Hiking to Elk Lake in the Beartooth Wilderness

One in a Series on Traveling with our Family to the National Parks

Breathtaking sights along the Rosebud Trail

to Elk Lake

Rosebud River
Fireweed

The East Rosebud Trail is a MUST Do on every hiking list for the Beartooth Mountains. After we completed the trail, we understood why. Every part of this excursion was scenic and memorable, from the drive up, to the waterfalls along the way to the breathtaking landscape at Elk Lake. It was a hikers dream.

East Rosebud Trail

At the end of East Rosebud Lake Road is a small village called Alpine, Montana, elevation 6,300 feet. Alpine is a remote, mostly seasonal community of cabins dating back before 1911 when the East Rosebud Lake Association was established. The small town sits along the idyllic East Rosebud Lake. Just west of this little community, you’ll find the East Rosebud Trail trailhead. When we arrived, we saw a man just emerging from his elevated tent atop his truck. I have never seen this arrangement before. He greeted us and said he come up here from Red Lodge to sleep because the air was cooler.

Designated as a 6.7 mile, moderately trafficked out and back trail, the East Rosebud Trail ascends 1076 feet along the East Rosebud River to Elk Lake. The trail begins in a densely forested stand of pines hugging close to the small lake community. In summer, you may glimpse residents out for a stroll or run along the rocky path which is relatively flat the first couple of miles. Once you push past the village and the lake the terrain becomes more rugged and pristine. Along the path, Fireweed, Pearly Everlasting, and Goldenrod were abundant. Boulders and rock outcroppings dominated the landscape. The hike was challenging, but not oppressive. Our Border Collie loved every minute. Once at the top, we came around a bend and there was Elk Lake with its expansive view of jagged mountains reflecting in its green-blue waters. I stood motionless breathing in this spectacular postcard-perfect scene.

With temperatures predicted in the mid nineties, Hunter, our 18 year old hiking enthusiast, helped us make this day hike happen by waking us all at the crack of dawn with cups of coffee. Thanks to him, we were actually able to begin the walk at 9:30 am, early enough to combat the extreme heat, smoke and dry conditions. Out on these rugged trails, in the intense summer sun, you need sunscreen, a hat, and plenty of water. Each of us carried hydration packs supplied with a granola bar to enjoy up at the lake. Some of us also carried bug and bear sprays. We probably went through 10 cases of Cliff Bars during our 2 week stay in the Beartooths. When you are hiking 6 – 10 miles every day, you burn serious calories. So, a snack at the midpoint and a cooler of lunch food at the terminus is a must. The wrap was the lunch food of choice and happened something like this: Each morning, Matt would throw ice into a cooler, along with lunch meats, a bag of flour tortillas, a bag of salad, and squeezable jars of mayo and mustard. After our hike, each person would load up a wrap to his or her liking. Then, we would sit on a rock or hang around the back of the Suburban and shovel the food in while discussing the day’s events.

That’s exactly how this day wrapped up after we hiked back down to Alpine: eating wraps around the back of a truck and talking about this magnificent place called Montana .

Thankful for each step with my Keens. They were boss on the trails.

Our early bird hero, getting us to the trail before the insane heat.


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