This hitch, Rachel and I spent some time at a few gorgeous alpine lakes doing campsite inventories. We spent the first two days on Glen Lake and then moved over to Big Creek Lakes for the rest of the hitch. Of all the trails I have been on in the Bitterroots this summer, Big Creek Lakes Trail is by far my favorite!
Hiking up to the lake will definitely take a full day for most parties and I recommend taking it slow and enjoying the beautiful scenery. The trail reminds me of what you would see out in the Cascades: dense forest with lush green underbrush and many small creek crossings (with optional foot bridges). Like many trails in the Stevensville District of the Bitterroots, the trail closely parallels Big Creek for most of the hike, giving hikers views of some cool rapids and waterfalls!
The lake itself is one of the largest alpine lakes I’ve ever been to. It offers great camping options for both backpackers and stock users. If you’re planning to spend a few days up there I would recommend packing two things. The first is a fishing rod; I know Rachel was bummed that she didn’t have her rod as we watched hundreds of fish rise while we ate dinner on the lakeshore. The second thing to bring is your bathing suit! The lake is the perfect temperature for swimming and cooling off during the hot hours of the day. I spent many hours after work sitting on a rock slab half submerged in the lake, back up against a log, reading my book and watching the sun set on the peaks across the water. And if you’re a photographer, this is a great place to get some awesome sunrise pictures!
One thing to note about this lake is its popularity. If one of your goals is to be isolated, then staying on Big creek Lake may not be what you’re looking for. However, there are a number of other lakes that can be reached using the same trail. The South Fork Lake Trail branches off from the main trail approximately 7-8 miles from the trailhead. This is a good option — if you don’t mind climbing over a ton of downed trees. The other option is a lake above the southwest bank of Big Creek Lake. It’s unnamed and some maps won’t have the trail marked on them. The trail to this lake is hard to spot because the area has become overgrown; it’s hard to stay on trail because not that many people use it and there are a few downed trees to navigate around. Nonetheless, if you’re down for an adventure and are comfortable with orienteering I would definitely recommend a trip to this unnamed lake!
One last message for all you mountain adventurers: It’s thunderstorm season out here and storms move in quick and heavy in the mountains. So before you go out, make sure you know what the weather is doing — and be prepared for some afternoon thunder showers. Don’t let this discourage you from getting out there, though! My experiences out here so far this summer have shown that a 20 percent chance of thunderstorms means mostly sunny with storms that roll in around 2 or 3 p.m., last about an hour, then disappear into sun.
Be safe and have fun!!!
— Rikk Dunn, Wilderness Ranger Intern