Nestled in the heart of Montana’s Gallatin National Forest, Lava Lake is a hidden gem for hikers and adventurers. This stunning, crystal-clear alpine lake sits at an elevation of over 8,000 feet, surrounded by towering mountain peaks and lush forests.
Gail and I met up with a high school friend of mine named Anne, whom I hadn’t seen in decades. Anne graciously agreed to meet us in Bozeman and guide us to the lake, one of her favorite hiking destinations.
We arrived at the trailhead to Lava Lake mid-morning. The clouds were hanging low, with poor visibility of the mountain peaks around us. As we started up the trail, we were optimistic that the haze would burn off before we arrived at the lakeshore – but there were no guarantees it would happen.
The three of us started up the trail in good spirits. We took turns telling stories about our careers and lives as we traversed through the woods. We had a lot to say and learn about each other after so many years.
The 6-mile out-and-back trail through the forest was of moderate difficulty. The climb had a gradual incline for the first half of the hike, then changed to steeper switchbacks for the second half.
Arriving at Lava Lake
When we reached the shore of Lava Lake, we stopped to soak in the scene before us and discussed how best to enjoy the moment. The fog circled the lake hiding virtually everything beyond the lakeside. There was a quiet and mystic tranquility that reflected off the calm waters and we stood silently looking at the view.
At first, we were disappointed because we could not see the mountains in the background. However, the beauty of the lake at that moment was undeniable. I instinctively pulled out my camera started clicking pictures as we walked around its rocky shore.
The Lifting of the Fog
Within 15-minutes of arriving at the lake, we realized our timing was near perfect. The fog around the lake was dispersing right in front of us. The lake scene was a moving target for pictures. The mountains that were covered with a curtain of clouds only moments before were slowly unveiling themselves right in front of us!
With each new image I recorded on my camera, the mountains became more prominent. At the same time, bright rays of sunlight began to change the color palette in the reflected water and trees.
In no time, the forest looked greener and a bright blue sky appeared.
Watching mother nature in action was amazing. This spectacular moment in time made our hike to Lava Lake an unforgetable Montana memory.
Lava Lake Facts
The Lava Lake (also known as Cascade Creek) trail, is very popular for hiking and snowshoeing year-round. Horses and leashed dogs are also welcomed on the trail.
|Difficulty||Length||Elevation Gain||Route Type|
|Moderate||6.0 Miles||1,620 ft.||Out-and-back|
Although the hike is rated moderate, the trail is an uphill climb nearly the entire 3-miles to the lake. Generally, the grade of the rocky path is not too steep but offers few flat areas for relief. On a busy day, it is not uncommon to find other hikers taking a break to catch their breath before continuing on.
The 2-mile marker is at the bridge crossing Cascade Creek. Once hikers arrive at this landmark, the trail starts its switchbacks and gets immediately steeper until it reaches the lakeshore.
How to Find the Trailhead
The Lava Lake trailhead is located off Highway 191 approximately 20-miles south of the Gallatin Gateway and about 15-miles north of Big Sky.
A landmark to watch for is a bridge crossing on a curve. Also, look for road signs for Cascade Creek Trail (or Lava Lake).
The main parking area is small and often full. Oversized vehicles like our Sprinter Van and other RVs may have trouble parking there. The parking area is small and tight.
Overflow parking is on the opposite side of the bridge. That parking is easier to get in and out of. However, to get to the trailhead, visitors must walk across the bridge (that’s is on a curve) to get to the trailhead. Not the safest situation. Please take caution when crossing!
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