Pets allowed
Allowed
Elevation Gain
3,841.00 ft (1,170.74 m)
Trail type
Shuttle
Distance
19.70 mi (31.70 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

Two of the most popular trails in the Beartooth Mountains are connected by the more infrequently crossed Sundance Pass, providing sublime views of alpine lakes, early summer snow fields and granite peaks. The Lake Fork Trailhead, about 12 miles from Red Lodge, starts at 7,200 feet and meanders gently along the Rock Creek through wide canyons toward Sundance Pass, climbing only 1,200 feet over 5.5 miles. Lodgepole pine forests give way to alpine meadows bursting with colorful wildflowers and the occasional moose. Visits to Broadwater, Lost, and Keyser Brown lakes provide opportunities to cool down along the way.

Around 6 miles in, where most day hikers turn back, the trail turns much steeper, climbing 1,400 feet over the next mile and a half where September Morn Lake awaits. Ample sites for solitude and camping line the lake just short of the tree line at 9,800 feet. 

A final push of 1,250 vertical feet over 2 miles takes one to the stunning vistas of Sundance Pass (11,047 feet), with views of Montana’s fifth tallest mountain, Whitetail Peak (12,551 feet) to the west, the Hellroaring Plateau (10,000 feet) to the east, and the alpine lakes of the Lake Fork and West Fork basins below.

After relaxing in the cool breeze of the pass, the long descent along 54 switchbacks delivers you to the West Fork basin at 9,500 feet and the refreshing waters of the West Fork of Rock Creek. Of course, deep snow well into mid-July often covers much of the trail, requiring a glissade down the north side of the pass, bypassing many of the switchbacks.

From the basin it’s all downhill through more lodgepole pine forest and the stunning Quinnebaugh Meadows. Plenty of campsites await on flat (and relatively rock free) meadows under the shadow the Silver Run Plateau and fading views of Whitetail Peak toward the pass. The West Fork of the Rock Creek winds through bogs and quiet meadows where moose are often found, and it then cascads down the valley toward the quick descents of Sentinel and Calamity Falls. The last 1.5 miles open up to burndown resulting from the Cascade Fire of 2008 before reaching the West Fork Trailhead at 7,600 feet.

For the ambitous, this 19.7-mile route can be completed in either direction in a single day, assuming an early start. Those wanting a more relaxing pace will find plenty of spots for camping along the way, as well as spur trails to Lake Mary (at Quinnebaugh Meadows on the West Fork Trail) and Black Canyon Lake on the Lake Fork side (which is a rustic / unmaintained trail), as well as other options to explore.

Full map can be found here

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Summer

Congestion

Moderate

Parking Pass

None

Open Year-round

Yes

Days

3

Pros

Stunning alpine views. Opportunity to see moose, mountain goats, black bears, and grizzlies.

Cons

Snow into July can make access to the pass challenging.

Trailhead Elevation

7,206.00 ft (2,196.39 m)

Highest point

11,047.00 ft (3,367.13 m)

Features

Near lake or river
Backcountry camping
Waterfalls
Wildlife
Big vistas

Typically multi-day

Yes

Permit required

No

Location

Field Guide

Nearby Adventures

Comments

Have updates, photos, alerts, or just want to leave a comment?
Sign In and share them.