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Length: 6 Miles Round Trip
Trailhead(s): Lava Lake Trailhead
Elevation Gain: 1,600’
Trail Type: Out & Back
Permit Required? No
Considerations: Busy in Summer
Season: Year Round
Escape the summer heat on a short hike to Lava Lake by following pretty Cascade Creek up through the forest on the Lava Lake Trail.
CUSTER GALLATIN NATIONAL FOREST – LEE METCALF WILDERNESS
Lava Lake is located in the Custer Gallatin National Forest, and more specifically, in Montana’s Lee Metcalf Wilderness between Bozeman and Big Sky. It is a wonderfully wild, scenic, and rugged area that mountain goats, black and grizzly bears, moose, elk, cougar, and wolves call home. For those who love fishing, the gorgeous lakes and streams here have three different varieties of trout (Cutthroat, Rainbow, and Brook).
Hiking wild and rugged areas to beautiful mountain lakes is awesome, and a hike on the Lava Lake Trail in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness is just that. Although this trail follows a lovely mountain creek for a deliciously peaceful hike in the woods, everyone has to work for it to get to the ultimate payoff: Lava Lake.
LAVA LAKE TRAIL
The Lava Lake Trail follows Cascade Creek for much of the way up to Lava Lake. Not only does this trail ascend steadily, it has a lot of smooth rock underfoot and all around. Fortunately the rocks do not make the hike overly technical. They do, however, make for a varied and interesting hike full of texture as well as possible ankle twists.
As such, bring your hiking poles along for this hike. They will help ensure stability because there is a lot of uneven footing on this rocky trail. Additionally, they will assist with creek crossings and will reduce the burn you feel in several areas where the slope of the Lava Lake Trail is over a 20% grade. Just bring them – you will be glad you did, and you will use them as soon as you depart the trailhead.
The Lava Lake Trail starts climbing immediately behind the signage at the trailhead. It is not long before the babbling waters of Cascade Creek are within earshot, and soon thereafter the trail begins following the creek up to Lava Lake. Interestingly, Cascade Creek cuts right through Lava Lake. Following its long run down from the ridge that runs south from Jumbo Mountain, Cascade Creek enters Lava Lake on its southern end and exits on the northern end, eventually dumping into the Gallatin River.
The Lava Lake Trail crosses Cascade Creek a few times. The last crossing is via a log bridge, but the others are rock or makeshift log crossings. Enjoy the creek – there are plenty of chances to observe it from the trail. As it nears Lava Lake, the Lava Lake Trail passes several small waterfalls cascading down from Lava Lake.
Once the Lava Lake Trail deposits you at Lava Lake, it is not immediately evident where to best access and enjoy this 47 acre beauty. The first glimpse is awesome, but doesn’t offer up a great place to hang out and enjoy your time here. Although it is possible to walk all the way around the lake, don’t try to rock scramble your way to a place to hang out. Instead, follow the trail around the lake to the left. You will see huge jumbles of rock between the trail and the lake. Pass by these and look to the right. There is a footpath off the trail that drops down onto a nice beach area. It is wide and flat, and has lovely views of the entire lake and its crystal clear waters.
Lava Lake is not just a hiking destination, it is also popular with anglers. We saw a couple of folks trying their luck, but we did not witness them catching any fish. This lake has wild rainbow trout, so if you like to fish you might consider bringing up some gear to try your luck. Click here for Montana’s 2021 fishing regulations.
When you are ready to head back to the trailhead, climb back up and follow the Lava Lake Trail back the way you came.
Lava Lake Trailhead
The trailhead for the Lava Lake Trail is on Cascade Creek Road off of US-191, 21 miles south of the Four Corners area of Bozeman, Montana. Look for the turnoff before reaching the bridge which crosses the Gallatin River. Immediately after the bridge there is a large parking area on the right. If you missed the turn, use this parking area to turn around and backtrack on US-191.
The Gallatin River makes a big turn here, and a left hand turn off of US-191 to get on Cascade Creek Road is not allowed for safety reasons. Consequently, for anyone coming here from the south, and for anyone headed south who missed the turnoff, there is a turnaround about a half mile north of the bridge. Use this to get safely turned around to drive back to the turnoff for Cascade Creek Road.
At the far end of the parking area for this trailhead there is a gated entrance into a private neighborhood. There is actually quite a lot of parking available at the trailhead, but it may be full. As such, it is best to arrive early to ensure immediate access to a parking spot. Otherwise, please be a courteous visitor and do not park in front of the gate – even if it looks like you can squeeze in. Typically someone will come back to their car before very long and a spot will open up. Be patient, and Outventure on!
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Additional Information (Click below to follow links.)
Lava Lake Slideshow
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Articles About Other Regional Outventures
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