Pets allowed
Allowed
Elevation Gain
1,600.00 ft (487.68 m)
Trail type
There-and-back
Distance
6.00 mi (9.66 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.

Lava Lake is the ideal day hike offering a shaded trail and a gorgeous lake destination in a 6-mile trip. Don’t be fooled by the name, though; its waters are nice and cold! The roughly 47-acre lake was naturally dammed and has plenty of shoreline to take in the sights, take a cold dip, or try your luck at fishing for trout.

The Lava Lake Trail follows alongside a tumbling Cascade Creek and underneath tall slender pines. The hike is a steady uphill climb on a well-trodden, rocky singletrack. There are two easy creek crossings and at about 2 miles in, past a small lush meadow, a log bridge crossing over Cascade Creek. From the bridge crossing, switchback 600 feet up the steep slopes to reach Lava Lake. The trail splits at the lake. Left will lead you along boulder field to access rocky shores. Right will take you across a log jam and eventually to a small area of shoreline that barely juts into the lake. Both are equally good options!

The trail can usually be hiked from early May to late October. In those shoulder months, snow can be present on the trail. If that’s the case, bringing a pair of snow traction cleats and trekking poles will prove incredibly helpful, especially as you go up the switchbacks past the log bridge.

You can extend the trip past Lava Lake to Table Mountain on Trail No. 445. At the big dirt clearing at the foot of the lake there is a trail that shoots off and switchbacks up the mountainside, eventually swinging south to Table Mountain.

If you'll be driving to the Lava Lake Trailhead from Big Sky, you’ll need to actually continue past the trailhead turnoff (as you would need to slow down enough on fast highway traffic for the 90-degree left hand turn) to the next pull off. Turn around and approach the trailhead entrance going south.

It comes as no surprise that Lava Lake draws in locals and visitors alike. Trailhead parking can fill quickly. There is overflow parking off of Highway 191 just before the turnoff for the trailhead. If you'll be hiking later in the day or during the weekend, it may better to park in the overflow parking and walk the short gravel road to get to the trailhead.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Summer
Fall
Spring

Congestion

Moderate

Parking Pass

None

Open Year-round

Yes

Pros

Great views.

Cons

Small parking lot.

Trailhead Elevation

5,538.00 ft (1,687.98 m)

Highest point

7,138.00 ft (2,175.66 m)

Features

Vault toilet
Near lake or river
Backcountry camping
Fishing

Typically multi-day

No

Permit required

No

Location

Field Guide

Nearby Adventures

Big Sky + Gallatin River Valley, Montana
Big Sky + Gallatin River Valley, Montana
Big Sky + Gallatin River Valley, Montana

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