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
  Prairie Dog State.Park   V

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

The Yellowstone River
  Upper Yellowstone Floating
  Yankee Jim Canyon

Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness
  Anvil Lake H,C
  Beartooth Lake H,C,V
  Beartooth Highway V
  Island Lake H,C,V

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


Pine Creek Falls and Lake


    The Yellowstone valley south of Livingston is known as Paradise Valley and is truly a special place. The entire valley is defined by the Absaroka Mountains that rise dramatically to form the eastern boundary of the valley. The valley floor is broad and flat at about 5,000 feet elevation. The mountains rise straight in a series of peaks ranging up to nearly 11,000 ft.

     Along the length of the valley a number of streams come out of the mountains and the drainages these creeks cut into the mountains provide the primary access points into the Gallatin National Forest and the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness. The Pine creek drainage is on the east side of Paradise Valley about ten miles south of Livingston, MT. There is a paved access road that climbs steeply for a short distance then meanders through the woods for a couple of miles. This is all private land so be sure to stay on the road and respect the property owners.
Pine Creek falls
     Pine Creek Falls is a beautiful place to visit. It is only a mile from the parking lot on a well maintained trail. This is a very popular hike for good reason!

     Entering National Forest lands, you soon reach a road leading down to your left (north) that accesses the Luccock Park church camp. Near here a short spur road leads in the other direction (south) and accesses the trail head for the George Lake Trail. Continue on the road until you quickly reach the entrance to the Pine Creek Campground. This is a nice mountain environment campground that offers excellent car camping. There are a couple of loops to the campground and in the summer you will find friendly camp hosts on duty. If you camp here beware of black bears as they are frequently found in the area.

     The road to the trailhead is clearly marked and it is a short drive through the campground to the parking area which is spread out in a couple of smaller areas and at times the lot can get rather full. The trail is well marked and begins as a wide flat easy hike. The trail soon narrows slightly but remains wide and easy and climbs gradually. A couple of hundred yards from the trail head you reach a side trail that leads to the George Lake trail. When the George Lake trail was first constructed this was the original trailhead. However it was determined that putting in a dedicated trail head was a much better option and today few people access George Lake from this trail.

     The trail continues through the forest and you soon reach a bridge crossing Pine Creek. This is a big heavy duty bridge crossing a beautiful mountain stream. After crossing the Creek the trail begins to climb a bit more steeply. It is somewhat rockier and narrows. However, it remains an easy hike and presents little difficulty for most hikers.

Pine Creek Falls
    At higher water flows water splits from the main Pine Creek falls and flows over a second , smaller falls.
    Pine Creek Falls is just about a mile from the trailhead. The falls is a great place to enjoy the experience of water crashing down from above. Clouds of cool mist are thrown into the air and the roar of the water adds to the experience. Pine creek is a wild stream that floods each year in the spring when the winter snows melt. As these high water times the falls splits dramatically and crashes down on two sides of a rock mass. However, as summer progresses the stream level drops and the volume of water pouring over the cliffs is much reduced.

     A sturdy bridge leads over the creek at the base of the falls and the trails continues on. From there the nature of the trail changes dramatically, very dramatically. Pine Creek Lake is only four miles from here, but, in those four miles the trail climbs 3,000 feet. What this means on a practical level is lots of switch backs, steep climbs and ling unrelenting uphill hiking. Fortunately, it is great hiking through an interesting area.

     Many people only hike this trail far enough to get to the top of the Pine Creek Falls where you can sit on the slick rock cliff edge and watch the water pour over the edge and out of sight. This is a great place to get some sun and is a turn around for most people who are not heading to the lake. Continuing on, the trail climbs through the woods for the next couple of miles following the creek upwards. After some distance the trail climbs out of the woods and climbs a series of steep switchbacks through a massive rock field. This is just the first of these rock fields which alternate with stretched of forest until you reach the smaller lake just below Pine Creek Lake. This is a beautiful little lake fed by a waterfall plunging down from above.

     Making still another climb you reach a small meadow ringed by bare rock. Just beyond this bare rock lies Pine Creek Lake, a true gem of a high mountain lake. It is nestled in a cirque of spectacular sheer rock mountain peaks at nearly 9,200 ft elevation. The 32 acre lake is fed by a cascade plunging in at the east end of the lake. Much of the western and northern shore lines are bare rock. Easy to walk on and great to fish from, the lake plunges rapidly from these rocky shores. The east end of the lake is shallower and the associated shore line area is not as steep. If you are hiking around the southern side of the lake you will quickly be faced with a choice of turning back or taking a very long detour climbing upwards until you reach an area where you can continue circling around the lake.

     Pine Creek Lake is a popular fishing destination. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks stocks the lake with Yellowstone cutthroat trout every three years. This means that there are almost always at least two sizes of fish in the lake. Pine Creek Lake can be visited on a day hike or as an overnight backpack trip. Campers will find limited good camping areas so please to be sure to minimize your impacts. There is no firewood available at the lake so be sure to plan on cooking on a stove.

     There are no developed trails leading past Pine Creek Lake. Very experienced back country hikers can climb the mountains to the north and northeast where you can cross into the South Fork of Deep Creek or Mission Creek drainage, hading toward Elephanthead Mountain. However, this is for expert hikers only as it crosses very rough and dangerous terrain. For all others, return the way you came following the trail back to the Pine Creek campground. 
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