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
Beartooth Highway V
Rocks Rec Area V,C
Lake State Park V,C
The Yellowstone valley south of Livingston is
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
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
Pine Creek Falls is a beautiful place to visit. It is only a
the parking lot on a well maintained trail. This is a very popular hike
for good reason!
Forest lands, you
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
direction (south) and accesses the trail head for the George
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 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 is just
about a mile
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
At higher water flows water splits
from the main Pine Creek falls and flows over a second ,
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
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
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.
is a popular fishing destination. Montana Fish, Wildlife &
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
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
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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