Hiking The Hidden Lakes Trail In The Gallatin Range of Montana
Location: Portal Creek, Gallatin Canyon, Gallatin Range
Trailhead: 5.1 miles north of Big Sky Turn off, then 6.0 miles east on Portal Creek Road
Distance: +/- 5.85 miles round trip
Time: 2-4 hours
Trailhead Elevation: 8185 feet
Hidden Lake Elevation: 9050 feet
USGS Map: Hidden Lake
Located 6.0 miles up Portal Creek in the Gallatin Range of SW Montana is a chain of 8 mountain lakes called the Hidden Lakes. The Hidden Lakes Trail takes you on a 5.85 mile journey through old growth forest to these magically beautiful lakes. It’s a hike that everyone should do at some point.
Portal Creek is located 5.1 miles north of the Big Sky turn off on 191. The Portal Creek Road is FS Road #984 and travels east from 191 into the Gallatin Range. It’s a nice 4×4 forest service road with several forks in the road. The Portal Creek Road is better marked when approaching from the north.
Trend right at these forks until you see a well marked fork in the road at 3.8 miles. At this fork you can go to Windy Pass and Golden Trout Lakes or Hidden Lakes. Veer right for Hidden Lakes. The road gets a bit bumpier for another 2.2 miles. Another sign about half way will point you toward the Hidden Lakes parking area and trailhead. The Hidden Lakes Trailhead is 6.0 miles from 191 and is located at approximately 8185 feet.
As of summer 2014, the trail saw some well deserved maintenance. The smell of fresh dirt fills the air as you wander through forests of pines. There are no stunning vistas as you make your way through the Montana forest. After a stead gain in elevation for the first mile or so, a mellow ridge line is a welcome change. At 1.6 miles, there is a fork in the trail. The left fork takes you to Golden Trout Lakes or onwards to Porcupine Creek. The right fork takes you to the Hidden Lakes. This fork is not particularly well marked.
The trail trends downward for awhile. When it starts to head back uphill, you are almost at the first Hidden Lake. This is at 2.27 miles and the lake sits at 8615 feet. There are several places to camp and there are some well establish fire rings here.
Travel north and then east (right) to reach the second Hidden Lake. The trail increases in steepness here and narrows a bit. After about 400 feet of vertical and another .5 mile, the second lake is situated in the forests below a large rock buttress. This is at 2.75 miles and at 9000 feet. There are more well established campsites at this lake too.
Go south west (left) on a defined trail that follows the inlet to reach the official “Hidden Lake.” This is the highest lake and is marked as Hidden Lake on the map. It sits in an alpine cirque that rises 700-800 feet above the lake. A quick trip up to the ridge line allows for some great views of the Gallatin Range. The 3rd Hidden Lake is located 2.9 miles from the trailhead and sits at 9050 feet. It is a beautiful destination.
I did not manage to check out all 8 Hidden Lakes. The Hidden Lakes Trail hits the three main ones, with the highest Hidden Lake being the most stunning. It would be a great place to go fishing, go for a swim, or relax in the woods. If you do go fishing, you need to have a fishing license from the Montana Fish & Wildlife.
When it’s time to turn around. The way in is the same as the way out. Follow the trail the same way you came to the parking area. At the end of the day (depending on how much exploring you did), the Hidden Lakes Trail is a round trip of 5.85 miles and 1700 feet vertical – according to my GaiaGPS app. Some books say there is only 1000 feet vertical gained. Either way, the trip takes between 2 to 4 hours.
The Hidden Lakes Trail is a dog friendly trail, although there is not much water until you reach the lakes. Always carry bear spray and be bear aware because you are traveling though bear territory. Whether you head into the Hidden Lakes for a day or night, you will enjoy this adventure into the Gallatin Range.