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Central Montana Hikes & Attractions Yellowstone Area Hikes and Attractions

Twin Lakes in the Crazy Mountains

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Twin Lakes are probably the most popular hiking destination in Montana’s Crazy Mountains. The Crazy Mountains are an  island mountain range north of Interstate 90 in the Livingston/Big Timber area. The trailhead for hiking to Twin Lakes is located  in Big Timber Canyon near the Halfmoon Campground. This popular access is the beginning point for the Big Timber Creek Falls, the Crazy Mountain Crossing backpacking trail, the trail to Blue Lake and the trail to Twin Lakes. If you visit, expect to find other hikers and campers enjoying this spectacular area.

The trailhead is approached from US 191. About 11 miles north of Big Timber there is a well marked turn onto the Big Timber Canyon Road that runs west toward the Crazy Mountains. Follow this gravel road for about 2 miles until a signed junction where you bear to the right. Continue on for about 10 miles until the road ends at the Halfmoon Campground, Halfmoon Picnic Area and the Big Timber Canyon trailhead. The trailhead parking is located on the right as you arrive with the road continuing on to the left where it enters the campground and picnic area.

Twin Lakes Hiking Trail

Beginning from the trailhead the trail climbs steadily but not steeply to Twin Lakes. The trail follows an old road bed so it is wide and fairly level. However, it is a very rocky trail so hiking is not always easy. About 1/8 mile from the trailhead there is an unmarked side trail to the left which leads to Big Timber Creek Falls. The Falls are an impressive sight and this short side trip is worth taking.

A Hiker on the Big Timber Creek trail
The Big Timber Creek Canyon trail is wide and generally not very steep. Much of the trail is part of an old road which allows side-by-side hiking in places.

Continuing on, the trail stays wide and easy to follow. There are two crossings where the trail crosses Big Timber Creek. Each crossing has a large sturdy bridge so there is no concern for hikers. Big Timber Creek is a popular whitewater destination for extreme kayakers and you might find them enjoying the rushing waters. If you’d like to learn more about the whitewater be sure to read our page about Big Timber Creek Falls.

As you climb the trail you are treated to great views of the approaching mountains and soon you reach a junction where a well signed and maintained trail leads to the left (south) toward Blue Lake. This trail junction is about 2 1/2 or 3 miles from the trailhead. Twin Lakes lie about another mile and a half ahead.

Lower & Upper Twin Lake

The first of the Twin Lakes reached is Lower Twin Lake or East Twin Lake. It sits in a spectacular basin at 6,750 ft, surrounded by high mountains peaks. The lake is about 10 1/2 acres and is really very shallow. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (MFWP) reports a maximum depth of 7 ft. Most of the shoreline is very gradual and the surrounding lands are often swampy, especially in the spring.

Enjoying the scenery at Twin Lake
A hiker enjoys the scenery at Lower Twin Lake

Upper Twin Lake is just s short hike from Lower Twin Lake. Upper Twin is another beauty, bordered on the south by a sheer mountain rising to more than 10,000 ft. The lake is just under 7 acres and only 6 ft deep.

Both of these lakes are really more like giant pools in Big Timber Creek than they are like lakes. Each is very shallow and MFWP reports that there is a channel running through each. There are no barriers between the lakes and the creek so fish can move freely throughout the system.

Fishing Twin Lakes

Upper and Lower Twin Lake have good fishing for rainbow trout that are hybridized with Yellowstone cutthroat trout. Fish stocking records are spotty but the lakes have received plants of rainbows, cutthroat and brook trout over the years. The current population seems to be self sustaining

MFWP has both gill net and angling data recorded for each lake and the creek. This data shows that most fish are in the 6″ – 10″ range. However, they have records of fish over 14″. Anglers generally report good catch rates for both lakes.

Backcountry Skiing

The mountains above Twin Lakes hold snow late into the year and the steep terrain is often visited by backcountry skiers. Skiing these peaks is only for experts who have the skill, equipment and experience to undertake such an effort. It is a 4 1/2 mile hike to get to the bottom of these mountains and many skiers will hike in, climb to the top, ski down and hike back out all in a day.

Ski Tracks in the snow above Twin Lakes
These ski tracks were laid down on the 4th of July in 2010.

There are a few accounts on the web of skiing in the Twin Lakes area. If you do a search you can find both videos and articles about skiing the Twin Lakes Couloir. Here is one video of a descent from the top.

Camping At Twin Lakes

Lower Twin Lake is bordered on the north by flat lands that provide plenty of camping opportunities. However, the snow stays late and it’s not unusual to find the ground snow covered or very wet. Reports are that the mosquitoes can be very bad at Twin Lakes! I have no reason to doubt this so be sure you are prepared, especially if you are camping.

NOTE: The US Forest Service has instituted a permanent fire ban in the entire area surrounding Twin Lakes. Do not plan on building a fire of any sort.

Besides the fire ban, make sure that you take bear avoidance measures. This can be bear country so always be prepared.

Camping at Twin Lakes is a wilderness type experience. The night skies can blaze with the millions of stars that sweep across the sky on a dark and moonless night. The majestic views and the quiet that only the wood s can provide will leave you with lasting memories.

Into The Crazies

At Upper Twin Lake the trail skirts the lake on the north and continues on toward the interior of the Crazy Mountains. Backpackers often use this trail to other Crazy Mountain destination or even to do a full crossing of the mountain range. However, for day hikers this is a good place to turn around after taking photos and memories of the Twin Lakes.

Anyone continuing on into the Crazies needs to be aware that much of the land, including many steep mountainous areas, is privately owned. Be sure to know where you are and stay on the marked trails which are all located where there is either public land or an easement.

