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 roadbed 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.
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.
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 gillnet 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.
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.
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 woods 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 destinations like Campfire Lake which is on the path for 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