Camping, Hiking and Traveling in Montana

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Hike Index
H=Hike   C=Camp   V=Visit     S=Ski

Livingston Area
  Elephanthead Mtn. H
 Paradise Valley
  S. Fk. Deep Creek H
  Pine Creek H,C
  George Lake H
  Passage Creek Falls H
  Crow Mountain H

Big Timber Area
  Boulder River H,C,V
  Natural Bridge Falls H,C,V
  Big Timber Creek Falls  H,C,V
  West Boulder Meadows H,C
  Twin Lakes  H,C

Bozeman Area
  Chestnut Mountain H
  Goose Creek H,S
  Mystic Lake H
  Lava Lake H

Central Montana
  Little Belt Mountains H,C,V,S
  Castle Mountains H,C
  Central MT Railroading V
  Cooney Reservoir C,V
  Crystal Lake H,C,V
  Judith Mountains V
  Judith Gap Wind Farm V
  Moccasin Mountains V

Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness
  Anvil Lake H,C

Western Montana
  Painted Rocks Rec Area V,C
  Salmon Lake State Park V,C
  Warm Spring Ponds  V


Mystic Lake and the New World Gulch Trail


      There are many hiking opportunities near Bozeman, Montana and Mystic Lake is one of my favorites. You can get to Mystic Lake from a couple of different trail heads but I usually use the access in Bear Canyon. Located about 5 miles east of Bozeman, the Bear Canyon area offers great hiking, mountain biking and cross country ski opportunities.

     The trail to Mystic Lake begins at the main trailhead parking area which is near the end of the Bear Canyon Road. From the east or west on I90, take exit 309 and head South. Look for the small sign for Bear Canyon on your left about 1/4 mile from Interstate. Turn east (left) onto this road and travel about 3 1/2 miles of good road to the parking area.
Mystic Lake
click to enlarge
Mystic Lake as seen from the north end of the lake. The large meadow is a treat to the eyes.

    There is little hiking information at the trail head and no outhouses or water so come prepared!  The parking area is large with room for many vehicles.  This is a well used horse trail so at times you might find trailers taking some space in the parking area.  The trailhead begins right at the info sign and heads up the hill. Follow the trail up the hill and soon you will encounter the small stream in the bottom of New World Gulch that you will follow for the next couple of miles. There is a looped trail that is possible to take but is very poorly signed. Unless you are comfortable with your maps I suggest you stick to the main trail.

     The trail follows the stream for about 2 miles. At times, the trail takes is close to the water while at other times you climb high above the water to advance along the path. After dropping down to the creek one final time, the trail turns to the southeast and begins to climb away from the water.  The entire trail stretch through this first section is generally quite steep. You are mostly climbing, sometimes up a pretty good slope.
trail through New World Gulch
Soon after beginning your hike you will encounter the stream that flows through New World Gulch.
However, this is generally a moderately easy hike. In places the trail is very rocky which can present difficulties. other times the trail is muddy and in spring or wet weather this trail can be difficult.

     As you begin the next section of trail you climb gradually to the southeast away from the water. This section of trail is about three miles in length and is a nice hiking trail, wandering up and down through meadows and forest. From spring through mid-summer the meadows are a riot of color from the multitude of wild flowers. In wet places clouds of butterflies provide a living kaleidoscope of swirling colors. Keep your eyes peeled as you hike as the area is home to elk, deer and other wild creatures.

     The trail continues to gradually work higher until a very gradual pass is reached. From here you begin a mild downward walk along a long rounded ridge top. This is an easy stroll that makes you wonder why all trails can't be just like this!

trail through New World Gulch
     The Mystic lake trail wanders through a combination of open forest and mountain meadow.  Watch for Elk and Deer in the meadows.
          After a short time you can begin to glimpse Mystic Lake in the far distance to the south. Gradually the trees open to present better views and soon you are looking down onto the beautiful meadow that fills the shallow valley to the north of the lake. A steep climb down brings you to the edge of the meadow and the lake seems to be within short distance.

     This is where you need to decide where you want to go.  If you stay on the trail it will quickly climb above the lake to the East.  Here you can connect with the abandoned roads that are in the area and can hike on to the Mystic Lake Cabin.

    If the lake itdelf is your objective there is little to gain by climbing to the East. Rather, I suggest that you attempt to either pick a trail through the meadow or follow the bottom of the hills on either side of the lake.  While the meadow might seem and obvious choice it can be a very difficult hike in wet times. The meadow is laced with small streams and marshy areas and can be a very difficult hike. Beware, the insects can be quite bad in this area.  

Looking down on Mystic Lake
click to enlarge
Looking down on Mystic Lake from the East. If you follow the trail to the Mystic Lake Cabin you will view the vistas of the entire lake.
     To complete your hike return following the same trails.  If you are experienced and comfortable there is a second trail that runs more to the East of the New World Gulch trail.  This trail is clearly marked on maps but can be hard to find when in the area. The few trail signs will not help you find this trail.  The return trip is more downhill than up which can be very welcome.  The trail from the parking lot to the lake and back is about 12miles and can be done as a day hike. However, as with most Montana hiking, your personal hiking speed and style may dictate that you approach this hike differently. Backpackers will find campsites in the area and for those who would like to camp for more than one night, the nearby Bear Lakes make for an interesting side hike.  You can also make a backpacking loop by continuing past Bear Lakes to connect with the Bear Creek trail.

     Mystic Lake is a great hike with easy access.  Although it is a 12 mile round trip to the lake, this trail is a great place to go for a shorter hike. Wildflowers, butterflies and the chance to spot big game make this a great place to take a hike.


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