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Bill Schneider
Updated Fishinglnfonnation by Richard K. Stiff, fonner High Mountain Lakes
Survey Coordinator,Montana Departmentof Fish, Wildlife& Parks

Second Edition

FALCONGUIDES
GUILFORD. CONNECTICUT
HELENA. MONTANA
AN IMPRINT OF THE GLOBE PEQl)OT PRESS

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Bill Schneider
Updated Fishinglnfonnation by Richard K. Stiff, fonner High Mountain Lakes
Survey Coordinator,Montana Departmentof Fish, Wildlife& Parks

Second Edition

FALCONGUIDES
GUILFORD. CONNECTICUT
HELENA. MONTANA
AN IMPRINT OF THE GLOBE PEQl)OT PRESS

t5 Lake Plateau West


General description:A weeklong backpacking
vacation that can be done as a loop or an
out-and-back
Speclal attractions:A gorgeous, lake-dotted,
high-altitude plateau
. Type of trip: Loop with out-and-back option
Total distance:25.~ miles, not counting side
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Difficulty: Moderate
Traffic: Moderate
Maps: USGS~Mount Douglas, Tumble Mountain, and Haystack Peak; RMS-Mount Douglas-Mount Wood and Cooke City-Cutoff
Mountain
Starting point: Box Canyon Trailhead

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F1ndlng the trallhead:Refer to East Fork Boulder River, Hike 6.


Parking and trallheadfacllltles: Refer to East Fork Boulder River~ Hike 6.

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Key Points
These key points follow the main route, not including side trips such as Lake Pinchot.
3.5 East Fork Boulder River.
5.2 Junction with Trail 28; turn left.
5.4 Lake Kathleen.
7.9 Junction with Trail 128; turn left.
10.5:
11.4
12.3
13.2
. ; , 13.5
15.0
15.9
17.2
25.5

10.000'

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Junction with Trail 211; tum left -.


Junction with Trail 26; turn right.
Rainbow Lakes.
Wounded Man Lake and junction with Trail 90; turn right.
Junction with Trail 43; turn right.
Junction
with Trail 28;. turn right.
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Junction with Trail 26; turn left.
Horseshoe Lake.
Upsidedown Creek Trailhead.

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START .

9,000'

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FINISH
10,000'

Lake :
9,000'

Kathleen:
8,000'

B.ooO'
7,000'

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6,000'

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7,000'
6,000'

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Kecommenoeomnerary

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Since it's such a long drive to Box Canyon Trailhead from just about anywhere, most
hikers don't hit . the trail until afternoon. This actually works well for this route
because there aren't many good camping areas between the East Fork Boulder River
and Rainbow Lakes, which is more than 12 miles down the trail, too far for a single
day for many backpackers. If you stay at East Fork Boulder River, though, you only
have 8.8 miles to the Rainbow Lakes for the second night out.You could also set up
a base camp at Rainbow Lakes or hike 2 to 3 miles farther the second day to set up

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the base camp.


East Fork Boulder River
First night:
Second night: Along Rainbow Creek or at Rainbow Lakes
Set up base camp somewhere on the Lake Plateau
Third night:
Fourth night: Same campsite
Same campsite
Fifth night:
Horseshoe or Diamond Lake
Sixth night:

The Hike
From the Box Canyon Trailhead, Trail 27 climbs gradually through timber and open
parks along the East Fork Boulder River for about 3.5 miles before crossing a sturdy
bridge. If you started late, you may wish to stay the first night at the excellent camping area just before the bridge.
Camping here is not a bad idea. Otherwise, it's a tough 12- to 14-mile day to get
onto the Lake Plateau, depending on where you decide to set up base camp. And
there really aren't any decent campsites at the convenient 5- to 7-mile range to split
up the distance. So either plan to camp at the 3:5-mile .mark or aim for the valley
just below the. Lake Plateau, about 10 miles in, where several great campsites are nestled along Rainbow Creek.
After crossing the East Fork, the trail follows the river for about a half mile before
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climbing away through heavy timber. Several trout-filled pools beckon along the
riverside stretch, so be prepared to fight off temptations to stop and rig up the flycasting gear.
After 2 miles Trail 27 heads south toward Slough Creek Divide. Turn left here on
Trail 28.
In a couple hundred yards, the trail passes little Lake Kathleen on the left. Then,
2 miles farther, Trail 128 breaks off to the right and heads for Columbine Pass. Stay
left on Trail 28.
After another 3 miles, the trail meets Trail 211. At this point you need to decide
where you intend to base camp. Here are a few options: (1) Head left up the steep
switchbacks 0. 75 mile to the junction with Trail 26 and turn right to any of six Rainbow Lakes to the northwest; (2) go right less than 1 mile up Trail 211 to Fish Lake,

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Base camp on the Lake Plateau.

