Pets allowed
Allowed
Elevation Gain
1,100.00 ft (335.28 m)
Trail type
Loop
Distance
14.70 mi (23.66 km)
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The colloquial Beartooth High Lakes country is located on the Wyoming side of Beartooth Pass. It is accessible via the Beartooth Highway - a modern marvel of road engineering often compared to Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park. This seasonal scenic highway is open between Memorial Day's first Saturday and sometime in October (depending on when the snow falls).

The Beartooth High Lakes Loop is an excellent introduction to this stunning area. Two different trailheads, Island Lake Trailhead and Beartooth Lake Trailhead, are less than four road miles apart and enable varying distances for a loop, shuttle, or out-and-back hike. To get the most extensive sampling of the many inspiring lakes not far from the trailhead, a lollipop loop from Island Lake Trailhead traverses over 14 miles through this high-alpine landscape. 

The Island Lake Trailhead is at an elevation of 9,556 feet. This high-altitude start lends to gasping breaths throughout the day, especially for lowlanders coming from out of state. Before starting the trip, it’s essential to recognize the miles are typically harder to get as the 14-mile loop ascends a cumulative 1,000+ feet of elevation on top of this high altitude. 

If the elevation doesn’t take your breath away beginning at the Island Lake Trailhead, the dramatic views will. The trail starts by skirting the west banks of Island and Night Lakes, revealing stunning mountain landscapes as it does. Lonesome Mountain is immediately in view, as it will be for much of the day, and the surrounding dramatic rock features make good use of an ample memory card and digital camera.

After over three miles and minimal elevation gain, and just after passing an unmarked junction leading to Becker and Albino Lakes, the trail descends steeply to meet a signed junction. This junction is where the loop begins. To the right (west), the trail heads to Claw Lake and a junction for Native Lake. To the left (south), the trail immediately encounters the aptly name Beauty Lake. 

Either direction makes for an adventurous day. For warmer days, heading towards Native Lake from this junction enables hiking downhill in the sun and makes trekking back up to Beauty Lake a shaded endeavor.  

Heading west towards Claw and Native Lakes, the trail encounters rolling elevation as it makes its way through the lake-infused countryside. Eventually, hikers encounter a beautiful chain of lakes that ultimately reveals a great view of Lonesome Mountain. The trail veers south after reaching the best landscape view of Lonesome Mountain, and hikers are introduced to another eye-catching geological feature - Beartooth Butte. 

It’s a steady downhill pursuit adjacent to Beartooth Butte to Beartooth Lake. This area lacks shade, which makes appreciating the surrounding big country a bit easier. A few massive whitebark pines along the path provide a little shaded oasis for those needing a rest along this section of trail. Beartooth Lake is seen on the horizon early on, and only gets more inviting the closer it gets.

The trail follows along the northern bank of the Beartooth Lake upon reaching the water. Early in the season, this area is likely to get feet wet. Later in the summer, plenty of sunbaked stones enable easy crossing. The trail encounters the Beartooth Lake Trailhead here. This is also where the best view of Beartooth Butte is seen high above the lake. 

It’s an uphill effort from Beartooth Lake to Beauty Lake to finish the loop. Shade and a dense forest do make the effort a little easier on hot days. And the effort is well rewarded upon reaching Crane Lake, just before reaching the sprawling shores of Beauty Lake. 

It didn’t take too much creativity to name Beauty Lake, but the title does describe this massive body of water pretty well. Hikers are afforded plenty of time to appreciate the unfolding lake horizon as the trail follows its west bank closely. Several places for a snack break beckon a moment of rest and relaxation along the shores. 

After taking some time at Beauty Lake, the trail reaches the signed trail junction once again. After a short but very stout hike up, hikers can resume the original trail back to their car at Island Lake Trailhead. This route is hearty for a day hike, and several overnight options enable the route to be spread out over 2-3 days.

 

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Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Summer
Fall

Congestion

High

Parking Pass

None

Open Year-round

No

Open from

May 23 to October 15

Days

2

Pros

Amazing vistas. Beautiful lakes. Plenty of side-trails to explore.

Cons

Exposed part of the way. Short hiking season.

Trailhead Elevation

9,559.00 ft (2,913.58 m)

Highest point

9,927.00 ft (3,025.75 m)

Features

Vault toilet
Glacier
Near lake or river
Backcountry camping
Wildlife
Fishing
Family friendly
Big vistas
Big Game Watching
Wildflowers
Bird watching

Typically multi-day

Yes

Permit required

No

Location

Nearby Adventures

Nearby Lodging + Camping

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