Lava Lake (Cascade Creek)

#1 of 277 trails in Gallatin National Forest

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The Lava Lake (Cascade Creek) trail is a 6 mile, moderately rated, out and back trail that climbs 1600 ft to a beautiful lake setting that is surrounded by the Spanish Peaks. Located 30 min south of Bozeman, MT, the trail is primarily used for hiking and is easily accessible from May until Oct.

The trail to Lava Lake follows a very obvious route without any potentially confusing intersections, so unlike the vast majority of other hikes in this area, it is not absolutely essential to have a map.

After skirting above some summer cabins for the first third of a mile, the trail enters the Cascade Canyon, which it follows to Lava Lake. Total distance to the lake is just less than three miles, with an elevation gain of 1600. While not a stroll along the beach, this hike is very do-able for anyone in reasonable shape. The elevation is gained steadily and gradually, and a log bridge facilitates the only creek crossing of any consequence.

Views are somewhat limited for about the first half of the trip as the trail passes through a dense lodgepole forest, but open up as you get higher up into Cascade Creek. One other thing that could be viewed as good or bad, depending on your point of view, is that the trail is quite rocky. This is mostly a disadvantage for horse users, and the upside is that you wont encounter the mud bogs common to some other area trails with softer footing. Also, since the trail is not especially popular with horseback riders, hikers wont often have to step around horse droppings. As you start getting closer to the lake, the canyon bottom opens up with some meadows, a likely area to spot a moose. A little further and the trail switchbacks up the natural dam that backs up the lake, and youre there!

The views improve dramatically at the lake, with 10,412 Jumbo Mountain and several other un-named 10,000 peaks surrounding the Cascade Creek valley. Should you wish to make your trip an overnighter theres several good camping sites near the foot of the lake, and even day-hikers will want to spend some time savoring the rewards of their exertion. If youre interested in fishing, its worth wetting a line in pursuit of the resident trout, which are mostly in about the 10" range. Some of the lakes in the Spanish Peaks are noted for bigger (sometimes much bigger!) fish, but they tend to be considerably harder to reach than Lava Lake.

Although the official Cascade Creek trail ends at the foot of the lake, a well-trodden path extends to its upper end. Beyond that, you're on your own, though. Its not too hard to bushwhack about a half mile beyond the lake, but after that the valley becomes much steeper and choked with deadfall, making hiking beyond the lake a dubiously worthwhile venture. Seldom-visited Jumbo Lake and Cascade Lakes lie near the head of the valley, though, and I guarantee adventurous hikers will leave any crowds behind once they venture much beyond Lava Lake. Clearly, reaching these far off-trail gems will require or at least beg for an overnight trip.

For those wishing a longer trip, just before Lava Lake a trail branches off and heads up the ridge to the east, gaining a grueling 2000 vertical feet, mostly in the first mile, on its way to a high (9000) ridge. Once this ridge is attained, though, the going gets easier, and the views are tremendous. It eventually crosses Table Mountain and descends to Deer and Moon lakes after about eight miles. Then you can descend Deer Creek back down to the Gallatin River, from whence you will have to hitchhike back to your vehicle unless youve arranged a shuttle beforehand. Total distance between trailheads on the route described is about 16 miles. Obviously, only fit and experienced backpackers should undertake these sort of trips.

To reach the trailhead, follow US 191 west and south out of Bozeman past Gallatin Gateway. Just over nine miles after the highway crosses the Gallatin River at the mouth of the Gallatin Canyon, it again crosses the river at an abrupt ninety-degree corner. A narrow gravel road departs the highway immediately before this bridge, and reaches a well-developed trailhead within a few hundred yards.

At the base of the trailhead is a gravel area designated for parking. Along with the parking lot is a small building with a unisex outhouse style bathroom.

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1 Completed 1 Reviews

Worth the climb! This hike is challenging with the intense elevation gain that never lets up (gets your heart rate pumpin') and the trail is very rocky (watch your step!), but the lake at the top is simply stunning and such a marvelous reward. We were glad to have our walking poles to propel up the steep areas, and steady ourselves on the descent. I would highly recommend bringing a pair. The creeks are running high and fast this year. The trail follows along the creek most of the time, and often we had to shout to hear each other over the roar. It was sure nice to see so much moisture this year in Montana. The last time we visited this region it was in a severe drought. The trail had a lot of mud during the top half mile, but it may have dried out by now. Every time we visit Montana the Lava Lake hike is at the top of our "to-do" list. Tip: Pack in a lunch to eat at the top,. Be sure to pack out all trash and "leave no trace". Note: Campfires are not allowed anywhere near this lake. But, despite the ban clearly posted we were very disappointed to see several makeshift firepits around the Lake. I hope all of us can help preserve this beautiful place!

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4 Completed 2 Reviews

On the rocky side, but a nice steady climb and a beautiful destination.

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9 Completed 5 Reviews

This was a great hike. I thought it would be a little more difficult, but it was still technical all the same. I went in early may and the lake was still froze over, and the trail still had decent snow cover. I post-holed a little, but not too bad. I will definitely go back in the summer, and probably bring the tent and fishing pole. Beautiful area, probably would be five stars in summer.

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Travis Munter

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5 Completed 1 Reviews

Loved this hike. It was my first hiking experience and I loved it.

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22 Completed 12 Reviews

To be fair, the 1400 ft of elevation gain happens over 3.5 mi. This one just keeps climbing, but is DEFINITELY worth it. Never too steep, the ascent is constant so be ready with lots of water and be sure to take the time to enjoy your surroundings. The creek is never far off, constantly whispering encouragement as you keep pumping legs and arms to reach the lake. Once there, you'll really understand what a pristine alpine lake truly looks like. On a calm day, you can easily see to the bottom sometimes 10-20 ft deep! Be sure to take in the boulder fields and such around the South side of the lake. If you listen closely, you can hear the creek tumbling into the lake on the far western shore...

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5 Completed 3 Reviews

Has anyone hiked Lava Lake within the past couple weeks?

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43 Completed 33 Reviews

In response to Guillermo Lugo: I've hiked the trail in mid-December. It's very do-able. Wear good boots and dress in layers (you will get really warm while hiking, but it can be chilly at the top when you stop to take in the sites).

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1 Completed 1 Reviews

Hello you all! Could someone tell me how if is possible to hike to Lava Lake in mid November?

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6 Completed 1 Reviews

The Lava Lake trail is one of my favorites! Though rated moderate, this trail can be quite a workout...but well woth the effort of the most amazing lake views when you get to the top! A rocky trail, and a steady climb...be prepared for changing weather conditions when you leave as it even hails here in July and August. I recommend leaving your young children at home for this one and take them on easy rated trails such as Oussel Falls.

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Leah LeRae

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9 Completed 3 Reviews

Loved it. Our first Montana hike, and the reward of seeing Lava Lake was fantastic. The hike wasn't super strenuous; but I don't think your average kid could do it. It was a tough hike, not overly difficult.

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