The Trip: Lava Lake trail, a popular day hike for people traveling from Big Sky and Bozeman. Covering three miles over a 2,000-foot ascent, the Lava Lake trail takes you through the Lee Metcalf Wilderness in Gallatin National Forest. Feeling ambitious? Choose to hike up and over Table Mountain to Asbestos trailhead or Deer Creek.
Getting There: Head north from Big Sky on highway 191. After 11 miles you’ll round the sharp corner at the “35 miles an hour bridge” and continue ¼ mile to a turn-around (look for big blue sign on right). You’ll need to turn around and head back south ¼ mile to the gravel road on your right. Continue .2 miles and park at the trailhead. Horse and bike traffic are not allowed on the Lava Lake trail, but on a nice weekend day expect to see many people and dogs- parking at the large trailhead may be limited.
Why Go: This beautiful wooded hike leads you to a beautiful alpine lake.
THIS PAST SATURDAY I made my yearly pilgrimage to Lava, as we locals like to call it. Dusting off the hiking boots, I went through the checklist: raincoat, extra layers, sunscreen, water, snacks (plural), wildflower book, map, bear spray, post hike refreshments, and flip flops…check, check and check.
On the journey winding up through the tall stands of Lodge Pole Pines, I was on the lookout for early season wildflowers. This year I was a little early to see some of the usual flowers like lupine, larkspur, virgin bowers vine and columbine, but I spotted a Calypso bulbosa of the orchid family - also known as Fairy Slipper or Venus’s Slipper. These small delicate flowers can be spotted in sheltered areas near down logs.
The Lava Lake trail is also known to host berries later in the summer - wild strawberry, thimbleberry, raspberry and huckleberry can be yours for the picking.
We were a little early for berries too, but as I hiked along, breathing in the fragrant forest air and stopping to admire the playfulness of Cascade Creek, I started to really feel a connection with nature. Summer is upon us. Inspired, I couldn’t stop thinking about the long season spanning before us: which of my favorite places in the high country to visit next and what new places to explore under the Big Sky.
- Lyndsey Owens