Pets allowed
Allowed
Elevation Gain
1,833.00 ft (558.70 m)
Trail type
There-and-back
Distance
11.70 mi (18.83 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.

Mystic Lake is one of the best hikes in Montana. At the very least, it’s one of the best hikes that is still remarkably accessible (no national park passes or 4WD necessary). It has a bit of everything: great vistas, a strenuous climb that’s not too long, creekside swimming holes on the way, legendary fishing (and as such a 5-fish limit), and a stellar payoff at the end.

It’s also one of three launch points (with two different approaches) to summit Granite Peak, the highest peak in Montana and often regarded as one of the most difficult state high points to reach. From Mystic Lake, you can either ascend up to the Froze-to-Death Plateau to do the traditional approach or hike up the Huckleberry Creek drainage to approach up the north-facing Granite Peak Glacier. 

The hike starts directly from the parking lot by the pit toilets at the West Rosebud Trailhead. As most existing internet trail guides will tell you, the trail used to start about 200 feet up the access road beyond the pit toilets. THIS IS OUTDATED INFORMATION. In 2019, Northwestern Energy put in a hydroelectric power plant at this location and rerouted the trail slightly up the side of the mountain directly from the trailhead. 

From the beginning, the trail climbs consistently along the side of West Rosebud Creek. Though it isn’t until about 1 mile in that it gets slightly steeper and significantly rockier. Almost all the elevation gained on this hike is done in the first 1.8 miles. You can use the pipeline on the adjacent mountainside to help visualize how much farther you have to climb. This pipeline carries water between the dammed-up Mystic Lake and the hydroelectric plant, so you know the lake must be higher than this pipeline.

Trust that the climb is worth it. At the top, perfectly framed between two boulders, is Emerald Lake. Just through this frame is the iconic scenic point, encompassing Mystic Lake stretching in for miles, the hydro dam pooling up its deep teal water, and the jagged Beartooth Mountains beyond.

After snapping your photos; descend a few switchbacks to the edge of the lake itself. While Mystic Lake is short enough to be done as a day hike (and usually is), its camping is so idyllic and plentiful that I really recommend staying a night if you have the chance. Find your perfect campsite by following the trail that curls around the lake’s (mostly) flat south shore for 2.5 miles. Wild raspberries and thimbleberries are aplenty along the trail. Just make sure you’re identifying properly because there are also poisonous berries mixed in.

Shortly after beginning your trek around the lake, you’ll see a signed trail branching off left and up the side of the imposing mountain that shadows the lake. This trail leads to the infamous “Switchbacks from Hell” up to the Froze-to-Death Plateau. The next Granite Peak access point lies at the other end of the lake, where Huckleberry Creek feeds in. There is a somewhat faint trail just after the footbridge that will climb up (and up and up some more) to Princess Lake and 3000+ vertical feet beyond. 

Island lake is a mere 0.75 miles further from the Huckleberry Creek footbridge. While not as spectacular as Mystic Lake, it’s worth the short hike. If you want to hike even further, to Silver Lake, you’ll need to follow the north shore of Island Lake, necessitating either wading across the end of the lake or some dicey rock-hopping across the stream connecting Island and Mystic Lakes.

There are established camping spots (to lessen your impact) all along this stretch, so how far along the lake you go just depends on how far away you want to get. My personal favorite? The peninsula on the far side of the lake. Just note you cannot build a campfire within 200 feet of the lakeshore. 

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Summer
Fall

Congestion

Moderate

Parking Pass

None

Open Year-round

No

Open from

June 15 to October 01

Pros

Stunning views. Large vistas. Interesting terrain. Excellent lakeside camping. Fishing. Opportunities to connect to various other adventures.

Cons

Rocky trail conditions. Sustained uphill grade. Trail can be somewhat crowded.

Trailhead Elevation

6,552.00 ft (1,997.05 m)

Highest point

7,900.00 ft (2,407.92 m)

Features

Near lake or river
Big vistas
Wildflowers
Wildlife
Fishing
Bird watching
Backcountry camping

Typically multi-day

No

Permit required

No

Location

Nearby Adventures

Northern Absaroka Range, Montana
Northern Absaroka Range, Montana
Northern Absaroka Range, Montana

Nearby Lodging + Camping

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