Hike to Fish

Alpine lakes worth the walk.

There’s little in life more rewarding than straining your calves, switchback after grueling switchback, to finally stumble upon a serene alpine lake bathed in warm Montana sunshine and teeming with unsuspecting trout. From Hyalite Canyon to the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, southwest Montana offers endless opportunities for scenic hiking followed by unmatched fishing. Here are three of our favorites.

Madison Range
Tucked inside the rugged Lee Metcalf Wilderness, Hilgard basin harbors some of the most beautiful bodies of water in the state. The ambitious are rewarded after a ten-mile trek to Expedition Lake, where copious cutthroat await. Camp in rolling meadows and breathe in the wild scenery as you spend the weekend wandering the basin, pulling trout out of the Hilgard’s ample unnamed lakes. Be warned: this is serious grizzly country, so take the proper precautions.

Gallatin Range
A moderate, eight-mile out-and-back, the trail to Emerald and Heather lakes rises 1,850 feet to Emerald first, then Heather tucked away a mere half-mile further. You’ll move through spacious meadows, surrounded by lofty views of jagged Mount Chisholm and Overlook Peak. Emerald Lake will satisfy those looking to snag Arctic grayling, while Heather holds an abundance of cutthroat. These lakes make a great daytrip, but there’s fishing enough for an overnight stay as well.

Absaroka Range
If you think the views along the Yellowstone River are impressive, the setting around Pine Creek Lake will blow your mind. Getting there’s not easy—in just five miles, you’ll gain 3,400 feet and reach this high-alpine lake breathing hard but ready to slay the lake’s hefty cutthroat. Camp out and hike up Black Mountain the next day for even more views, this time a stunning panoramic stretching from Paradise Valley across the Beartooths and into Yellowstone Park. Expect snow on the trail and at the lake if you head up before July.