Spend a Winter Weekend at Basin Lakes
Many people know about Red Lodge Mountain. In fact you can see it from Billings. What many people do not know, however, is that there is a road that will take you around to the back side of the mountain. The West Fork of Rock Creek road goes for about 13 miles before ending at the back of the valley. Long before you get to the end, however, you will come across the Basin Creek Trailhead. In summer or winter, the Basin Lakes are a fun trip.
The trail will take you right past Lower Basin Lake, which if you are not fishing is a great place to end your hike. Only 2 miles from the trailhead, the trip is quick and easy. However, Lower Basin Lake does not have any fish in it. If your goal is to pull out some excellent mountain trout, keep going another two miles to an elevation of 8,960 feet to Upper Basin Lake.
During the winter, this area gets plenty of snow, and gets rather cold at night. Also, during the winter, the road is closed about 2 miles from the trailhead. You will have to hike a little further between December 1 and April 1. However, if you are into winter camping, the trip is well worth it. Just come prepared with plenty of warm clothes.
If you go in the summer, you can make the whole trip in just a few hours. The hike does gain quite a bit of elevation, so it would not be a beginner’s hike. You can make a day-hike out of the trip, having a snack at Lower Basin Lake, and fishing the afternoon away at Upper Basin Lake. Or pack a tent and spend the weekend in a part of the mountains that still relatively few people travel to.
During the winter you will want to take skis or snowshoes for the hike. The snow will pile up, and you will need a way to get through. You can take a pack shovel with you to build a snow cave, or just go to have a snowball fight. During the summer you can park right at the trailhead. It is easy to find the way to the lakes, just be sure to bring a rain coat because the weather can change quickly.
Some people may think it is crazy to camp in the winter, but it is an activity I find quite enjoyable. There are no crowds to deal with, no bugs either for that matter. You can build a snowcave to stay warm, and enjoy being in a winter wonderland.
If you want to go to Basin Lakes, simply drive as though you were going to Red Lodge Mountain. Instead of turning right and going up the front side on ski run road, continue straight on Forest Route 71 into the valley (here’s a map). You can drive for a few miles before you hit the gate. Park to the side of the road and hike for a couple miles until you get to the trailhead. From there you have a few more miles to go. Make sure to dress appropriately, and watch out for bears and other wildlife.
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