Lava Lake (Cascade Creek) Trail

MODERATE 224 reviews
#1 of 88 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

hiking

horseback riding

nature trips

snowshoeing

trail running

walking

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.

2 days ago

Great hike. Kids did it well. Beautiful when we got to the lake

6 days ago

Wonderful trail- all uphill for 3 miles. The rocks were somewhat challenging at times. The view of the lake was spectacular. Much easier on the return since it was all downhill. The river running by the trailer is beautiful and very serene. It took us three hours total

Absolutely stunning the whole way through. Very rocky trail, but worth every step once you get to the lake!

backpacking
8 days ago

Love lava lake! Trail is very rocky. Lots to do at the lake like hiking around it, up to the ridge, or cliff jumping.

hiking
16 days ago

I hiked to the lake with intention of doing some fishing. My opinion is it’s hard to fish because there is no “shore”. Either trees or boulders right down to the lake. Beautiful hike and lake, it was worth the trip and would go again. Found out later that there are shrimp in the lake that the fish are feeding on, hence the reason why they wouldn’t take to a dry fly.

17 days ago

Beautiful trail along Cascade Creek to Lava Lake. We hiked this trail in early June and Cascade Creek was amazing flowing full of snow melt runoff. Lava Lake was tranquil and beautiful sitting below the snow-covered Spanish peaks.

The trail was very busy with people and dogs. Recommend getting an early start to beat the crowds.

hiking
22 days ago

Good hike and not too long. parts of the hike have pretty obscured views but overall it is a good hike.

hiking
23 days ago

5/26/2018 Moderate to difficult hike with full gear for backpacking. Spent two hours after getting to the lake to find a nice camping spot far enough away from the lake to have a fire. The fishing wasn’t great, used worms, spinners, spoons, and improvised jigs but no luck. Also did not see many fish. Extremely difficult to get around the lake clockwise due to fallen tree and rock climbing. Was not able to cross the creek to get to the other side (counterclockwise) due to high water. It looked really nice across the lake, may be easier with less water later in the season. With all of this is was still a great hike, probably wouldn’t go with the intentions of fishing or camping again though.

hiking
25 days ago

Love this trail - the lake is beautiful, the hike up is awesome, with wild berries along the way, streams crossing. In summer, when it's warmed up, the lake is the best place to jump in & swim across for a "wilderness challenge"! One of the best in the area for sure!!

28 days ago

Nice hike. Trail got a little slippery because of snowmelt and a light rain.

28 days ago

Loved the trail but be prepared for stepping over rocks the whole way!

hiking
2 months ago

Beautiful hike, we went beginning of April so there was still a lot of snow and trails were icy in spots. I can’t imagine how beautiful it is in the summer!

hiking
2 months ago

Pretty hike up to Lava Lake. The route is a nice, casual incline throughout the entirety.

hiking
3 months ago

Made this hike on a weekday in August 2000 (5 stars) and then again on a weekend in 2016 (4 stars). I would not do it again on a weekend due to the heavy trail use.
The moderate hike is very tolerable due to the shade. My legs grew more tired from the descent than the climb.
If you like wildlife, golden mantled ground squirrels and american pika are around when it's quiet. It was a lot of fun to watch them. The lake is gorgeous with the talus slopes and peaks in the distance.

hiking
7 months ago

If going in the winter time you will want some sort of micro spikes or yak traks. Very packed trail that can be basically a solid sheet of ice. Beautiful to see in the winter.

camping
7 months 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!

7 months 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
8 months 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
8 months 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.

backpacking
8 months 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
8 months 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
9 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
9 months ago

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

9 months ago

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

hiking
9 months ago

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

9 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

9 months ago

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

hiking
10 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!

10 months ago

Great hike! Lake was super beautiful. Headed out early to avoid traffic. Lots of people on the way down. Ran into some old friends, which was a great surprise!

hiking
10 months ago

A beautiful trail that seemed to be about 60% rocky and 40% compacted dirt. The grade wasn't awful, just a steady incline from bottom to top. We hiked the trail with kids ranging from 9 to 15.

The lake at the top is a great payoff and made the hike well worth it. I would guess the lake is about a half mile in length and 200 yards wide. There is a nice little beach on the east side of the lake about 1/3 of the way down that made for a great swimming spot for the kids. They said the water was brisk but not near as cold as the Gallatin River at the trailhead.

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