MELROSE — Mountain goats, three crystal-clear lakes filled with trout, and a short side trip to see historic charcoal kilns are waiting for those willing to navigate a narrow mountain road into southwest Montana’s Pioneer Mountains.
The trip for most people begins at the tiny town of Melrose. The road turns to dirt right after leaving town as it follows the creek to the old mining town of Glendale. After a short but steep climb, the road continues past an odd-looking group of domed charcoal kilns that are definitely worth some time to explore.
The Canyon Creek trailhead is 18 miles from Melrose.
The well-maintained trail — that’s sometimes used by horses — leads to three mountain lakes that offer plenty of opportunities for solitude, fishing and scenic views.
Crescent Lake is the largest of the three.
Parked at timberline, Crescent Lake is the perfect spot to wet a line while keeping an eye out on the rocky crags above for the tiny white specks that become mountain goats through a good pair of binoculars.
Canyon Lake is the first of the three lakes that you’ll see after a 5.5-mile hike with 1,500-feet elevation gain. A side trail drops down to the lake’s shoreline. Canyon Lake is the shallowest of the three and offers good fishing for pan-sized trout.
Lake Abundance is not far from Crescent Lake and has a beautiful camp spot along its southern edge.
The trail to the lakes begins near the Canyon Creek Campground and crosses immediately over Canyon Creek on a pretty good bridge. The trail branches after about a mile. Hikers heading to Crescent Lake stay to the right across the creek once again. That crossing can be challenging during spring runoff, but is easy once the water drops.
The other branch leads to Vera, Grayling and Lion lakes.
The trail branches again following a steady climb of about three miles. The right branch leads to Abundance and Crescent lakes. The left goes to Canyon.
The trail gets a bit steeper from here as it climbs to a ridgetop that provides a panoramic view of the upper Gold Creek drainage, including Maurice Mountain in the background.
From there, the trail drops down into the cirque that contains the two lakes. At times, horse packers will set up camp on the east side of the lake. There are places to camp on the other side of the large mountain lake.
For those looking for more solitude, the campsite at Lake Abundance is a nice alternative.
The Pioneer Mountains are often overlooked, but they have a lot to offer folks looking to get away to explore, fish and camp the more than 80 alpine lakes found in the range.
Location: Drive west from Melrose up Trapper Creek Road for seven miles to the old mining town of Glendale. Turn north up the hill to Canyon Creek to the campground near Canyon Creek Guest Ranch. Total distance to the trailhead is about 18 miles.
Distance: The hike to Crescent Lake is about 5.5 miles with a 1,500-foot gain in elevation.