Montana: Winter Hike to Lava Lake

Lava Lake
King of the World

As a Los Angeles native, I was born and raised to despise cold weather.  One of my guilty pleasures is getting into a car that’s been baking in the hot sun for hours and feeling my skin melt.

But this winter, I began to wonder what I was missing out on.  I bought a plane ticket to visit my aunt and uncle in Bozeman, Montana and prepared myself for the Ice Age.

The last time I visited Montana, I spent my days in the forest hunting for wild rhubarb and floating in a creek behind the house.  When I stepped out into the backyard this time, the trees were bare and the creek was frozen over.  Instead of running back inside, I tightened the laces on my snow boots and skated down the middle of the creek.  My warm weather resolve was beginning to soften.

Ice Skating on the Frozen Creek

A few hours later, I set off on a 6-mile hike to Lava Lake with my cousin Matthew.  Matt and I both inherited the wilderness gene from our Austrian grandfather, who climbed Mount Whitney in lederhosen and knee high socks.

Cascade Creek

The trail was covered in a fresh layer of snow.  We followed the Cascade Creek upstream, crossed a bridge and climbed a set of switchbacks.  Hiking in the snow feels a little like walking in the sand, and my legs were feeling it!

Winter Details
Winter Details
Snow Clinging to Pine Branches

By the time we reached the lake, snow was falling heavily.  We broke off the trail only to find ourselves standing waist deep in powder.  Lava Lake was completely frozen, and so were my toes.

Matt Standing on Lava Lake

I sheltered myself under a tree as I watched Matt climb to an overlook above the lake.  My cousin Matt does not use cold weather as an excuse to miss out on adventures.  During his winter vacation, he taught skiing almost every day.  He even worked on Christmas Eve, so he could take the day off to go hiking with me.

Matt’s Lava Lake Overlook

Matt had hiked to Lava Lake several times with friends, but never in the snow.  As it turns out, winter is an opportunity for new adventures, even in places you’ve already been.

Never Too Old to Play in the Snow

While I’m eager to return to Montana in the summer months, I am just as eager for next winter.  Cold toes are a small sacrifice to experience the tranquil beauty of a snow-covered lake.  Through all four seasons, Montana will always have a warm place in my heart.

Lava Lake Trail

  • Trail Distance: 6-miles round trip; 1600 feet elevation gain
  • For a complete trail description and directions to the trail head, please visit

Get Directions

The map below will show the approximate location of Lava Lake.  Please click here for driving directions to the trail head.

[mappress mapid=”25″]


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