Liquid-Hot Hiking

The Trail to Lava Lake. 

The tumbling whitewater of Cascade Creek rushes down between Jumbo Mountain and Table Mountain into Lava Lake, a 40-acre tarn formed by a landslide damming the creek. The forest-lined lake sits in a small, steep valley surrounded by granite walls, with the Spanish Peaks rising in the distance. It is the only lake in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness that was not glacially formed.

The Lava Lake trail (also called Cascade Creek Trail) is one of the most popular trails in Gallatin Canyon. The trail begins at the Gallatin River and climbs 1,600 feet along the frothy creek through a thick evergreen forest to the small lake-filled canyon. En route, the trail passes turbulent Hoodoo Cascade and a few small waterfalls.

Hiking distance: 6 miles round-trip
Hiking time: 3.5 hours
Elevation gain: 1,600 feet
Maps: U.S.G.S. Garnet Mountain and Hidden Lake
Rocky Mountain Surveys: Spanish Peaks
Beartooth Publishing: Bozeman, Big Sky, West Yellowstone
Crystal Bench Maps: Bozeman, Montana

Driving Directions
From Four Corners, take Hwy. 191 south toward Gallatin Canyon. Drive 20 miles to the Lava Lake trailhead parking area on the right, just north of 35mph bridge. Turn right and continue to the parking area. From the Big Sky turnoff, the trailhead is 13.5 miles north on Hwy. 191. From this direction, you can’t turn left to access the parking area. Continue to the first big turnout and double back.

Hiking Directions
Head south on the well-marked trail, immediately gaining elevation in a moist, shady forest of lodgepole pine. Around a quarter-mile in, the trail meets Cascade Creek and enters the Lee Metcalf Wilderness. Continue up the drainage, paralleling the noisy creek, and cross a bridge over a tributary stream at one mile. Right around the two-mile mark, enter a wet meadow. At the upper end of the meadow, cross a log footbridge to the east side of the creek. Climb a series of eight steep switchbacks alongside Hoodoo Cascade. At just under three miles, the path reaches the north end of Lava Lake, where there are great vistas of Jumbo Mountain, the U-shaped upper valley of Cascade Creek, and Table Mountain. A side-path skirts the northwest shoreline to a rocky promontory.


To extend the hike, the main trail zigzags east, climbing more than 2,000 feet to the 9,840-foot summit of Table Mountain in the heart of the Spanish Peaks. Cairns mark the route above the timberline.

This trail description was reprinted from Day Hikes Around Bozeman by Robert Stone.