- Peter D. Bouloukos
Lava Lake - Cascade Creek - Montana
Lava Lake Trail to Lava Lake, Montana is a six mile round trip starting from the Gallatin river. It has a 3 mile elevation gain of 1,600 feet with long manageable switchbacks. The trail is a mix of rock, tree roots, runoff creeks during snow melt and some really nice dirt trails probably bulldozed with bobcats by the forest service when they clear the trees off the trails during the Spring months. For those in good shape, this is a nice run and that gain burns but it's not discouraging at all. Lava Lake trailhead is along the Gallatin river just South of House Rock before the bridge. It is about half way between Gallatin Gateway and Big Sky. I believe the bridge is 19 miles into the Gallatin four or so miles past Hell Roaring Creek Trailhead and Castle Rock. The bridge makes a 90 degree turn over the Gallatin River heading towards Big Sky. During the winter months it's smart to park over the bridge and walk a half mile around to the trailhead due to snow, ice or potential snow and ice. Be smart. Next walking this six mile hike can take around 3 hours when taking your time. It can be jogged in an hour to ninety minutes. It's a great hike for the entire family during the summer months, but from late October to early May I would ask around to see if the trail is snow and ice free. Also know this part of the Gallatin range seems to suck in storm clouds so bring at least a waterproof jacket with hood on the sunniest and warmest of Montana summer days. Also, The switchbacks get packed down throughout the winter with temperature swings creating more ice. Even when it is warm in Big Sky or Bozeman during the early Spring the switchbacks are tree lined and hold ice making it dangerous without spikes and poles. I just don't recommend taking younger children on the Lava Lake hike during this time. Lava Lake is a beautiful alpine tarn formed by a landslide damning the creek. It's a forest lined lake with a few meadows surrounded by steep granite walls with the Spanish Peaks off in the distance. The Lake is estimated to be 40 acres and is worth every second of the hike. Personally I do it on a Monday or Tuesday to avoid large numbers of people. I have had this trail to myself in late Fall and early Spring. From the parking lot on the Gallatin you will hike into a thick lodgepole forest, alongside roaring Cascade Creek. The trail follows Cascade Creek for the majority of the hike, so you can count on extra water for the dogs. Just as the trail leads you close to Cascade Creek, you enter the Lee Metcalf Wilderness. The forest beyond is protected by the Wilderness Act of 1964, which helps protect special areas like these from development or motorized use. As you continue hiking through the forest, you reach a log bridge at 1.9 miles. After this bridge, the trail has one more meadow then eight long and somewhat steep switchbacks. Nearby Hoodoo Cascade thunders next to the trail, and is visible by hiking about a hundred yards off trail. The cascade is more dramatic earlier in the year, making late May or early June an excellent time to take a peek. Lava Lake trail is well marked and easy to follow. Camping at Lava Lake is discouraged and the Forest Service doesn't allow campfires within fifty yards of the lake. To extend the hike the main trail heads East climbing another 2000 feet to the summit of Table Mountain at 9,840 feet above sea level or 3,600 feet from the Gallatin River where you parked. Table Mountain is above tree line and Cairns will mark the trail. Table Mountain is in the heart of the Spanish Peaks and you will get a great view of surrounding peaks to include Jumbo Mountain at 10,412 feet. Lava Lake sits at an approximate elevation of 7,800 feet above sea level. I recommend doing this hike in early Spring, middle of summer and again in the middle of the Fall months. Be bear and wildlife aware always! The below pictures are from two of the three hikes I have made to Lava Lake. One in late April of 2015 and another in summer of 2016. Table Mountain is in the backdrop with the pictures of my two daughters.
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