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Crystal Lake

Crystal Lake, located about an hour outside of Lewistown in the Big Snowy Mountains, provides opportunities for swimming, fishing and canoeing. The various trails surrounding Crystal Lake provide excellent views and photo opportunities. The Ice Caves Trail takes you to a permanent ice cave, while the Crystal Cascades Trail brings you to a scenic waterfall. 

Amenities

  • Accessible Vault Toilets
  • Drinking Water
  • Parking Area
  • Picnic Table
  • Grills/Fire Ring
  • Tent Pad
  • Accessibility
  • BBQ

Primary Activities

Camping

The 28 campsites at Crystal Lake Campground are large and widely spaced. This is an excellent family campground not only because of the lake, but also the large network of trails. Limit of 10 people per site. Please limit your stays to 16 days. Camping units are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. One cabin is also available for rental. For more information on the cabin, visit the Forest Service page

Campsite Cost: $10/night

Hiking

The Crystal Lake Trails Brochure provides great information on the trails in the area.  

Note that trails in this area may be impacted by snow as late as early July.

Big Snowy Mountains Crest Via Crystal Lake (Trail #493/490)

Big Snowy Mountains Crest Via Crystal Lake is a moderately trafficked out-and-back trail that features a cave and is only recommended for very experienced adventurers. The trail is primarily used for hiking and is best used from June until September. Dogs are also able to use this trail.

Length: 19.5 miles out-and-back

Elevation Gain: 5,262 ft

Difficulty: Difficult

More Information on This Trail:

Crystal Cascades Trail (Trail #445)

This trail follows the drainage for 3-1/2 miles from the Crystal Cascades Trailhead, gaining 1,000 feet in elevation. Crystal Cascades is a scenic waterfall that emerges from a cave about 10 feet deep and cascades 100 feet down a stair step ledge to the trail below.

Length: 3.5 miles point-to-point

Elevation Gain: 2,404 ft

Difficulty: Moderate

More Information on This Trail:

Crystal Lake Shoreline Loop Trail (Trail #404)

Note: Hiker Only Trail 

This interpretive trail is an easy hike for almost anyone. It follows the shoreline of Crystal Lake and gives access to the entire shore, with opportunities for sunbathing, swimming, fishing, picnicking and more. Be sure to pick up an interpretive brochure from the campground host so you can follow the interpretive posts along the trail.

Length: 1.75 miles Round Trip

Difficulty: Easy

More Information on This Trail:

Grandview Trail (Trail #403)

The trail climbs from Crystal Lake to Grandview Point, gaining 1,000 feet in elevation in 3-½ miles. The trail then follows the ridge another 1-½ miles to West Peak on the Snowy Crest. The trail climbs steadily at a mild grade, with switchbacks making the climb easier. A short trail to VJ Spring leads off to the east about halfway to Grandview Point, and a spur trail leads to a viewpoint at Grandview Point. 

Note: Stock users need to take the Stock By-Pass Trail #495 from the Ice Caves Trailhead.

Length: 5.5 miles point-to-point

Elevation Gain: 2,134 ft

Difficulty: Moderate

More Information on This Trail:

Ice Caves Trail (Trail #493/490)

The trail climbs almost five miles to the permanent ice caves on the Snowy Crest. Drinking water should be carried on this moderately difficult hike. The first 3 miles is steep, gaining 2,200 feet in elevation to the Snowy Crest ridge, where you meet Trail #490. Trail #490 then follows a line of cairns along the open ridge for two miles to the Ice Caves. 

Rather than returning on trail #490, many people continue on trail #403, which also ends at Crystal Lake. 

Length: 4.75 miles one way (may be longer depending on return trail chosen)

Elevation Gain: 2,752 ft

Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult

More Information on This Trail:

Promontory Peak (Trail #491)

The trail climbs 400 feet in elevation from Crystal Lake to the top of Promontory Peak. The trail is a short, easy hike, with several steep and narrow switchbacks near the top. Along the way you can view evidence of past wildfires and enjoy views of Crystal Lake and the Snowy Crest.

Length: 1.25 miles point-to-point

Difficulty: Easy

Biking

All the hiking trails at Crystal Lake can be biked, with the exception of Trail 404 around the lake. Visit TrailForks for more information on the individual trails. 

Birdwatching

The trails around Crystal Lake provide for great birdwatching. In addition, the low water levels of the lake itself attract predatory birds looking for a snack. 

Cross-Country Skiing & Snowshoeing

The trails around Crystal Lake, especially the Rock Creek Ski Trail, are great for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter.

Horseback Riding

The trails at Crystal Lake are great for horseback riding. Note, however, that Trail #404 is open to hikers only, and stock users need to take Trail #495 to access Trail #403. 

Boating & Canoeing

Crystal Lake has a boat ramp for non-motorized boats. The picturesque lake is well suited for canoeing and kayaking.

Fishing

The 46-acre Crystal lake is stocked annually during the summer months with trout. It can be fished with a current Montana State fishing license. No gas-powered motors are allowed on the lake.

Primary Species: Rainbow Trout

For More Information

How to Get There

From Lewistown travel west on US HWY 87 (aka: US Hwy 87-North) 8.7 miles to Forest Access sign (Crystal Lake Road). Turn left onto Crystal Lake Road (dirt) and go 5.3 miles to a Y intersection. Bear left and go 3.9 miles to Recreation Area sign. Turn left at sign, continuing on Crystal Lake Road, and go 12.7 miles to campground. Crystal Lake Road varies from a narrow two-lane road to single-lane. The last 5.7 miles are paved.

On December 1, the road is gated for snowmobile and other winter uses at the Forest boundary.

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