The hike to Lost Lake is located in the Custer Gallatin National Forest very close to Red Lodge, Montana. The paved trailhead with pit toilet, marked on AllTrails, is no longer the starting point. The flood from a year ago has washed out the bridge, and it is difficult to cross the creek that feels more like a river at this location. As a result, the once 10-mile hike is now 13 miles.
Getting to the Lake Fork Trail to Lost Lake
The hike to Lost Lake begins at the Lake Fork Trailhead. After exiting Beartooth Highway, take the first left after the bridge which is marked by a detour sign. There is parking for day hikers and for campers.
After parking in the day hiker area, you will find the trailhead at the edge of the forest. The hike to Lost Lake passes through the Lions Club camp for youth which is sometimes in session. Pass the cabins, cross the dirt road, and continue in the shaded forest.
Hike to Lost Lake
The trail loosely follows the Lake Fork of Rock Creek as it gradually climbs beneath the shade of evergreens. The gentle grade, less than 10%, results in an easy hike for the long distance. Also, the shade makes for a pleasant hike to Lost Lake.
Lost Lake is just one of many lakes along the trail. The first lake is called Broadwater, though it is more like a meadow with a wide branch of the creek. It is a perfect habitat for moose, however, so keep an eye out near the five-mile mark. One couple saw a mama and baby moose.
Foraging Black Bear
Also watch for bears. There were several active bears foraging for food during my visit in late July. The berried were late after a cold and wet season, so the youngster I saw was intent on digging up grubs beneath tree stumps and rocks.
The bear surprised me a little because every time I have seen one, they run away in fear. This one didn’t notice me for a good fifty feet as it wandered my way. It stopped when it spotted me but still took a few steps in my direction while hunting until Annie gave it a two-bark warning.
Startled, it skipped across the trail, taking a wide berth until it could get to some more grubs. It was a exhilarating experience for me, similar to visiting the Alaskan Coastal Brown Bears in Katmai though more wild and less controlled.
I learned later there was a mama bear with two cubs that bluff charged a trail runner that tried to go up and around her. I’m glad didn’t do that as I quietly stepped off the trail and respected the bear’s territory. Most people would probably feel that I should have shouted and made noise, but I didn’t feel like threatening it in its territory while it was in a predatory state was the right choice.
The only thing I regret is bringing a smaller point and shoot camera with a strong zoom, because it did not let in enough light for good photos! Most came out blurry, through I guess my hand could have been shaking a little. At least I got some cool video! It figures the one time I see a bear this summer, I didn’t lug my good camera for 13 miles.
Views on Rock Creek
Anyway, the aforementioned bears were between the 2-4 miles mark. While it was so exciting to see the wildlife, the hike to Lost Lake is lovely even if there isn’t any wildlife to see. The forest is in good health and every once in a while there is a wonderful view along Rock Creek.
The turn off to Lost Lake is near the six-mile mark. A short ¼ mile spur trail leads to a magnificent, emerald lake encased by granite peaks. It was really pretty, and with my early 7:30am start, I sat in tranquility before anyone else made it to its shaded shores.
As I walked the edge of Lost Lake while looking for fish, I was surprised by a Columbia spotted frog! I didn’t even know frogs lived at 8,600 feet in such cold temperatures. Perhaps I was jumpy from the bear sighting, but it scared me when I heard a splash in the water by my foot. I never knew how excited I’d be to see an amphibian. Colorful eels while SCUBA diving in Dominica is more my style.
Overall, the hike to Lost Lake is truly fantastic, particularly because the elevation gain is only about 1,300 feet over six miles. To see another lake, continue another 1.5 miles (3 miles roundtrip) to September Morn Lake. But be prepared for a steep climb…1,500 feet in 1.5 miles. Had I remembered my hiking pole, I might have continued on, but I am hopeful that the National Forest Service will one day replace the washed out bridge for a more reasonable distance and I’ll return as there are many things to do in Red Lodge, an awesome, mountain town. ETB