pond. The open water of
the lake is far from the shoreline and a broad expanse of soft mud
surrounds the lake.
Crystal Lake is so shallow in the
that it typically freezes solid, killing any fish that are in the
Consequently, to provide fishing opportunities, the Montana Fish,
Wildlife & Parks stocks rainbow
trout into the lake twice a year. These are typically small fish,
usually about 8 inches in length, that grow quickly. Crystal Lake
normally gets 1,000 fish stocked at a time and can provide excellent
angling at times of the year. It is located in Montana's central
Fishing District and standard regulations govern the lake. To
learn about the fishery resource and any management changes to Crystal
Lake visit Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.
In the fall of the year the water level in Crystal Lake falls
low. The water in the lake has slowly seeped out through the limestone
bottom and the water is far from the edge of the lake. Here a
photographer seeks to get a photo of a mature Bald Eagle feeding on the
fish in the lake.
The low fall water levels not
shrink the size of the lake, but they make the remaining trout very
vulnerable to predatory birds. Although there are patches of aquatic
vegetation, the shallow clear water makes it almost impossible for the
trout to hide successfully. This makes for great bird watching
opportunities and Crystal Lake in the fall can be an excellent place to
view Bald Eagles and other large raptors.
There is an excellent hiking
trail that winds
around Crystal Lake. This trail is about 1 3/4 miles in length and
has very little elevation change. It is a great trail for almost anyone
and alternates between forest and open areas. There are nice benches
overlooking the lake that have been installed in several places that
are great places to take a break and watch the lake. This is a great
bird watchers and other nature lovers.
Crystal Lake is
quite easy to
find. From Lewistown MT, take US Highway 87 north 8.7 miles to Forest
sign (Crystal Lake Road). Turn left onto the graveled Crystal Lake Road
go about 5 miles to a Y intersection. Bear left and go 4 miles to
Recreation Area sign. Turn left at sign, continuing on Crystal Lake
Road, and go nearly 13 miles to the campground. The Crystal Lake Road
begins as a well maintained two lane gravel road. As you approach the
mountains the road narrows and the last 6 miles are single lane and
paved. The roads are well signed and you will have no problem.
you are coming from Harlowton or points south, there is a well signed
turn on US 191. Head east, following the signs until you reach the
intersection with the road from Lewistown and turn south (right) and
continue on to the lake. It seems odd that the lower sections of the
road would be gravel and the upper paved. However, the last nearly 6
miles are single lane and are steep and twisty in places. There is a
steep drop off right at the edge of the road so be sure to drive safely
on this section.
The Big Snowy Mountains are
overlooked but they offer a lot of great recreation opportunities for
those looking for an off the beaten path location. If you ever have the
to visit the Big Snowy's be sure to do so and you will not be
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