Picking the top hikes of any category in Montana sounds like a much easier task than it is in reality. With so many miles of trail to choose from, often accompanied by vistas, natural features, and wildlife far and wide, we're forced to narrow down into more specific niches when making hiking recommendations. So when the lakes are calling, and you must go, here are a few of our favorite hikes to hit around Montana. Lace-up your hiking boots, and head out for one of these epic lake hikes.
It's hard to say if there's a more popular hike in Glacier than Hidden Lake, but this mild Logan Pass favorite is undoubtedly a show stopper. If you can score a parking spot at Logan Pass, it pays to get out, take a stroll up the boardwalk to the overlook, or take the full 5.5-mile walk to and from the lake. If you come up early or late in the day (before 6 a.m. or after 5 p.m.), you have the best chance of getting a space. The beauty of the drive up the Going-to-the-Sun Road, not to mention the views from the top, make this a lake walk to savor.
For a different kind of lake hike, head to one of the units of Flathead Lake State Park. This isn't one of those little alpine lakes – Flathead Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi. At the Wayfarers, West Shore, and Big Arm units, you'll find several miles of mild trails, often offering up views of the lake. If you're feeling really adventurous, you can rent a kayak and paddle out to Wild Horse Island, where a trail system takes you through wild horse and bighorn sheep habitat.
The Strawberry Lake trailhead is just a short drive from Bigfork, and this 6-mile hike gains 1,900 feet in elevation before depositing you at this scenic alpine lake. The trail climbs to a high point and then descends slowly to the lake. This is a prime spot for wildflowers and wildlife, so be sure to bring your camera (and your bear spray).
For a dusty dirt-road drive up the backside of the Bridger Mountain Range and a nature loop stroll along the shores of an emerald lake in the mountains, Fairy Lake is waiting. This family-friendly trek is ideal for wildflower spotting, and you can dip your toes in the chilly water too. It's also the starting point for a bigger summit hike up to Sacajawea Peak, a short and steep climb with a rewarding view.
In the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, Pine Creek Lake sounds a bit unassuming. But this strenuous 10-miler is worth the effort for the views as the trail takes you away from it all. It gains 3,600 feet in 10 trail miles round trip, climbing through a strenuous stretch beyond Pine Creek Falls to bring you to the views at the lake. Before you reach the still water, you'll pass by a series of smaller waterfalls along the way.
With a trailhead at the start of the winding Gallatin Canyon, Lava Lake will satisfy your alpine lake urges without destroying your leg muscles with elevation gain. This 6-mile round trip trail gains 1,600 feet in elevation for a moderate walk, at least compared to other hikes in the area. It's a popular spot, so this is a good jumping-off point to adjust to the Montana hiking scene.
For more tips and ideas to help you get ready for your Montana getaway, check out the rest of the Highline Adventures blog.