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reached after a short, steep climb; (3) continue past Fish Lctlce another 3 to 4 miles
on Trail 211 to Lake Pinchot. All three options .have plenty of great campsites.
On the way to Lake Pinchot, Wounded Man Lake might look like a good place
to bas~ camp, but it has lllnited camping, Lake: Pinchot adds an extra mile when you
really on 't want it, but this beautiful lake is theheart of the. L.akePlateau. If you don't
base c_amp here, be sure to visit on' a day'. trip. '.
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If you can't make up your mind o.n where to base camp, set up a. temporary camp
for one night and then spend the .next.day trekking around, enjoying .the scenery, fishing, and searching for that five-star campsite. The~. return to. the temporary camp
early enough to move everything to the base camp.
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Once the base camp is .established, start taking advantage of the numerous adven

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tures waiting in all directions. For anglers, there are two dozen 'lakes within the reach
of an easy day hike. For peak-baggers, there are 11,298-foot Mount Douglas, 11, 153foot Chalice Peak, and other summits to reach.
To return to the Box Canyon Trailhead, follow whichever leg of the Lake Plateau
loop trail (211 or 43) you didn't take on the way in.This way you will have covered
the entire Lake Plateau circle. (about a 6-mile loopj."
You can drop back to the junction with Trail 28 and retrace the route down Rainbow Creek. To avoid backtracking on Trail 28, however, take Upsidedown Creek Trail
26, which heads west from the foot of Lower Rainbow Lake. Plan on two days to get
out, camping at Horseshoe or Diamond Lake (sometimes called Upper and Lower
HorseshoeLakes) before heading out Upsidedown Creek.This route may be slightly
shorter,but it involves a steep downhill after a 600-foot climb. The trail hits Boulder
River Road about 1.5 miles north of the Box Canyon Trailhead. Here, pick the most
energeticmember of your party to jog up to Box Canyon to get your vehicle.
The Lake Plateau gets more use than most areas in the Beartooths, but a large
'number of destinations and campsites dilute the crowd to a tolerable level.A week in
this wonderland will undoubtedly be a memorable .vacation. So expect a few
remorsefulmoments when you realize that you must return to your hectic lifestyle
back home. Be forewarned: The .first days back at work may seem quite unpleasant.

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Options
It seems slightly easier to do this trip as noted above, but the route could be reversed:
going in Upsidedown Creek and out along the East Fork. This option, however,
involves a steady,dry, 8.3-mile climb to Horseshoe Lake. Jf you take this option, take
extra water. You can also retrace your steps down Rainbow Creek to Box Canyon
and skip the Upsidedown Creek Trail.

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Side Trips
You could spend weeks exploring the Lake Plateau. Check out the list of possible side
trips in Exploring the Lake Plateau on page 68.

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Camping
The Lake Plateau has hundreds of terrific campsites, all undesignated. Find one for
your base camp, and please make it a zero-impact camp.

Fishing
Refer to Fishing the Lake Plateau on page 69.

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. EXPLORING 1HE. IAKE PlAlEAU :Any trip to the Lak~ .Plate~u should include ~ome extra
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time for exploring the many hidden treasures


in the area. Here's a list of suggestions rated for
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difficulty as follows: Human (easy for almost everyone, including children), Semi-human (mod
erately difficult), or Animal (don't try it unl~ss you're very fit and wilderness-wise). Also refer to
more detailed rating information in the chapter Using this Guidebook.

Difficulty

Destination
Lake Pinchot

Human

Flood Creek lakes


Asteroid lake Basin

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Chalice Peak
lightning Lake
Lake Diaphanous

Semihuman ,
Animal
Animal
Animal

Fish Lake

Human .
Human

Barrier Lake

Animal

Mirror Lake
Chickadee Lake
Squeeze lake
Mount Douglas

Semi-human
Animal
Animal
A~imal
Human

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Lake Plateau Loop

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Martes Lake
Columbine Pass

Semi-human

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Jordan Lake
Sundown Lake .
Pentad and Favonius Lakes
Burnt Gulch Lake

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Human
Human
Semi-human
Human
Animal

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ASHING lHE IAKE PIAlIAU Anglers who want to. .. !fish the first .. day of the trip should
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camp near the E.ast Fork Boulder River or Rainbow Creek.Above Bo~ Canyon the East Fork Boulder River contains mostly cutthroat trout, although rainbow~ dominate the fishery below. Some
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of these cutthroats may be descendants o.f native stocks~A s)natterlng of rainbows Ommigrants
from Rainbow Lakes above) can be found near where Rainbow Creek enters the East Fork Beulder River.
The Lake Plateau offers a variety
of fishing opportunities,
consisting mostly of rainbow and
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. cutthroat trout. Cutthroats are frequently found along rocky shorelines on the downwind sides
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of lakes. Anglers often fish "past the fish'' by casting out into the lake.
Cutthroat trout are aggressive and often easy to cat~h. As a result, where cutthroats dem

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inate the fishery, the fishing tends to be great. This has ~een the cutthroat's downfall in lower
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. streams, so take only enough for dinner to help keep populations stable .
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The lakes of the Lake Plateau are located In both the Stillwater and Boulder River drainages

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and offer cutthroat, rainbow, and some golden trout fishing. Keep In mind that not all lakes con-

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tain fish, but most of the lakes along the trails have self -sustaining populations and contain
plenty of fish. Golden trout were. once planted on the plateau, but only a few remain. Flood
Creek, including Lake Pinchot, has beautiful mixed species of fish {golden, cutthroat, rainbow),
due to migrations of planted fish. A small drainage south of Flood Creek (Asteroid Lake) con

talns pure goldens.


Wounded Man Creek supports a mainly cutthroat trout fishery, although rainbows share Pen
tad and Favonius Lakes with eutts, Jordan Lake holds nice cutthroats that can be counted on
to provide dinner.
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For solitude, lakes off the trail such as Burnt Gulch, Barrier, and Martes Lakes also' provide

good fishing. Aufwuchs Lake is a tough cross-country hike. but has good cutthroat fishing.

Beautiful hybrids live in Lake Pinchot and along Flood Creek.


Many high mountain streams are too steep to harbor large populations of trout, so look for
the slow spots.