Lava Lake (Cascade Creek) Trail

MODERATE 202 reviews
#1 of 87 trails in

Lava Lake (Cascade Creek) Trail is a 5.5 mile heavily trafficked out and back trail located near Gallatin Gateway, Montana that features a lake and is rated as moderate. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from March until October. Dogs and horses are also able to use this trail.

DISTANCE
5.5 miles
ELEVATION GAIN
1620 feet
ROUTE TYPE
Out & Back

dog friendly

kid friendly

birding

camping

fishing

fly fishing

hiking

nature trips

snowshoeing

trail running

walking

horseback riding

forest

lake

river

views

wild flowers

wildlife

muddy

rocky

The Lava Lake (Cascade Creek) climbs 1600 ft to a beautiful lake setting that is surrounded by the Spanish Peaks. 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 you're 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 you're 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. 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 you've 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.

hiking
7 days ago

camping
29 days ago

Absolutely beautiful hike, giant boulders moss covered trees! Hot during the day, but absolutely freezing at night, especially the camping sites near the water. Great camp spot!

29 days ago

Beautiful hike. Easy pace with a nice mix of flat and climb. Snow on last 20 minutes of climb made it very challenging. Trail was busy when I started at noon so compacted snow was very slippery especially on the decent. Personally witnessed two slips/falls.

backpacking
1 month ago

Bring bear spray! Had a grizzly bear encounter at 1am on the morning of 10/17 (Bear circled our tent for an hour and a half). Hike up isn't bad, it's steep and the back half was frozen with snow. Once at the top the view of the lake is beautiful. Coming back down the trail the steeper sections of the the trail that are iced were hard to get down. All in all a nice trail but bring bear spray as the grizzly there is massive and isn't afraid to get up close and personal.

backpacking
1 month ago

Large grizzly entered campsite late at night, bring bear spray. If camping, be careful about where you cook. Last 1/3 of the trail was iced over and very slippery in the morning. Beautiful scenery at the lake, definitely worth the hike.

hiking
1 month ago

backpacking
1 month ago

Very rocky approach, great tent spots on the right side of the lake before the peninsula. No campfires allowed within half mile of the lake. No accumulated snow at the lake yet (9/30/17)

hiking
1 month ago

The hike was definitely harder than I thought it would be. I consider myself fairly in shape but was dripping sweat most the way up. Was relieved to find some snow toward the top to help cool me off..finally got to the lake and it was absolutely beautiful. Very well worth the hike!!!

hiking
2 months ago

hiking
2 months ago

The reviews were accurate for this one, "Moderate" and "Worth it." We hiked 8 miles before doing this hike (not recommended before this specific trail) so it was fairly hard but I think we would have been okay otherwise. The stream that runs along near the trail is pretty and the grade gets a little tricky. Most of the incline is near the end though. Then you see this gorgeous lake!

(With the current wildfires, you may want to check air quality depending on how clear of a view you want up there.)

hiking
2 months ago

Very rocky path that doesn't clear up until the end. Beautiful lake at the end.

2 months ago

2 months ago

Beautiful hike. Loved the reward of a peaceful lake at the end!

hiking
2 months ago

This is a pretty intense hike with all the rocks but totally worth it at the top. Weekends are busy and crowded.

hiking
2 months ago

hiking
2 months ago

2 months ago

This is a 6 mile hike took 2:30 hours up and about 1:45 down. It's a great hike make sure to cool your feet at the top and the bottom

3 months ago

Beautiful trail by running water and then a great payoff at end with a stunning lake

hiking
3 months ago

This trail took us by surprise - It's actually 6 miles in total, with 1600ft of elevation change each way. We had a mixed group skill level wise - but it was worth every earned step! We made sure each person made it up by taking breaks throughout the accent. The lake is absolutely PRICELESS - super peaceful, super relaxing. I would recommend spending at least a few hours at the top - coming back down is a cake walk though, all downhill!