Glacier Lake is one of the most popular day hike destinations in the Red Lodge area. A short 2 mile hike up a steep but well-defined trail brings hikers to the shores of the breathtaking high mountain lake which forms the headwaters of Rock Creek. At 9,702 feet, Glacier Lake occupies a 180 foot deep basin surrounded by steep mountains in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness.
The road to reach the trailhead is rough and a bit sketchy at times. I’ve seen many hikers brave the route with low clearance vehicles but I wouldn’t highly recommend it. It is best to wait until the road has had some time to dry up before attempting to reach the trailhead, which can mean waiting until July during heavy snow years. From Red Lodge, take Hwy 212 south toward Beartooth Pass. After about 11 miles, turn right at Rock Creek Road. The turnoff is clearly marked with a National Forest campground sign. Continue on the road past the turnoffs for three Custer National Forest campgrounds, Parkside, Greenough Lake, and Limberpine. Immediately after the turnoff to Limberpine Campground, the road turns to gravel. The right fork leads up to Hellroaring Plateau. Take the left fork to follow Rock Creek Road for 8 miles to the Glacier Lake trailhead. Enjoy the scenery along the road – the rough, rocky road prevents you from driving much faster than 5 to 10 miles per hour in several sections. In spite of the rough road, the trailhead is often full on weekends during the peak hiking season – July through Labor Day. Late in the season, before the road is packed in by snow, you might find the trail all to yourself.
The Glacier Lake Trailhead sits at 8,680 feet and the trail wastes no time as it begins the climb up the Rock Creek drainage. The trail crosses a sturdy footbridge over Moon Creek about a half mile into the trip and continues to climb a series of switchbacks offering magnificent views of the valley below. About 1.75 miles into the trip, the trail reaches it’s highest point on a ridge at 9,800 feet overlooking the lake before dropping down to the a small dam on the southern shore of Glacier Lake. This is the turnaround spot for most hikers. To extend the hike, walk across the dam and take an unofficial but easy to follow trail along the south shore of Glacier Lake. The trail veers to the left and soon reaches Little Glacier Lake. Continue along the shores of this small lake and over a ridge to the aptly named Emerald Lake. Another option to extend the hike is to follow a faint trail along the northern shore of Glacier Lake up to Triangle Lake, Goat Lake, and Sheep Lake. Snow clings to the steep mountain slopes around these beautiful lakes all year long. An effort to make the hike up to Glacier Lake will definitely be rewarded.