CARDWELL — A popular and relatively easy trek into the heart of the Tobacco Root Mountains, about 30 miles southeast of Butte, is Lost Cabin Lake.
You can hike this trail – or ride it on a mountain bike. Mountain biking is popular in the Tobacco Roots these days, so hikers need to be wary of two-wheeled action on the trail.
Aside from that, it’s a nice, family-friendly 4.5-mile hike.
It rises gently from the trailhead, at 7,564 feet, to the lake at
9,066 feet. Probably the steepest section – as is often the case at high-mountain lake hikes – is the last 50 yards, but nothing that the average hiker can’t handle. Switchbacks interspersed throughout the hike help ease the intensity.
While the scenery and sites beneath the forest canopy are beautiful en route, the view at the lake is breathtaking – with 10,396-foot Noble Peak serving as a backdrop to snowfields, talus slopes and the lake’s crystal-clear water.
Lost Cabin Lake, like its neighbor Louise Lake (both share the same trailhead), is a fun and uncomplicated overnight backpack, although the 4.5 miles are easy enough to make a day hike out of it. People who want to travel light may consider car camping along South Boulder Road (near the few latrines located along the way) on Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest land, then spend a day hiking up to Lost Cabin Lake and back. Visitors new to this area will find the Tobacco Roots are multi-use and popular – from horse riders to four-wheelers to extra-large, self-contained campers. Not all trails are motorized, but most of the trails are open to mountain bikers.
One appeal to Lost Cabin Lake is just getting into the Tobacco Roots. The mostly graveled South Boulder Road is one of the main access routes, and takes vehicles right up into the heart of the range, passing amazing geological formations and the quaint mining town of Mammoth (now mostly summer homes) along the way. The Tobacco Roots, in fact, have such interesting geology that Indiana State University maintains a geologic field station for summer study there. Forty-three peaks rise higher than 10,000 feet elevation.
Location: To get to the trailhead from Butte, drive east on Interstate 90 and exit at Cardwell. Drive south about 5 miles, and watch for the South Boulder Road sign on the right. The sign isn’t easy to see. Turn right, and drive about 15 miles, watching for signs. The road starts out paved, then turns to gravel and is adequate for most cars to the Louise Lake-Lost Cabin Lake trailhead.
Distance/duration: 4.5 miles with a gain of about 1,500 feet.
Difficulty: Easy for seasoned hikers, and a pleasant first-time day hike to a high mountain lake for beginners.