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
Lava Lake in the
Lava Lake is a great
hike that climbs
beautiful mountain lake in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness. The trail is
located in the Gallatin Canyon between Bozeman and Big Sky and is one
of the most popular trails in the area. The lake is almost exactly 3
miles from the trailhead but you have to gain 1,600 feet elevation in
those three miles, making it a tough hike for those who are
The Lava Lake trail head is
very easy to find but it can be difficult to access. The trailhead
is located on a very short access road just off US 191 about 20 miles
south of Gallatin Gateway and 15 miles north of Big Sky.
The access road to the trailhead turns off US 191 right at the Cascade
Creek bridge. The bridge is right where the highway
takes a nearly 90 degree turn and crosses the Gallatin
The Lava Lake trail begins right from the parking
lot which is
alongside the access road on the banks of the Gallatin River. The trail
begins with a climb and climbs all the way to the lake.
If you approach from the north, the
access road is well signed and you should have no problems making the
right hand turn.
Be alert, the road heads off right at the bridge - if you find yourself
crossing the bridge you have gone too
far and will have to head back to try again. Since the access road is
right at the edge of a bridge where traffic has to slow dramatically,
you can only make a right hand turn to get on the road. This means that
if you are approaching from the south you have to drive past the access
road to the signed "Lava Lake Turn Around" and head back to approach
from the north.
Once you are on the access
road getting to the trailhead is simple, just continue on for a
couple of hundred yards
until you reach the parking area which is right along the road. The
parking area is split up into several different areas and it is common
to find a number of vehicles at the site. There is no water at the
trailhead but there is a pit toilet (outhouse).
At the two mile mark you cross Cascade Creek on a
sturdy bridge. From
here it is one mile and 600 feet of elevation until you reach the lake.
trail leaves right from the parking
area and you immediately get an idea of the trail conditions you will
find along the entire hike - a steep rocky trail. In fact, the trail
climbs steadily and consistently for almost the entire distance.
Although it is rarely steep, it is unrelenting. You will
about 500 feet in each of the first 2 miles and 600 feet in the last
mile.This is a consistently rough trail with lots of rocks and roots.
Rarely will you find a flat trail surface so you have to pay attention
to where you are putting your feet.
almost exactly 2 miles you will find
a sturdy bridge crossing the creek you have been following as you have
climbed to here. This is Cascade Creek and with the constant drop in
elevation it is easy to see where the creek gets its name.
After crossing Cascade Creek on the bridge the trail steepens and
climbs through a series
of switchbacks - the last steep climb. In about 3/4 of a mile the
trail begins to flatten and even drops down a little. This is the last
stretch is an easy hike to get to the lake. Lava Lake is nestled among
the high mountain
peaks that surround it and its a great place to spend some time
For anglers, the 47 acre Lava Lake
provides active fishing for foot-long wild rainbow trout and it is
find one or more anglers enjoying the lake. There are a number of
places to easily access the lake shore and it is possible to walk the
shore all the way around the lake. Fishing Lava Lake is typical for
Montana's mountain lakes. the fish are often aggressive feeders,
especially early in the season. You can find out specific information
about the fishing conditions at area fishing stores.
There is a section of private land that is totally surrounded
National Forest right near Passage Creek Falls. When you reach this
meadow the trail keeps you out of the private lands..
Backpackers and overnight campers will find a number of
suitable sites but be aware that there are special fire restrictions
and you cannot build a campfire if you camp near the lake. The lake
sits at 7,193 ft and even in the summer the nights can be cold.
Lava Lake is
known for its population of
both chipmunks and rock pikas. Both of these small creatures abound in
the rocky areas around the lake and will often boldly visit you to see
if you have any food to offer them. Although these creatures may seem
docile and friendly remember they are wild animals and will bite if
they feel threatened.
The Lava Lake Trail is often very rocky and can be hard to
sure to pay attention to where you place your feet as you hike.
Lava Lake is
typically the final destination for most hikers but some will continue
on or make the lake a base camp for several days of exploring the
mountains. There are other trails in the area that are accessed
from a branch of the trail that splits off just before the trail
reaches the lake This trail heads
to the south, away from the lake and toward the surrounding mountains.
This is a good hiking trail but it is very steep and climbs nearly
2,000 feet in the next mile or so. Fortunately, after that climb the
trail reaches the high country and hiking becomes easier. This is high
altitude terrain is typically
the realm of the backpacker and not usually visited by day hikers. In
fact, I recommend that only expert hikers attempt the trails above Lava
Lake is a
very popular hike. The
easy access and relatively short distance attract lots of hikers. Many
hikers are from the Bozeman area but there are also lots of tourists
who are directed to the trail. On a nice summer weekend day you may
encounter as many as 20 parties on the trail or at the Lake. However,
the trail tends to separate people and you are usually alone on the
trail. Don't be surprised to find hikers sitting along side the trail
waiting for their party to make it to the lake and pick them up on the
way down. Although it is only a 3 mile hike, the unrelenting climb is
too much for some hikers.
lone angler tries
his luck while fly fishing at Lava Lake
The Lava Lake hike is
really a great Montana
experience. Lava Lake is a beautiful mountain lake that showcases what
the mountain high country is like. The trail is easy to find and easy
to follow. Although it climbs steadily for its entire length, the trail
is manageable for most hikers. If you are in the Bozeman/Big Sky area
take the opportunity to try this hike and see for yourself why it is a
favorite for many hikers.
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