Hike up Monument Peak and then Fish Blue Lake
At the end of December I wrote about the Boulder River Valley. I briefly touched on the gold mining community that used to flourish in the area. In fact, I mentioned Monument Peak, but what I didn’t talk about was the lake that sits at the base of the mountain. This lake has some amazing fishing, is overshadowed by a beautiful peak, and only sits a short walk within the wilderness boundary. What that means is that if you follow the Boulder River Road to the very end, you can essentially car camp at one of the most remote spots in the Beartooths: Blue Lake.
There was, and still is, a lot of gold in the Beartooths. And 100 years ago people knew this. They took all their equipment way up into the mountains where they found the best gold veins, and built a camp. To this day you can see their old equipment if you make it to the end of the road. But looking at broken down cabins and the remnants of sluice boxes is not the only reason to drive this road.
Looming higher than the surrounding mountains stands Monument Peak. The top of which provides an amazing view of the area, and a relatively easy climb to get to the top (in fact, it is actually more of a hike and scramble). Getting to the top of the mountain you will find a sign in box, and some nice rocks to sit on while you admire the rugged wilderness. If you decide you are up for the challenge, don’t worry about bringing special climbing gear, you really won’t need it.
From the top of the mountain you will be able to look nearly directly down on Blue Lake. Like many of the lakes in the Beartooths this one is deep, blue, and has some of the best cutthroat trout fishing I have ever experienced. With a parking area nearly within sight of the lake itself, you will have the convenience of driving up to it, without fighting the crowds you see at some of the other drive up lakes.
Those crowds are not present because getting to Blue Lake is a chore. It is not only enough to have a four wheel drive vehicle, but you also need to have high clearance. You follow the road through the Boulder River Valley. When you get to the end of the road you go even further. There are streams to cross, and boulders to crawl over. You switch back up the side of the mountain and right as the road starts to level off you start to get close to the lake. The lake is at the end of the road, so you will know when you are there.
Drive into Big Timber and take McLeod Street south out of town. It will wind its way back into the mountains, passing the Natural Bridge, through some nice canyons, past summer camps and campgrounds. Just keep driving until you literally cannot drive any further (just before the switchbacks start, make sure you stay left. There is a side road that will keep you in the valley instead of climbing out). If you are driving, go later in the summer, the roads stay snowy up there. In the winter, a snowmobile can get you there easily. Pack for summer in the mountains, the weather changes rapidly, and make sure to respect the wildlife. If you make it to the lake, take a lot of pictures.
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