The Lava Lake Trail is an “out-and-back” trail that begins adjacent to the Gallatin river, ascends 1,600ft, over approximately (3) three miles of forested trail in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness, and terminates at scenic Lava Lake.
The magic begins with the drive through the Gallatin Canyon along US-191, which is one of the most beautiful drives in Montana. Signs along highway US-191 mark the Lava Lake trailhead entrance, which is approximately 15 miles south of Gallatin Gateway, MT and 14 miles north of Big Sky, MT. When arriving at the Lava Lake Trailhead access road, be aware the short gravel access road (Cascade Creek Rd.) that links US-191 and the parking lot at the trailhead is narrow and should be navigated cautiously. Also, if approaching the access road from the south, it is recommended to drive past the entrance road to the “Lava Lake Turnaround” along US-191, make a u-turn and then enter the access road to the trailhead from the north.
The trail receives moderate to heavy traffic, depending on the season, which makes navigating the trail relatively easy. We recently hiked the trail on February 15th, during the middle of winter, and saw several other hikers. Depending on recent snowfall, the trail is navigable with boots. However, visitors should consider traction devices (e.g. yaktrax) for their footwear, or snowshoes if hiking after recent snowfall. We encountered snow several feet deep near the end of the trail, but due to recent hiking activity, we found the trail to be easily passable.
Upon arriving at the lake, visitors will be greeted with an incredible alpine view of Lava Lake. The lake is flanked by rock walls and mountaintops. We stopped for a short lunch and made hot cocoa using the Jetboil.
The Lava Lake Trail is located in bear country, including grizzlies. It is highly recommended to carry at least one form bear deterrent, such as Counter Assault Bear Spary. Know how to use your equipment, and always be prepared. I have included links to a list of helpful gear at the bottom of the page.
Length: 6 miles (round-trip)
Duration: 3-4 hours
Elevation Gain: Approximately 1,600 feet (5,400ft to 7,000ft)
Difficulty: 6 of 10
Activities: Hiking, Photography, Fishing, Swimming, Camping