Crazy Peak, the highest point in the Crazies, is actually privately owned and so are a number of the lakes on the maps. In some cases you can secure permission to access these lands. Contact the US Forest Service ranger station at (406) 932-5155 for more information about specific areas.

Twin Lakes are great for a day hike or overnight into the beautifully Crazy Mountains. They are easily accessible and are popular with all hikers. The lakes hold trout for the angler and the scenery is second to none

Here are some other attractions in the Big Timber Area

Categories
Central Montana Hikes & Attractions Yellowstone Area Hikes and Attractions

Big Timber Creek

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Big Timber Creek flows out of Montana’s Crazy Mountains north of Big Timber, MT. Running east out of the mountains, the creek gradually turns southward and flows into the Yellowstone River just east of Big Timber. Most of the creek travels through private lands but the headwater areas are on the Custer Gallatin National Forest National Forest.

The Crazy Mountains are an island mountain range that many people know because of the way they dominate the horizon north of Interstate 90 in the Livingston/Big Timber area. The Crazies offer a number of great hikes but suffers a lack of access. Fortunately, the Big Timber Canyon trailhead provides access to popular day hikes and backpacking opportunities.

Big Timber Creek is accessed from US 191. About 11 miles north of Big Timber there is a well marked turn onto the Big Timber Canyon Road that runs west toward the Crazy Mountains. Follow this gravel road for about 2 miles until a junction where you bear to the right, again toward the mountains. Continue on for about 10 miles until the road ends at the Halfmoon Campground, Halfmoon Picnic Area and the Big Timber Canyon trailhead.

Parking area at Big Timber Creek trailhead
There is a large parking area at the Halfmoon trailhead. The trail in the center leads to Big Timber Creek. The road to the left of center leads to the Halfmoon Campground.

Camping

The Halfmoon Campground is a typical USFS campground with picnic tables, fire rings, outhouses and drinking water. There are only 12 campsites which are open to tents, trailers or RVs. If you plan to camp here the USFS cautions “This campground does not use a reservation system, it is managed on a first-come, first-served basis. Be aware the campground may fill up on weekends & holidays during the summer months and you should arrive in the early afternoon to ensure there is a space available for the night.”

While the area is open year-round, the primary season for the campground is Memorial Day to Labor day and there is no water available during the off-season. There is a nightly camping fee and about half of the campsites are accessible. The access road is not suitable for vehicles longer than 32ft.

Besides the campground there is the Halfmoon Picnic Area and a large parking area for the trailhead. For a closeup look at the area here is the Halfmoon Campground Area Map.

Fishing Big Timber Creek

Big Timber Creek offers varied conditions for anglers. The lower creek which is on private land reportedly offer some amazing fishing. Unfortunately, there is no public access to these waters. From the Forest boundary upstream the creek is open to fishing. However, much of the creek is too steep for fishing so you have to search out places to fish. Most of the best fishing water is higher up the creek closer to Lower Twin Lake.

Anglers willing to search out sections of the stream with appropriate water will find healthy populations of rainbow trout. Most are in the 7″-10″ size range but fish larger than 14″ have been documented. These waters have been stocked with both rainbow and cutthroat trout but the rainbows have had the best success. Although the cutthroats are gone, some of their genes remain as many of the rainbows show signs of hybridization.

MFWP reports indicate that brown trout are found in the creek below the campground. It’s always possible that you could catch a brown or two when you are fishing Big Timber Creek.

Big Timber Creek Falls

Big Timber Creek Falls
This section of the Big Timber Creek Falls provides a great view to visitors. The large rock ledge is a great place to sit and watch the Falls. At the right time you can watch expert kayakers descend the falls from this spot.

The Big Timber Creek Falls are a series of falls that split a narrow rock canyon. The falls twist through the rock and there are no good places from which you can view the entire stretch. However, there are great views of the lower falls and I recommended this hike to all waterfall fans. The character if the Falls changes with water levels so be sure to visit more than once if you can.      

The Big Timber Creek Falls are reached by following the main trail into Big Timber Canyon. After about 1/8 mile a well marked side trail (left side of trail) leads to the Falls . The Big Timber Creek trail continues on to the interior of the Crazy Mountains. This trail is the access for a number of popular hikes, including the popular day hikes to Twin Lakes and Blue Lake.

Kayaking Big Timber Creek

Big Timber Creek offers some of the most famous extreme whitewater kayaking in Montana. This is water for experts and it’s common to find kayakers on the water when the creek flows are good. It’s hard to imagine that anyone could ride a boat through the Falls but many kayakers have accepted the challenge. However, there is a lot of top quality class V & V+ whitewater along sections of the creek above the falls. This mile of so above the falls is the goal of most boaters.

An internet search will turn up lots of stories and videos about this famous creek. The Montana Eddy Hop blog has a good description of the Big Timber Creek whitewater run, complete with photos. Also, check the EGCreekin site which has this excellent account of running the Big Timber Creek Falls. And then there is this video which is typical of the many videos on the Web.

This great video shows just how impressive the kayakers are who tackle Big Timber Creek.

A number of hikes in Montana follow great kayaking creeks so don’t be surprised to see boats on other creeks while you are hiking. For another story of extreme kayaking in Montana be sure to check out our page about Natural Bridge Falls.

Visit If You Can

Big Timber Canyon offers a lot for everyone. It has excellent camping and picnicking. The Falls are a natural wonder to sit and enjoy. Big Timber Creek offers excellent fishing opportunities and the trailhead provides access to Crazy Mountain trails. The Crazy Mountains are a great place to visit and Big Timber Canyon is a gateway to the best of the Crazies.

Here are some other places of interest in the Big Timber area: