Pine Creek Lake, Day Hiking in the Absaroka Mountains

Hiking options in the Livingston area are virtually unlimited. Surrounded by vast stretches of wilderness and multiple mountain ranges, the region is home to some of the best outdoor opportunities in Montana. Paradise Valley, south of Livingston, offers many day hike possibilities. With the legendary Yellowstone River meandering through ranch country and the Absaroka Mountains rising dramatically to the east, Paradise Valley is a stunning point of departure for hiking and backpacking trips.

Situated high in the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness, Pine Creek Lake is a favorite hike for many Livingston locals. A moderately strenuous 5-mile trek to a stunning alpine lake, the hike pays huge rewards for those determined enough to make the journey.

To avoid snow and ice, plan on hiking Pine Creek anytime between July and September. Bright sunny mornings often turn to stormy afternoons in the mountains. Get an early start to ensure you’re off the mountain by mid-afternoon.

Starting Out, Livingston to Pine Creek Falls:

The Pine Creek Lake Trailhead is just east of the village of Pine Creek. From Livingston, drive south on US Highway 89 through Paradise Valley about 10 miles, then turn left and head east towards Pine Creek. You’ll pass over the Yellowstone River before coming to a stop sign and turning right at Pine Creek. Drive a few miles south before turning east. You’ll start climbing a narrow backroad as you venture towards Pine Creek campground and trailhead. Once you reach the campground, stay to the right until you see the trailhead marker at the eastern edge of the campground.

Gear up! Before leaving Livingston, Make sure to stock up on provisions. If you’re needing quality outdoor gear, stop in at Timber Trails on Park Street. This little mountain sports shop is a gold mine for anyone heading for the hills. 309 West Park Street | 406.222.9550

The first mile of the Pine Creek trail is relatively flat and often crowded with more casual day hikers headed to Pine Creek Falls. At one mile in, the waterfall is a prime rest stop. Pause here to take in the spectacular scene: ice-cold mountain runoff cascading down cliffs, crashing abruptly at the bottom. To get the whole effect, walk to the middle of the foot bridge and feel the mist of the waterfall.

The Final Trek, a Hiker’s Reward:

From Pine Creek Falls, the trail starts to climb through the trees above the creek. You’ll eventually hike out of the woods and begin the most difficult section of your jaunt. At this point the drainage opens up and you’ll start to see impressive peaks, crags and rock formations. Persevere up the open switch backs and over boulders until you arrive at a tiny lake. This is another dramatic resting spot before the final burst up to Pine Creek Lake. Look for the waterfall at the far edge of the lake.

Finally, from the smaller lake, a short but demanding climb will lead you to Pine Creek Lake. You’ve done it! Time to kick back, soak in the sun and enjoy this beautiful mountain setting. Pine Creek Lake rests in a majestic mountain cirque with sheer rock walls on two sides. The fishing here is good?Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks stocks the lake regularly.

Pine Creek Lake is usually too cold to swim in unless you’re a seasoned mountain man. Finding a level camping site can be a challenge for overnight backpackers. Make sure to minimize your impact and pack out all waste.

Post Hike Options:

Pine Creek Campground, operated by the Gallatin National Forest, is one of Livingston’s best kept secrets. This secluded camping destination has spacious camp sites shaded by old-growth pines.

Black bears are often spotted in the Pine Creek area. Make sure to secure your food in your vehicle and carry pepper spray when hiking.

Stop in at Pine Creek Cafe for a hearty post-hike feast. Known for its delicious trout tacos, and inviting, homespun log cabin atmosphere, Pine Creek is a terrific place to enjoy a cold beer and satisfying grub. 2496 East River Road, Paradise Valley | 406.222.3628 | www.pinecreeklodgemontana.com

Looking to relieve those aches and pains after a long day of hiking? Head to Chico Hot Springs Resort and Day Spa near Emigrant, Montana. Soak away your trail pangs in Chico’s 100+ degree mineral hot springs or roll into the spa for the royal treatment. #1 Old Chico Road, Paradise Valley | 800-468-9232 | www.chicohotsprings.com

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