Lava Lake (Cascade Creek) Trail

MODERATE 287 reviews
#1 of 92 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
1,620 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.

hiking
3 days ago

This was a nice slow hike through the woods. I got to the parking lot at around 830 am on a Friday thinking it would be crowded, but I was one of a couple of vehicles there. The trail is rocky but very doable. I had no problems with the trail or the hike. I seemed to be the only person on the trail at that time of day. it wasn't until I was getting close to the lake that younger hikers started passing me. It is a beautiful lake with wonderful views. On the return hike to the parking lot, the crowds were just heading up.

birding
4 days ago

Rocky trail with some interesting creek crossing structures that work well until the it goes down a bit. Lots of friendly people and dogs out and about. Great destination for a quick break before you head back down.
And if you enjoy wild strawberries those should be ripe in the next few weeks!

A well populated trail. Despite the number of people who fill up the trail, the lake itself is huge, and there is opportunity to spread out a bit once you reach the lake. Nice spots to picnic or take a dip in the lake.

hiking
11 days ago

Magic trail, definitely moderate and perfect start to hiking in Bozeman.

hiking
12 days ago

Nice moderate hike to chilly lake. Two 60+ hikers and we made it up and back in just over 2 hours hike time. Would recommend. Just over 5 miles out and back.

hiking
15 days ago

Very nice hike through the forest up to the lake. The path is pretty rocky so be prepared with some hiking shoes. Would recommend getting to the trail head before 8am. Not too many views on the way up, but the lake and the peaks at the top are worth it!

hiking
16 days ago

Absolutely gorgeous! Will do it again soon.

hiking
21 days ago

We did this after another relatively strenuous hike, so it took a bit longer than expected. The scenery on the way up (and down) isn’t anything remarkable, but the view at the top is totally worth it. This ended up being my favorite hike that we did in Big Sky!

hiking
25 days ago

Hiked up with my son and wife today. Found it to be a challenge for our group, and could tell that others were having a tough time on the final 1/4 of the trail at the top. Rocky and steep at parts, and fairly populated. The lake at the top makes it all worth it. This was our favorite trail for our week in Big Sky.

hiking
26 days ago

Be sure to take a dip in the cool lake to cool off on a hot day. I carried my 4.5 year old in on a backpack carrier and the dip felt great!

hiking
1 month ago

1.5 hours to a beautiful lake with minimal breaks. Pretty "buggy" at the lake and in spots on the trail. Mostly gradual elevation climb from beginning to end. Good workout!

hiking
1 month ago

Did this hike Friday (7/13/18) later in the afternoon as a large two family group (8 yoa to 51 yoa). It was warmer and we wished we had brought more water on the trail as most of the trail is rolling and climbing through the forest with not much wind moving.

The lake was beautiful and provided some cool relief. My brother in law who does triathlons (competed in Kona) brought his wetsuit and swam the lake. Another check box filled in his bucket list.

hiking
1 month ago

Serene trail ending in a beautiful lake. The lake is wonderful to swim in during the summer.

We did see a grizzly bear within 10 feet when we turned a corner. It quickly ran away. We also heard from hikers heading down that they had seen a mountain lion around the same location as the bear (~.6 miles in).

Be aware, carry bear spray, don’t hike alone, and be careful if you bring your dog!

1 month ago

steady hike up with a couple water crossings. 2 bridges, 1 Rock hop, 1 log walk. gorgeous lake Worth taking a swim in with the jumping fish.

hiking
1 month ago

Great hike. Up, up, up all the way for a brilliant lake view!

hiking
1 month ago

Solid hike, lake at the end is beautiful.

hiking
1 month ago

Beautiful views at the end of the hike. Throughout the hike, you are mostly hiking through the forest at a consistent incline with a few breaks. There are a few breaks in the forest with some pretty views as well though, but not many. There are rocks throughout the trail, which I thought were useful in maintaining footing, rather than hiking on slippery gravel, etc.

1 month ago

Pretty heavily trafficked but really pretty lake at the end. We have done this in the summer and also did it April 22nd and the majority of the trail was snow packed. Always good to pack bear spray.

hiking
1 month ago

Great workout and a beautiful hike. Love all the creek crossings and the sound of the rushing water as you hike. Lots of families and dogs on the trail - everyone was very friendly.

hiking
1 month ago

It was a nice day on the trail today. It was pretty muddy is spots though.

hiking
1 month ago

What a beautiful ending to a tough hike. It felt good to accomplish it, but the elevation is no joke. Keep in mind I'm a 50 year old woman from Ohio and not used to the elevation here. The lake is totally worth it though.

hiking
1 month ago

Beautiful hike! Pretty steep but plenty of flats for breaks. Mostly wooded and beautiful views of the lake at the top! One of my favorites in the area! The trail was completely clear of snow and the trailhead is right off the highway! Would highly recommend for most any hikers!

hiking
1 month ago

The trail was a really easy gradual gain. Lots of rocks so a little more attention needed to watch your footing. Large amount of foot traffic on the main trail but a side trip up the ridge trail from the lake gave way to basically no traffic and amazing views.

1 month ago

Wow

hiking
1 month ago

Great hike. All up hill for 3 miles. We really enjoyed the exercise and nature. It really is beautiful and all the people that we encountered along the way were friendly...

1 month ago

Great workout. Pretty rocky though...be careful! Tons of dogs (and poop) on the trail

2 months ago

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

2 months 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

2 months ago

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

backpacking
2 months 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.

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