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Length: 10.37 Miles
Trailhead(s): Pine Creek Lake Trailhead
Elevation Gain: 3,440’
Trail Type: Out & Back
Permit Required? No
The Pine Creek Lake Trail in Livingston, Montana, is an excellent hike, complete with a waterfall, a beautiful creek, outstanding mountain views, and a gorgeous lake. All this with only an investment of a little over 10 miles? Sign me up!
What Makes the Pine Creek Lake Trail Hike So Good?
To begin with, the Pine Creek Lake Trail is a very pleasant hike. There is one creek crossing that is a little annoying, but the rest of the hike is on well maintained trail and the scenery is beautiful. Many people simply hike the 2 mile out & back to the picturesque Pine Creek Falls. Those who venture further, however, are treated to a beautiful, flower filled ravine with granite peaks and a pretty creek, incredible views of tiered small tarns, and the amazing Pine Creek Lake which is great for hanging out, eating lunch, and/or taking a swim. This is one of our favorite hikes in the Livingston/Bozeman, Montana, area.
Hiking the Pine Creek Lake Trail
Starting from the Pine Creek Trailhead (note that Google Maps calls it the “Pine Creek Lake Trailhead”), the first mile climbs through wooded forest to the picturesque Pine Creek Falls. The falls, flowing over colorful rock and surrounded by dense forest with a handmade wooden bridge crossing Pine Creek, makes for a beautiful scene. Many visitors do not hike past the falls, but they should because the show continues for the next 4 miles on the Pine Creek Lake Trail.
After taking time to enjoy Pine Creek Falls, continue on the Pine Creek Lake Trail as it climbs steadily to reach a large ravine. The views in this ravine are jaw dropping. Although you will be hiking in some overgrowth, the views keep coming as you move up the ravine.
Further up the ravine, the Pine Creek Lake Trail leads you to a large pile of debris with trees and branches carried down the ravine due to snow melt (see the slideshow below). You will need to cross the debris and look for the trail on the other side. The trail is not obvious when you cross, so be patient and look for a path that seems to “go”. With a little effort, you will find where the Pine Creek Lake Trail picks-up.
From here, the Pine Creek Lake Trail is smooth sailing, but with a heavy dose of climbing. The trail gains steadily with a rigorous grade, but it is worth the effort.
As you begin to move up the hillside, you will move into a burn area. Although most of the pines bear the scars of the fire, the area is filled with wildflowers and fantastic scenes of Pine Creek running through the forest.
As you continue climbing the Pine Creek Lake Trail, you reach the base of the granite peaks that have been in front of you through the ravine. The trail opens up on the hillside and you eventually reach a wooded, but open, area with lovely views of Pine Creek through the landscape. There is more climbing to do, but you are getting close to Pine Creek Lake.
Climbing further, you crest a hill and the scene in front of you should blow your socks off. In front of you will be a small tarn with amazing granite peaks behind. Make the easy water crossing, pass the tarn, and continue climbing. Really enjoy this section, it is incredibly beautiful.
The Pine Creek Lake Trail will now lead to some large rocks as Pine Creek Lake comes into view. Just continue on, working your way to the shore of the lake.
Pine Creek Lake is not too big and not too small. It really has that perfect size to sparkle in the scene and set-off the granite peaks and waterfalls that surround the lake. Here you can grab a place on the large rocks slabs on the western shore and lunch, snack, swim, or do as Mac did and take a nap in the warm sun. When you are done, it is a quick 5 mile hike back down the Pine Creek Lake Trail to the trailhead and your car.
Concluding Thoughts about Hiking the Pine Creek Lake Trail
The Pine Creek Lake Trail to Pine Creek Lake is really a fantastic hike and is my favorite in the area. The hike may be a bit much for some people, due to the 3,440′ elevation gain over 5 miles, but if you feel you are up to it you should definitely do this hike. You will be richly rewarded for your efforts. Enjoy and OUTventure on!
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Additional Information (Click below to follow links.)
Pine Creek Lake Trail Slideshow
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Articles About Other Regional Outventures
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