- Peter D. Bouloukos
Emerald Lake - Heather Lake - East Fork of Hyalite Creek, Outside of Bozeman, Montana
The Emerald Lake Trail (starts at 7,200 ft. above sea level) leads five miles up Hyalite Creek to the head of a beautiful canyon where Emerald Lake and Heather Lake sit in two amazing mountain meadows at 9,200 feet above seal level. The area nests beneath the rock walls of Overlook Mountain (10,265') and Mount Chisholm (10,333'). In the five miles to the meadows you will gain 2,000 vertical feet along switchbacks as well as a more gradual rise along the creek. About 3 miles in to the right along the creek you can see Flanders Mountain (9,961') and The Mummy. I have a decent picture below centered on Flanders Mountain. Those rock outcroppings are beautiful and my camera phone does not do them justice. There are a few cascades to include Horsetail Falls coming down the West Canyon Walls and another sixty or so foot fall I guess yet to be named in the middle of the first major switchback climb at 3.5 miles. The first switchbacks crisscross ten times in about a half mile with a 400 foot elevation gain! There are a few cut through's I feel are safe but the trail is so well maintained on this hike just follow the herd. This hike is mostly tree lined with various meadows and creeks across the trail during run-off. At the top of these switchbacks were a great view with a small runoff creek, lush green alpine meadows and the surrounding mountains. During the summer months this hike is right in the middle of the Hyalite Divide, an area that year round draws in the clouds so weather can change fast. We hiked it on an 85 degree July day where Thunderstorms rolled in dropping the temperature 30 degrees and pounding us with hail and rain. The trails are lined with lodgepole pine, fir, whitebark pine and spruce trees so that's where we took shelter. The trail turned into a downhill creek for 25 minutes too! Nothing to fear but simply be prepared. Dispersed camping is an option here if you've brought camping gear to spend the night. If time permits, carefully make your way up to Heather Lake for even more solitude. I would imagine the star gazing at night is incredible! The below pictures were July 10th, 2017. Still four plus feet of snow near the mountain slide areas and even at Emerald Lake at the start of Hyalite Creek. The meadows were clear and just starting to bloom wildflowers. Although I did not see any wildlife, I did notice some rocks scraped out and inside of one was a baby black bear print, perfect print in-fact. Black Bears are better climbers than diggers too! I noticed some people on hiking websites blaming overturned rock holes on horses, it's not exactly the case. Grizzly Bears will dig up the Biscuit Root flower for the radish like surprise nesting nicely below grade. I saw signs of this in the meadow but no signs of bears during the hour we were at the lakes. Bears also eat bugs underneath rocks. Finally, this is a duel use trail, it's great for downhill biking so be careful on days that is allowed. I also believe horses have days too, but I can't recall seeing any horse droppings. This 10 mile round trip hike is "moderate" and can take more than five hours if you are taking pictures as well as rests on the way up. I did burn the legs pretty good and I slept well that night!
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