Glacier Lake in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness

SUMMARY: Glacier Lake, at 9,700 ft. elevation, is about 19 miles southwest of Red Lodge, Montana. It is located in a deep glacial bowl high in the Beartooth Mountain Range. The Lake sits on the Montana-Wyoming border where Rock Creek begins its journey northeast through Red Lodge to join with the Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone River. The drive from Highway 212 to the trailhead is scenic, but rough. The Glacier Lake Trail is mostly a series of switchbacks as it rises about 1,300 feet in 1.5 miles to a ridge above the Lake. From the ridge top, the trail drops about 300 feet in elevation to the Lake shore. Thus, you have elevation gain on both the hike to Glacier Lake and the return hike to the trailhead. The very rough dirt/gravel road to the Trailhead and the steep trail are absolutely worth it. This largest lake in the Rock Creek drainage is surrounded with majestic and sometimes snowcapped peaks. From the Parking Area, the trail follows rushing Moon Creek for about ½ mile, before crossing a substantial wooden bridge just below beautiful cascades. Then, it follows a series of long, steep switchbacks to the ridge. The trail is easy to follow and spectacular views abound. Pack your lunch and linger by the Lake. Don’t forget your camera and perhaps your fishing tackle. The Trail is restricted to foot travel (no bikes or horses).

RATING: While only a 4 mile roundtrip hike, because of the elevation gains, it is considered a strenuous hike. Make sure to take appropriate clothing, including rain gear. The weather and temperatures can change suddenly. The last 7 ½ miles of the drive to the Trailhead are on a rough dirt and some gravel road; the last few miles of which are very rocky and narrow. While a high clearance, all wheel drive, vehicle is best suited for this drive; a slow, careful driver should be able to drive a passenger car to the trailhead when the Road is dry and not slick.

BEST TIME OF YEAR TO HIKE: Early July until late September or early October.  The Beartooth Ranger District Office is located on Highway 212 on the south side of Red Lodge. For up to date information on the unpaved road to the Trailhead and on Glacier Lake Trail, either stop in the Ranger District Office or telephone: (406) 446-2103

AMOUNT OF TIME NEEDED: Allow I hour each way for the drive from Red Lodge to the Glacier Lake Trailhead. While very fit hikers might complete the roundtrip in 2 ½ to 3 hours, including a brief stop at the Lake, why rush? The scenery is so spectacular, the geology is so interesting; and, the Lake has Cutthroat and Brook trout. A three-quarter to a full day outing is recommended.

DIRECTIONS TO THE TRAIL HEAD: From Red Lodge, Montana, drive south on State Hwy 212 (Broadway in Red Lodge) for approximately 11 miles. This first 11 miles is a good, two lane highway. Turn right (west) at the “Campgrounds” sign on a well marked road to three National Forest campgrounds: Parkside, Limberpine and Greenough Lake. After turning off Highway 212, drive on the paved road for a little over ½ mile across the Wyoming Creek Bridge near Limberpine Campground. The pavement ends as you approach a fork in the road. Turn left for the Glacier Lake Trailhead. The unpaved road follows along Rock Creek gradually climbing for 7 ½ miles to parking, a pit toilet and the Glacier Lake Trailhead.

BONUS: If upon returning to Highway 212 you want a white knuckle drive and spectacular views, turn south on Highway 212 and drive up the switchbacks to Rock Creek Vista Point. It is 10 miles to Vista Point and then 21 miles to return to Red Lodge. There is a large parking area and restrooms. An asphalt trail takes you less than two-tenths of a mile from the parking area to Vista Point. At 9,190 ft. elevation you will find spectacular views of upper Rock Creek Canyon and Hell Roaring Plateau. Most people are impressed with the 1930s engineering feat that resulted in the Beartooth All-American Road. Don’t forget your camera with a charged battery.