Hike to Edith Lake

Clouds Reflecting on the Water of Edith Lake

The photo above was taken on August 15, 2014 at a little known lake on the east side of the Continental Divide in the Big Belt Mountains of Montana. With over 1000 high mountain lakes in Montana that are well worth the effort it takes to go see them, Edith Lake can be a not too difficult day trip. Begin your trip at the Townsend Ranger Station where you can get a map that will lead you to the trail head. Finding the trail head is more difficult than finding the lake once you get to hiking. From Townsend you want to travel east fourteen and a half miles on Highway 12 until you come to Cabin Gulch on the north side of the highway. From there stay on the east fork of Cabin Gulch and travel about nine miles to the top. Be sure to check your map from there because it is still another 3 miles to the trail head. Once at the trail head the hike begins at 7600 feet in elevation. The trail switchbacks on the south side of the mountain seven times and maintains a steady grade that isn’t anything that will knock you out. As you come out of the trees and come into the saddle you will top out at 9050 feet. At this elevation I have never suffered any cause for concern over dizziness or fatigue. If you seek another 300 feet of elevation and want to enhance the view you can hike to the east from the trail another quarter mile to the peak of Edith Mountain.  There you will find a monument that we built for all hikers to sign in at and if you are feeling ambitious you can add a few rocks to the monument. Further down in this post you will see photos of the monument we built. We will be taking trips back in from time to time just to read the names of those who sign in. We also intend to build other monuments around mountain peaks in Montana with the expectation of creating “The Top of The Mountain Club” encouraging others to send in photos and stories for all to enjoy.

From the saddle just before you drop in to the lake your view will be that of the photos above which are looking west to Baldy Mountain, north to the Smith River valley, the Birch Creek Basin and the destination of this hike, Edith Lake. At this point you have about 2 miles behind you and only a mile and a half to go and it is down hill from here. Keep your eyes peeled as you never know what birds and wildlife you may see. We didn’t see elk like usual on this trip but what you see below is pretty exciting.

When we came out of the trees I told Liza we should see some goats today. No sooner did I say that and Liza says “there’s some goats right there”.  I started counting and got to seven. I counted again and got to eight all the time that Liza was getting her camera out. She set up and started looking for a picture and said she saw more goats coming into the snow field.  Then there were even more goats coming out of the rocks. All counted, we had view of 33 goats in one bunch. That made the day right there. What could be better than a picture perfect day and a view such as the one you are looking at right now? Not good enough, we were certain we could get a better look at these goats so after a couple of photos we packed up real quick like and hoofed it around to sneak up on them from above.

With the wind in our favor we got close up to them even though they were moving by the time we got to them. Close to half of them were moving through the trees but we caught the second half of the herd and got some pretty good photos. About a third of the herd were this year’s kids. This whole sighting was too cool! This little excursion only added a half mile to our hike and we were back to the trail in short order.

Back on the trail with the cameras put away I now realize I missed a couple of interesting photos that you won’t get to see. I’ll be thinking of this next time I trek in but in the meantime you may want to make this hike and see for yourself. On the way down to the lake the trail traverses a steep hillside and there are some huge rock outcrops that you walk on. We were so impressed with the rock that I didn’t even think of photos. Shows that the awe inspiring landscape can stifle one’s thinking. You will know when you get there if you are fortunate enough to make the hike. Another great site is the creek running out onto one of the last switchbacks near the bottom of the mountain. There is an abundance of wild flowers at the location. The trail on the lake side of the mountain has five switchbacks and again a steady grade down to the lake. Once again you will know when you get there. The trip from the top down to the lake is a mile and a half and a 1000 feet of elevation as the lake sits at 8000 feet.

Once at the lake there are a number of camp sites and a hot lunch is on the menu. Even though lunch is only hot dogs they taste really good when cooked on a stick over a camp fire. So while I was cooking, Liza took some interesting photos of the lake.

Edith Lake, like so many mountain lakes in Montana is great fishing. Full of cutthroat trout that will bite most anything the fishing is a lot of fun.  For many years I have had best success with the a spinning rod and reel and I use the  “fly and a Bobber” thing.  I use a clear weighted bobber that will let you cast out a long way and a variety of flies. A little white May Fly has always worked well and the past few years I have used a fake grasshopper and the fish really like that. These cutthroat are a consistent twelve to fourteen inches long. They fight pretty good and give a lot of air action. When they get really active you can catch one on almost every cast and often times when reeling one in others will hit on the bobber. The fishing is most often worth the hike in.

After a good time fishing we gathered up our gear and headed for the truck but on the way out Liza and I took time to climb to the top of Edith Mountain to build a monument. The idea in mind was to give hikers a place to sign in that they were there. We expect this monument should be there forever and hopefully the sign in book will be too.


Like all high mountain hikes be sure to be fully prepared as the weather can change real fast even in the hot summer days of August. You can see by by the photos what can happen without notice.  About the time we got to the top a cold white cloud moved in on us and the wind was howling. Fortunately there was no lightning or rain but the cold lasted about forty five minutes. We keep going and got the monument built in about an hour.  You can see it from the trail and it is only about a quarter mile hike to put your name in the book so make the hike, write in the book and enjoy the view.

Trekking through any mountain range for a number of days to see multiple lakes is a rewarding experience but if time is short a day trip can be just as enjoyable and may cause you to take a longer trip next time. The round trip distance on this hike is seven miles as long as you don’t detour anywhere. Time wise you can plan two hours hiking in and about the same coming out so if you are on the trail early you can spend plenty of time fishing.  But again that is if you don’t take any detours. If you have some ambitious youngsters in your family, you need to know the first time Liza and Bret went on this hike they were only 10 and 11 years old and they made the trip without any problems.

Thanks for reading!


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