Happy Hiking: Emerald Lake and Heather Lake

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After visiting Butte, I made a short stop in Bozeman to visit a Denver friend, Diana, who moved away a few years ago.  It was so great to see her and laugh about how in Colorado we had to be at the trailhead no later than 7am, and in Montana you’re hard pressed to see anyone before noon!

I also got to enjoy a shower and a home cooked meal. That is always nice while being on the road. At David and Diana’s, we had homemade pizza. The pizza was a perfect carb load for my long hike to Emerald Lake and Heather Lake the following day. 

me and diana

Getting to Emerald Lake and Heather Lake

Emerald Lake and Heather Lake are located in the Hyalite Porcupine Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area, located 23 miles south of Bozeman. Much of the way is paved, though the last few miles are on a well graded dirt road.  There are several trailheads and campgrounds along the way. 

When I arrived in the large dirt parking area with a pit toilet, there were only a few cars.  By the time I returned, it was full. This hiking area was definitely one of the most popular I’ve seen in my last six weeks of hiking around Idaho and Montana.  The only other similarly popular area was in Jewel Basin at the trailhead for Crater Lake.

The Hike – 10.5 miles, Moderate

The 10.5 mile roundtrip hike steadily climbs through the shaded forest as it follows the creek.  About three miles into the trail, a lovely waterfall cascades over the rocks.  Soon after, the trail opens up into high mountain meadows blanketed in wildflowers.

Emerald Lake

The kaleidoscope of colors mesmerized me for the next mile!  I soon found myself traveling at a picture happy pace…very slowly.  Annie and I first arrived at Emerald Lake which was very tranquil.  While we didn’t circle the lake, we skirted its shores to the right as we continued to Heather Lake.

emerald lake

Heather Lake

Heather Lake, with trees to the left, wildflowers to the right and a granite peak above was beautiful.  I shared the lake with a fisherman, his dog, and family. 

The was another basin above the lake and the kids said it was worth hiking up there, even though there was just some snow, not another lake. I was debating not hiking up there since the roundtrip was 10.5 miles, but with their recommendation, I carried on. It provided a nice view of below.


The descent was easy though I still stopped for more flower photos.  While I was doing that, Annie fell off the bridge into the creek!  I think she was busy looking at the mountain bikers ahead.  It was a big drop!

Fortunately, her pack protected her and she wasn’t hurt.  Though she hates water, so she was not amused with getting soaked.  I’ve always gotten anxious when she nears the edge of rocks.  I’ll have to add crossing bridges to my concerns.

The rest of the hike was uneventful with the exception of running into lots of hikers and a few horseback riders.  I’m glad we finished the hike to Emerald Lake and Heather Lake within an hour of most people starting!  ETB

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned award winning travel blogger and photographer sharing the earth's beauty one word and image at a time.

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