A Favorite All-Season Hike
Lava Lake and beyond
Located in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness, Lava Lake, a 5.5 miles round-trip hike with a 1,600 foot elevation gain, will take your breath away — mid-summer or winter. As a local favorite, this trail is commonly used in the summer for fishing, swimming, and camping.
While it stays very busy from May to September, it slows down in the winter, making it a great time to go. The frozen lake and snow-covered Spanish Peak Mountains that surround it (including Jumbo Mountain) are a spectacular sight. The hike is fairly moderate, depending on your ability, but it can get icy and slick, so be sure to bring your Yaktrax or snowshoes.
The trail to Lava Lake follows a very obvious route without any potentially confusing intersections. 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.
The elevation is gained steadily and gradually, and a log bridge facilitates the only creek crossing. On the first half of the hike, the views are limited through a dense lodgepole forest, but open up as you get higher into Cascade Creek. As you get closer to the lake, the canyon opens up to meadows. After a few more switchbacks, the trail leads to a natural dam that backs up the lake, and then you’re there!
With 10,410-foot Jumbo Mountain and several other unnamed peaks surrounding the valley, campers, fisherman, and day-hikers are sure to savor the reward of their excursion.
If you’re up for more hiking, the official trail ends at the foot of the lake, but a well-trodden path extends to its upper end.
For anyone wishing to do a longer trip (day trip):
Just before Lava Lake, a trail branches off and heads up the ridge to the east, gaining an additional 2,000 vertical feet, mostly in the first mile, on its way to a high (9,000 foot) ridge. Once you reach this ridge, the going gets easier, and the views are incredible.
This same trail will cross Table Mountain and descend to Deer and Moon lakes (after about eight miles from the Lava Lake trailhead). Then you can descend Deer Creek trail back down to the Gallatin River. From the Deer Creek trailhead, you can hitchhike back to your vehicle unless you arranged a shuttle beforehand. Total distance between the Lava Lake to Deer Creek trailhead on the route described is about 16 miles.