In early July 2012, my mom and I headed up into the Gallatin Mountains for our next hiking adventure: Golden Trout Lakes. This is actually a collection of three lakes, though we just went to the main one.
The trailhead for Golden Trout Lakes is located off of US Highway 191 south of Bozeman, Montana. Turn onto Portal Creek Road and continue approximately 7 miles (11 km) to the trailhead.
Portal Creek Road is rough at best. It’s rocky and bumpy and we just barely managed to get my mom’s Corolla up to the trailhead. A high-clearance vehicle would definitely have been preferable. I’m pretty sure everyone at the trailhead was wondering what the heck our little tiny sedan was doing up there. Clearly they underestimate us. We’ve taken our small cars up a lot of questionable roads over the years.
Despite the fact that it was now July, the higher elevation areas of the Gallatin Mountains were still a bit behind. Sections of the trail were completely flooded, adding a few more creek crossings to our to-do list. As it was, the existing crossings were somewhat lacking in the bridge department. That always adds some excitement.
The round-trip hike was about 5 miles (8 km), so not overly long. It was steep, though. The trail climbed up and then dropped back down… and then up and down again. Though the net elevation gain is only about 1200 feet (366 m), the actual amount of climbing our legs had to do was probably nearly twice that. Plus, the elevation at the trailhead is already close to 8000 feet (2438 m). We were huffing and puffing a bit by the time we got to the lakes.
The plus side of being at high elevation in July is that summer is just arriving, and with it, all the wildflowers. Fields of flowers added some splashes of color to our steep, muddy hike.
But it was all worth it when we arrived at Golden Trout Lake. The water is clear (and cold!) and is home to many golden trout – hence the name. I don’t fish, but many people come to Golden Trout Lakes for that purpose.
After eating lunch on the lakeshore and exploring a bit, we headed back down the trail and then navigated our way back down the horrible road.
In summary: a bumpy ride, a soggy hike, but a beautiful Montana high mountain lake!
The Important Stuff:
- Getting there: the trailhead is located at the end of Portal Creek Road (Forest Service Road #984) off US Highway 191 near Big Sky, MT
- Fees & passes: none
- Camping: no front-country campsites here, but backpacking to the lakes is allowed
- Hiking: 5 miles (8 km) round-trip, 1200 feet (366 m) elevation gain
- Other: be prepared for Montana weather – snow, rain, mud, wind… it’s all possible, especially early in the summer