Take a Winter Break at Glacier Lake

December 22, 2012

Photo courtesy of Patrick Brunsvold

A few months ago, I wrote about spending some time on the shores of Greenough Lake.  In that article I mentioned how Rock Creek flows out of Glacier Lake, but made no more references to it.  This lake, situated deep in the Beartooths, is actually one of my favorite places to go in the winter.


Glacier Lake is relatively high in elevation.  Sitting at 9,700 feet it is just below tree line.  During your hike in, you will notice the trees getting smaller and more weathered.  The hike itself is not too terribly difficult, but you do gain over 1,000 feet in elevation in 2 miles.  If there is a lot of snow, the hike will be slow going, but when you pop out over the ridge, the view is definitely worth the hike.


The lake is situated in a bowl.  Surrounded on three sides by slopes and cliffs, it fills up the canyon.  It has been dammed to regulate the flow of water going into Rock Creek, and this makes it an extremely deep mountain lake.  Standing on the ridge and taking in the whole valley, with the crevices filled with snow terminating at an ice covered lake, is a majestic site.  For those who do not want to brave the cold, go in late July or August as the high elevation keeps the weather cool and it takes that long for the lake to thaw.


Photo courtesy of Patrick Brunsvold

If you are an angler, there is plenty of fishing to do in Glacier Lake.  Simply sitting on the shore and throwing your worm out there will snag a cutthroat in no time.  Fly fishing will bring the big ones up from the depths, and using a lure can entice some to bite.  Rock Creek pools up into a smaller “lake” just a few hundred yards downstream from the dam.  This pool is a great place to catch more fish, and the moving water should actually stay open even during the winter.  Be careful around the main lake though, some of it is actually in Wyoming.


Possibly the hardest part about getting to Glacier Lake is the drive in.  While the road used to be navigable by Honda Civic, you now need something with four wheel drive.  Each year the spring thaw seems to wash away a little more of the road, and some years has even washed huge trenches making it impassable.  In the winter the going will be a little easier, since the snow will fill in the gaps between the rocks, however, it is not maintained and after a heavy snowfall, you are likely to get stuck.  So make sure you have proper off road equipment before getting started on your way up to the trailhead.


Photo courtesy of Patrick Brunsvold

If you go in the winter, be aware of how cold it gets up there.  My first winter trip to Glacier Lake saw below zero temperatures overnight.  We were prepared with plenty of clothing and lots of hot chocolate, but it was cold enough that if you were not moving (and not in your sleeping bag) you would get chilled very quickly.  In the summer, this is bear country so take precautions.  Otherwise, bring your camera and get some pictures of this beautiful valley.


To get there, take the same directions as though you were going to Hellroaring Plateau, but instead of turning and traveling up the Hellroaring road, stay along the valley floor.

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by scott
Scott is a writer, outdoor enthusiast, beer snob, and woodworker. When he is not out exploring all of the wonders around Billings, he loves to sit down for a frosty brew at one of the many great breweries we have available to us. You can read about most of his adventures, and many of the fine brews he has sipped right here; or contact him through his website if you need some adventure tips.

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