Best Hikes in Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest (MT)

Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest Overview

The largest national forest in the state, Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest covers 3.35 million acres in southwest Montana. Bitterroot National Forest, Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest, and Custer Gallatin National Forests surround the forest. Beaverhead National Forest and Deerlodge merged together in 1996 after operating separately since being declared national forests by Theodore Roosevelt in 1908. Glaciated peaks rise from broad valleys in the area to form some of Montana’s most majestic ranges—the Anaconda, Bitterroot, Beaverhead, Flint Creek, Gravelly, Highland, Madison, Tobacco Root and Sapphire. Mountains in these ranges are among the loftiest in the state; more than 40 surpass 10,000 feet. Mount Evans rises to 10,604 feet, and several more, including Hilgard Peak, exceed 11,000 feet. In addition to the best hikes in Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest described below, over four hundred miles of the Continental Divide Trail cross the forest. Within the forest, the CDT starts from Raynolds Pass at the south end of the Forest and goes to Bison Mountain at the north end. Please keep in mind, high-clearance 4WD vehicles are strongly recommended to reach most of the forest’s trailheads.

Nearest Metro AreaButte, MT
Area Size3,357,826 acres
EstablishedJuly 1, 1908
Hiking Trails1,500+ miles

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Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Best Hikes in Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest

(*** = Best hikes in Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest)

Gold Creek Trail #152*** – 11.2 miles out and back
Gold Creek Lake, Photo by The Greater Southwestern Exploration Company

The trail begins as a gentle walk from the trailhead in a side drainage of Gold Creek. The scenery is beautiful with white water hemlock and yellow cinquefoil flowers in the valley bottom and sagebrush on the side hills. As the trail continues, it begins to climb sharply in some places, leveling out again after 3 miles. It is easy to look down on the creek and see why the creek gets its name having the distinctive, bright gold color. Also, the higher mountains come into view, mostly dry, eroded sandstone geologic formations. The trail passes through whitebark pine and subalpine fir forests to the top of the mountain pass. From here a breathtaking view awaits the weary hiker as the Gold Creek Valley sweeps out back to the west and the Canyon Creek Valley opens to view to the east.

Haystack Mountain Trail #4082 – 7.2 miles out and back

This trail is a more difficult hike approximately three miles to the summit of Haystack Mountain, site of an old lookout. This is not to be confused with the identically named ‘Haystack Mountain’ of Flathead National Forest.

Hollow Top Lake – 11.0 miles out and back

The trail ascends slowly up to a beautiful lake basin and finishes with a stunning ridge walk featuring excellent views of the Tobacco Root Range. Hikers can continue past Hollow Lake to Deep Lake but come prepared as the trail is difficult to find. The trail is rocky in sections so make sure you are wearing the proper hiking boots.

Lost Cabin Lake #7150*** – 9.2 miles out and back

The trailhead is the same as that to access Louise Lake Trail (below). The Lost Cabin Lake Trail begins at the west end of Bismark Reservoir. The roughly 5-mile trail is on an easy grade, with the exception of a few steep sections. The peaks surrounding the lake reach elevations above 10,000 feet. Mountain goats can be seen on the cliffs to the south and east of the lake. Depending on snow, the trail is usually open from July 1 to the middle of October. Snow drifts on the trail may be abundant during years of late thaws.

Louise Lake Trail #7168*** – 7.0 miles out and back

The trail is 3.5 miles in length and offers panoramic scenic views. Louise Lake is a high alpine lake cradled among the 10,000-foot peaks that surround the lake. Mountain goats can be spotted on the sheer rock faces. The trail is open from July 1 to the middle of October. Snowdrifts on the trail may be abundant during years of late thaws.

Maud S Canyon Loop – 4.3 mile loop

Co-managed with the East Ridge Foundation, this trail provides a loop trail and access to the CDT on the East Ridge that is partially located on private land. The trail switchbacks up the hill for 1.75 miles until you come to a “saddle”. From the saddle to the west you can loop back to the railroad or you can hike east uphill for approximately 1.75 miles to connect with the CDT.

Featured Image: Just a Closer Walk, Photo by Lee Metcalf

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